God, government and “the sword”

A quote from Greg Boyd’s book “The Myth of a Christian Nation“:

While God uses the sword of governments to preserve law, order, and justice, as we have seen, there is a corrupting principality and power always at work. Much like the magical ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the sword has a demonic power to deceive us. When we pick it up, we come under its power. It convinces us that our use of violence is a justified means to a noble end…. Most of the slaughtering done throughout history has been done by people who sincerely believed they were promoting “the good.” Everyone thinks their wars are just, if not holy.

(HT: Matt)

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13 thoughts on “God, government and “the sword”

  1. I could be wrong, but I think that the author’s point is that there are no just wars; it’s an oxymoron.

    Again, I could just be injecting my opinion into the topic and it may not be the author’s point… But work with me on this one:

    Let’s take Hitler and Nazi Germany (to pick a really light topic). Did our going to war aid in stopping the atrocities committed against Jewish people by that regime? Most definitely.

    But, if my memory serves me, didn’t we jump in fairly late in the game? And weren’t there tons of people, in Germany, that turned a blind eye to what was going on for a while, before war broke out?

    I guess what I’m getting at is this: wars seem just to us sometimes, but is it more just that it’s a “necessary evil” at the time, and that if we’d done something different, or acted earlier, maybe it could have been avoided?

    Like the tagline to this blog, it could just be my “foolish optimism” speaking again… Thoughts?

  2. Further back, eh? Well, I would look at it this way:

    Wars are never just. They’re just sometimes the unfortunate reality.

    I guess that I get nervous about the term “just war” because that somehow makes it sound like it’s “justified” or “ok”. When I really don’t think that it ever should be ok. Shouldn’t we all at least be “hopeful pacifists” in that we always are sympathetic towards pacifism, even if it doesn’t always work out that way?

    My hunch is that, in Old Testament times, God was trying to create and preserve a people group through which he would show Himself to the world (Isreal). And since there was so much war and barbarism back then, if He wanted to maintain this people group, then inevitably they would have to fight other people who were bent on wiping them out. So war was the unfortunate but necessary reality for God to maintain His “chosen” people.

    The difference now: Americans are not God’s “chosen people”. Everyone, everywhere, is a child of God, made in His image. So what right do we have to fight a war to defend our particular worldly nation-state?

    Will our governments continue to fight wars? I’m sure they will. Should we as Christians, though, continually plead with our leaders to try and find another way? I think so, yeah.

    (BTW, this line of thought is, for me, a work in progress. Please commence poking holes in it now.)

  3. I guess that I get nervous on backing away from “just-war” because I am not comfortable with the idea of a just God directing Israel to act in an unjust way… ya know?

    Returning to more current times, I often find myself returning to John Stuart Mill who said:

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. ”

    I had to memorize that while at the Air Force Academy. If there is such a thing as a just war, I think that it is one in which we have no choice to risk our personal safety and comfort and take action.

    I also believe that we, as a nation, have a responsibility to act when evil rears up… I look at situations like Darfur, or even the torture that was going on in Iraq prior to the removal of Saddam Hussein and see a need, not to liberate a people, but to rescue them from the being done to them.

    Where is the line drawn on these situations? When does it become the right time to act with force, and when is it not right? How long do we wait for organizations like the UN to somehow make things better, before acting to set things right?

    This question sucks because it is too charged to have a straight answer. There are too much politics involved to ever get an answer that is meaningful when you ask those that “lead” this nation… we just need to begin to answer the question for ourselves, individually, as a nation before the nation as a whole can determine the answer.

    Am I making sense, or am I rambling?

  4. war is a result of sin and a symptom of a fallen world. but i think there must be a such thing as a just war, since God has commanded it. God doesn’t change, and His principles don’t change. i dont know the exact definition of a just war, but i have to believe it exists. WWII is probably the best recent example i can think of.

    “The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight … has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

    that is a great quote, and i think it is true. sometimes it is necessary to confront evil, physically and literally. there must be those willing to sacrifice their comfort and safety for the good of others, who are in God’s image. who is better qualified to make this sacrifice than a Christian? we have a hope beyond this life! “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

  5. I hear you guys…

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. ”

    …but I guess that I just don’t really agree with this statement. It sounds nice, but I really think that it’s actually OPPOSITE to what Jesus was about. He told Peter to put away his sword, He could have fought in many cases, but instead he decided to play by a different set of rules.

    God’s Kingdom doesn’t ascribe to the rules of this world, to the rules that say that eventually, in certain situations, war becomes the only or best option. Doesn’t God’s Kingdom represent another way, a better way?

    In this world, yes, war probably ends up becoming inevitable at times… but I just can’t say that it’s Just. We might be able to look back, like at WWII, after the fact, and say that it was good that we stepped in. But does that mean that the war itself was Just?

    And just because God commanded Israel to fight in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean that there has to be Just Wars. If we say that:

    “but i think there must be a such thing as a just war, since God has commanded it. God doesn’t change, and His principles don’t change.”

    …then aren’t we making Justice something that is outside of, and bigger than, God? It’s something that He has to follow, something that He has to go along with. That doesn’t make sense to me. That’s placing something else above God, isn’t it?

    Am I wrong? Tell me what you think….

  6. I still want to hear how you handle the wars in the old testament.

    I also believe that while Jesus would prefer to act peacefully he was also willing to act in other ways as need be. I look to Mark 11:12-26 and see Jesus acting quite forcefully when he sees injustice.

    What do you think?

  7. “it was good that we stepped in. But does that mean that the war itself was Just?”

    if it was good, then it was good! and if it is good, then God is pleased. if you want to call that “just” or not, i don’t know. i’m sure that not everyone fought with pure, God-glorifying motives, but i believe many did.

    ““..God doesn’t change, and His principles don’t change.”
    …then aren’t we making Justice something that is outside of, and bigger than, God? It’s something that He has to follow, something that He has to go along with.”

    i don’t see it that way at all. am i limiting God when I say, “God can do no wrong”? God is the one who described Himself to us, that He does not change, and God demonstrated principles of warfare that were pleasing to Him. i am simply drawing conclusions from what God has revealed about Himself. though the world has changed a great deal since then, there is no reason to assume God’s principles about war have changed.

    pacifism is also a Godly trait, which Jesus taught. if someone hits me in the face, i should turn the other cheek. if someone threatens my life, perhaps even then i should submit myself to die. but if someone is threatening my family? those i love? at that point, i think it is cowardly to stand by and do nothing. it is a noble thing to protect those who cannot defend themselves, to lay down your life for a friend, as Jesus said.

    war imagery is used throughout the Bible (OT & NT), and it is clear some war is pleasing and commanded by God, and others are not. i don’t know if you liked the Lord of the Rings movies, but i believe they illustrate a deep truth that God has written on our hearts… we rejoice in a hero who is willing to sacrifice and risk his life to save others. in fact, i believe this is true because such heroes are actually archetypes of Christ.

  8. scott-
    —————-
    “it was good that we stepped in. But does that mean that the war itself was Just?”

    “if it was good, then it was good! and if it is good, then God is pleased.”
    —————-

    But don’t you think that it’s possible that, while WWII may have become necessary at a certain point, and that ultimately it achieved some good… there may have been another way if people actually did something earlier on. If Germans had stood up against Hitler early on, or if maybe other countries had stepped in earlier on in some Diplomatic way…

    So, in that sense, the war BECAME necessary and thus maybe we can call it “just”, however I would highly doubt that God was “pleased” by our lack of action and indifference that lead to war being the only option…

    ——————
    “…war imagery is used throughout the Bible (OT & NT), and it is clear some war is pleasing and commanded by God…”
    ——————

    Maybe I’m missing something (which very well may be), but I just don’t get from the Bible that war is “pleasing” to God… Did he command the Israelites to go to war at times in the past? Yes, He certainly did… but I guess that I don’t see the correlation between that and Him being pleased by those wars…

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the lively dialogue!!! 🙂

  9. I don’t mean to interject–I stumbled upon this site and I can’t claim that I’ll ever check on your responses to the following–but I just thought I should point some things out concerning just war theory.

    Just war theory comes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings in “Summa Theologica,” question 40. I’m sure you all are familiar with it, but I’ll just recap:

    A war is just when it meets the following criterion: First, it must be waged by a legitimate authority, which is usually taken to include all sovereignties, as well as rebel leaders that assume responsibility for the actions of their men. This is to prevent “vigilante” situations.

    “Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (QQ. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”” (ST Secunda Secundae Partis q. 40)

    Thirdly, the intent of those engaging in combat must be to advance good or to avoid evil.

    Now, according to these criterion, wars such as the one we are currently engaged in are just from both the perspective of the US soldiers and from the jihadis. Both wage war from a legitimate authority, both have a “just cause”, and both are seeking to advance good. HOWEVER, this assertion is only valid from a relativistic standpoint.

    I am a Christian, and a combat engineer in the North Carolina National Guard. I am also a Philosophy and World Religions major, and I’m minoring in Community Development (which is basically missions and cultural anthropology.) So I want you to understand that, when considering my claims, I believe in objective truth. I don’t believe that we can always know what is objectively true, but I do believe that wars are only just when they seek to further the good as defined by God. I believe that the current war of terror meets that requirement because the United States is seeking to defend those who cannot defend themselves–i.e., the fatherless and the widowed, in Biblical jargon–and the jihadi cause is not justified because it seeks to harm those who cannot defend themselves and further a pagan ideology.

    I don’t really see how we can seek to defend the fatherless and the widowed and be accused of waging unjust war. And I don’t understand how anything can be just and not please God.

    Now I understand that there is nothing inherently good in taking someone’s life. I don’t want to downplay that. I’ve written a number of papers on the topic, just because it bothers me that such a thing is necessary.

    But let me suggest this: while it is, in itself, dishonoring to God to destroy a human being (who bears His image), the good that is achieved so outweighs the evil that God is still pleased.

    I know this is incomplete, but it might stimulate conversation some. Maybe I’ll check back when I have more time.

    in christ,
    ike

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