Troubling Themes and Twitter – War

Matt and I have taken a moment to write out some answers to the questions that we did not get to on Sunday. Our prayer is that you find these answers informative as well as formative. May God bless your reading!

How do we love our enemies in war and attempt to kill them at the same time?
Jesus in speaking of loving our enemies as ourselves is to be enacted as a part of the Kingdom of God. So as we are a part of the Kingdom of God, it’s hard to say that killing for a war is a part of that Kingdom. So can you have a “loving kill”? I don’t think so, as in that you are still taking someone’s life for an ideology, and in that ideology we are judging that ours is more important than theirs. So you cannot love and kill at the same time, you cannot split your soul in that way to say I love this person as I kill him…because that killing is in the name not of God, but of an idea created by man. (Matt)

Many wars seem to me to be societies becoming impatient for God’s justice. How do you think God looks upon these actions?
Honestly, we cannot really know how God goes about seeing societies doing things in the name of God, because we are not God. We can say this much though, that war isn’t looked highly upon by God. He doesn’t want to see any child (any human) to be killed by another human being. One of the most important things about God’s justice is that it belongs to Him, not societies and by that men are trying to be their own gods, which is a form of idolatry. Our best understanding is that God’s justice will be enacted according to His own righteousness. (Matt)

Doesn’t the Bible specifically say soldiers who are following their leaders are forgiven?
If you are referring to Romans 13, it does say that there are powers over humans beyond God’s and that one should pay dues to the man who has power over another but it does not specifically say such words. One can even take Jesus’ words about giving to “Caesar’s what is Caesars” in context of owing an amount of debt to the country. So we are to take on the responsibilities of serving our country, but we must strive to do good in that responsibility. As far as God’s judgment though, we cannot say because that judgment belongs to God. (Matt)

Is evil a real living part of the world?
Evil is a very broad term. If you are pointing to the fact that we as humans have a tendency to abuse each other, and abuse creation from simple littering to the total destruction of cities and civilizations then yes, evil is a part of our world. If you are speaking on a spiritual level I also would say yes. What else can we attribute as the root cause of the devastation that humanity has been responsible for during its existence? Evil has been, is and will continue to be a part of the living world until God’s full kingdom emerges “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Jim)

I am very glad the US has had people in the past that were willing to take
up weapons to defend our Country or we would not probably be able to be here today.
It is very true that people used war to gain freedom in this country. However recounting history, especially of our own denomination John Wesley asked the ministers and people of the U.S. to be non actors in that war, which begs the question, how are we to conduct ourselves in a war?
We are truly the beneficiaries of a free society that allows for economic, religious, and personal experiences unhindered by the ruling governmental system. These freedoms have come at a great human price with the loss of thousands of men and women who have served their country and countrymen. I am thankful as well because I have personally benefited from these freedoms. With that being said I also believe that our religious freedom has made many of us lax in the practice of our faith. There is no need for us to be or act differently because we are not oppressed or persecuted for our faith. I wish that many of us would use the freedom we have to exercise a more vibrant and practical faith as a way of life! (Jim)

Does war serve the good of man?
That depends on whose side you are seeing the “good of man”. In God’s eyes, it is not for the “good of man” because people are dying over conflict. It can serve the purposes of man though. But when have the purposes of man ever shown to be great? (Matt)
Societies have been in conflict since the first two brothers (Cain and Abel). War is an unfortunate way of settling disputes of all kinds leaving one as the benefactor and the other as the loser. Holistically it does not serve the good of all humanity. (Jim)

When things like genocide are taking place, do we have the right to step in and do something about it?
I am a firm believer that God calls us to respond and rescue people who are unable to defend or rescue themselves. We need to resort to every means possible to end abuse and killing of others but military aggression should be our last option. Unfortunately it seems that we use the power of our military first and then resort to political negotiations last. Jesus stood up to the religious elite of his day who were alienating people in ways that could bring an earlier death than normal for first century peoples. But he did not have to use a sword, spear or shield to do so. (Jim)

War has been going on forever. War started with Cain and Able. What part does God have in war?
Evangelical theology would say that God is on the side of the nation who is on the side of Israel. As if alignment with Israel will give us some kind of umbrella protection as a nation. Reading the Old Testament, I do not find anything that supports this belief. War is not God’s creation. Humanity chose to separate itself from a full relationship with God as provider, protector, and creator. Because we broke this relationship we moved to a broken world. We are fractured in our relationship with God, humanity, and creation. One of the consequences is war – resorting to physical violence as a means of settling disputes. Because war is not God’s creation, God does not have a part in war. (Jim)

Why is war used as the predominant display of God’s power and strength in the Old Testament?
Two responses to your question. First is an underlying assumption that the written word is an accurate, historical account of God’s activity in the story of Israel. I think that is a dangerous assumption to make. The Hebrew Bible is a narrative interpretation of the story of Israel and their interaction with the God who brought them out of bondage. It is deeply theological, inspired by God, written by humans and specific to an audience that passed off the scene hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Second is the fact that we miss the point in how God’s power and strength are displayed. The major theme of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament is the power of God to redeem a broken relationship with His creation, the lengths to which God did go to accomplish it, and the invitation to participate in a relationship that is salvific. I believe that is God’s power and strength displayed in the scriptures. (Jim)

Do you think there will or can be peace in all nations?
We believe that God will come again and bring the Kingdom. In that kingdom, (aka New Jerusalem), it says that there will be peace on the earth. The verse we talked about this past week also had that same hope, that there will be peace, but only when God is in the mix. (Matt)

Didn’t God condone war when Hebrews took land from the Canaanites?
So back to a previous statement. The Hebrew Bible is an author’s reflection on the interaction between God who selected the Hebrew’s as his elect people to bless all of the world and their becoming a theocratic nation state. Please do not read the Old Testament as a historical account of the people of Israel. It is a theological reflection of the shaping of Israel. The writer cast God in the image of divine king and initiator of forming them into a legitimate national entity and power in the Ancient Near East. To say that God condones or does not condone the war between the wilderness Hebrews and the Canaanites is to interpret and define the actions of God. That is dangerous ground to tred upon especially if you make hard and fast conclusions. (Jim)

Do you believe we are drawing close to the Ezekiel war?
Actually this kind of hits close to this coming week’s topic as well! Quickly, you have to remember that Ezekiel is writing to a people who have experienced some pretty devastating things. Nebuchadnezzar’s army has seized Jerusalem; Judah’s leaders have been sent into exile in Babylon; Judah has lost control of its land and the temple. The Holy Spirit of God moves upon Ezekiel calling him to preach a word of hope…the Spirit of God will renew the desolate land of Judah, return the people from exile, cleanse the people and give them a new heart for God. But all of this comes through a vision of God who fights for His people and against Nebuchadnezzar’s empire. Fundamental Evangelicals see a correlation between the vision of Ezekiel and the vision of John as recorded in Revelation. That God has another war to fight with evil. Whether that is a metaphorical war or a literal war is open for broad interpretation and we will discover this Sunday that it is really broad! (Jim)

Do you believe that technology contributes to conflict?
Absolutely. In fact in some of our readings, the Cold War was brought up. In that technology was the goal of each nation, to have the biggest stick. And so that technology became the idol of the nations to have the biggest stick and in the process contributed to the conflict already birthed by different ideologies of the two nations. (Matt)

How are we as Christians supposed to be able to not retaliate on a threat to our religion without becoming physically violent?
Though this may sound incredibly frank, but as people of God, we are called to live like a disciple of Christ. And to that, what did Christ do in the face of a threat to His life? He simply took it. And that is one of the hardest things to say, to take up our cross, but we shouldn’t try to retaliate. (Matt)
I agree with Matt. The road of discipleship is really a tough road. That is why so few wonder deeply down the path! We go a few steps and then mill around for the rest of our lives. In an aggressive society were people are taught to get ahead at all costs it seems antithetical to be a pacifist. I think we have to remember that it is not “our” religion. It is God’s and our main task is worship God, not protect an ideology. (Jim)

If one of the Ten Commandments is to not kill then why did God support many of the leaders and people who went to war in the Old Testament? Rather than sound redundant I would like to point you to the answer to the previous questions: Why is war used as the predominant display of God’s power and strength in the Old Testament? and Didn’t God condone war when Hebrews took land from the Canaanites? (Jim)

How do u promote peace in those unwilling to see different views?
Promoting peace among different views is hard to do in the first place, but one not willing to move at all is even harder. In that case it all depends on who is not budging, if it is you, how can you come to understand and objectively understand the view? If it is the other person, then there probably is a point where the “agree to disagree” should be said. If one becomes overly aggressive because of the difference of views, then we come to the question of war in the first place that we have been discussing. (Matt)
What is normally at stake is winning and losing. If we can convince someone to adopt our view then we win. If we cannot then we lose. Promoting peace must be done without the winning and losing backdrop. The task is to simply state your opinion or ideology without any expectation that it become the other person’s. (Jim)

Why is religion used as a scapegoat for the basis of war?
Because religion is something that is higher than us and if we can use it to support our own cause, therefore that religion supports our cause and it can be blamed for the intentions of man. It merely puts the blame of war on something else, like we’ve been doing since creation. (Matt)

Does the media make us numb to war cuz we hear it all the time?
Sure. I think the media though is one element to the ways in which we are exposed to it. Students who are studying history this year will also have a classroom format that will contribute to the telling of these war stories. When a person is over saturated with something I think it is only human nature to become “numb” to it. That is why we try and do some things a little differently in worship. We do not what you as the worship attendee to become over saturated with a rote worship style…you might become “numb” to it in more ways than just one! (Jim)

In the medieval times they had a purpose for war but now days I see no purpose but death. What’s our purpose?
Political pundits will tell you that we have a specific purpose behind the Afghan and Iraq wars. They are to eradicate the Taliban faction of radical Islam in order to keep our national borders and international interest secure. Some theological circles will answer this question by saying that this is the forces of good supported by an Americanized God fighting against evil in the form of fundamentalist Islam. Outsiders consider this to be a super-power flexing its muscles to the rest of the world. Religiously many centrist are against the war but still hold fast to supporting the men and women who are serving. Our purpose is to demonstrate God’s love to all people including those in harm’s way whether civilian or soldier. (Jim)

So how do we empower our young in understanding what the world is at conflict with?
First you have to take the time to fully engage and understand the nature of each conflict from both sides of the issue. Second you have to be willing to then talk with your kids about the issue and the perspectives in order to intelligently engage and inform. Unfortunately too many of us are way too busy to invest that kind of time and energy. It is simply easier to pass on our under-informed or maybe miss-informed opinion. (Jim)

If we profess to be [a] Christian, are we not mandated to fight evil in whatever form it takes? We can still love our neighbor but hate the evil he does. If our neighbor wants to burn down our house with us in it are we supposed to turn the other cheek and let him burn us up, or do we have an obligation to protect ourselves from his evil so we can try and redeem him another day?
Let me first say this; the Ten Commandments are an ideal world! In an ideal world everyone would be devoted to keeping these basic commandments. But we do not live in the ideal world. One of the questions we ask new members is this: “Will you fight against evil, oppression and injustice in whatever form it may be found?” What is implied is that you will be an active follower of Jesus Christ about the work of liberating the captive! An aggressor is our neighbor but do we turn a blind eye if he is oppressive, being unjust, committing evil against others? If you let him continue then you can be accused of not loving your neighbor that the aggressor is abusing. Our task is to be active agent who work toward the ushering in of God’s just kingdom; a kingdom that will live fully by God’s 10 commandments. Unfortunately that day has not come yet and it requires us to be diligent in our war/fight against evil including a possible last resort to justified physical violence. (Jim)
Something that we should come to realize is that the majority of our “fighting” evil is not necessarily fighting, but opportunities to spread love, peace, and kindness. Sure there is a fight between God and evil, but the thing is God has already won that through His Son’s life and death. So our “fight” is to promote the kingdom; the kingdom that does not oppress, the kingdom that is peaceful and the kingdom of love. So when we “fight” evil, we need to do so with the life, love, and peace God has given us. (Matt)

Note from Matt: If there was any confusion in my personal beliefs and pacifism, I was introduced to the term Conscientious Objector this week, and see that it is very much in tune with what I believe in. Again, my beliefs are constantly being shaped by different theology I read as well as experiences and I apologize for any confusion. Thanks.

References to our discussion:
Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden
Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
Yoder’s Response to Just War Theory” http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=107
For different explanations of different schools of thought were derived from http://wikipedia.org

About Jim Hoffman

Pastor, teacher, leader, novice blogger, wanna be author and Christian conversationalist. Passionate about environmental architecture - creating spaces where people can foster new or growing relationships with each other and God. Currently leads a faith community on Ward Parkway in Kansas City and happily married to Margaret. Blessed with four adult children and two grandsons.
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5 Responses to Troubling Themes and Twitter – War

  1. Chris says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Chris says:

    Jim – thanks for your views on "turning the other cheek." I think that it is often misinterpreted that we are to not defend ourselves or others as a last resort. People often talk about how great Gandhi was and his beliefs, however it was his belief that during WWII it was better the British to surrender to the Germans for the Jews to have committed suicide than be killed at hand of Hilter's Nazi regime. Often I feel that Christian's are thought of as doormats while instead we are being urged to undermine evil with, as you stated, violence being a last resort. Another view that I take from this is that we are called to defend, not enact revenge. Danica and I discussed this on Sunday — she stated that if someone broke into our house that she would do everything she could to defend herself and our children. I agreed with her that if we visibly showed that we would defend ourselves to the intruder, we have done nothing wrong — however if the attacker fled from our house and we chased after them with the intent of inflicting harm, then we've gone from defending ourselves from evil to enacting revenge (which in itself is evil). Hopefully folks got that from the message on Sunday and through your blog post

  3. 2Cents says:

    Thank you both for sharing your thoughts on all of these questions! I know you both put a lot of time and thought into this project.I have to admit, though, that I am completely stunned to read a couple of your answers. Specifically, there are two questions regarding God's commands for Israel to go to war in the Old Testament. As part of your answers, you write:"First is an underlying assumption that the written word is an accurate, historical account of God’s activity in the story of Israel. I think that is a dangerous assumption to make."And:"Please do not read the Old Testament as a historical account of the people of Israel."WHAT?!First, there is no ambiguity on God's commands for Israel to make war. How often do we see that God gave [fill in the blank] into Israel's hands, or that God commanded Israel to march somewhere and destroy some evil people? It happens throughout the Old Testament. We repeatedly see God supernaturally aid His people to give them victory, and at times we even see God Himself fighting on behalf of Israel! To suggest that the idea of God sending Israel to war is inaccurate or morally wrong is to either grossly misinterpret Scripture, or to elevate your own beliefs as superior to that of the author. If all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, and training in righteousness, how can you hold this position about the Old Testament?Even more importantly, if the Old Testament is not, in fact, an accurate historical account of the world and the nation of Israel, then what other purpose does it serve? By making these statements, you are essentially undermining the entire Old Testament itself! Doesn't the Old Testament show us the repeated attempts of God to connect with His people? Doesn't the Old Testament show us the failings of humanity and the continued love and persistence of God? Doesn't the Old Testament show us precisely why the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is finally required? Without those things — which cannot possibly be accepted as valid if the Old Testament isn't understood as the history of the faith — then what is the point of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the Cross?Didn't Jesus Himself repeatedly quote the Old Testament, and refer to it as if it were accurate and authoritative? Without the legitimacy of the Old Testament, the fulfilled prophecies of Christ evaporate, as do Christ's mission.I hope you were trying to condense a complex religious theory into a small amount of text with your statements, and just went a bit overboard. Otherwise, I'm suddenly very concerned about the foundational theology of North Star.

  4. Jim says:

    Thanks 2Cents for your comments. I have carefully read them and understand your perspective. One underlying assumption/perspective deals with the dating of the written record. If you believe that Moses is the author of the first five books of the OT then you will view them as a historical record written as events happen (chronologically). If you believe in the archeology that shows that Israel did not develop a written language until somewhere between 1500 and 1300 BC then you view the OT as a conversion of oral tradition into narrative tradition not focused on accurate chronology. There is no denying the wording of scripture and the fact that the writers document the story of God, Israel, and the taking of land in war themes and terms. The writers of Israel legitamised their actions based upon their interaction with God who delivered them with a pillar of fire and smoke and who spoke through prophetic leaders. Looking at all of the corpus of scripture from a far away we can easily make bold and emphatic statements.Here is the doctrinal stance of the United Methodist Church which is the stand that I affirm:"Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death. The biblical authors, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, bear witness that in Christ the world is reconciled to God. The Bible bears authentic testimony to God's self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as in God's work of creation, in the pligrimage of Israel, and in the Holy Spirit's ongoing activity in human history. As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities of transforming the world become apparent to us…Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured."As I reflect on the words chosen I will submit to an understanding that they were not the right words. My belief is this – the OT is not a chronological history written as things happen. I have come to this conclusion based upon study by many others who have evidence regarding the dating of Israel's written language. BUT no matter when it was written, God inspired the author to write in such a way as to lead the reader to realize the strength, power, and authority of the God of creation, the God of Israel, and now the God of salvation.I firmly stand by our doctrine, the primacy of Scripture in all things necessary for the teaching of salvation, and the need for us to utilize tradition, reason, and experience in our modern interpretation.I am not sure this response will fully answer your questions or concerns but I hope it does help you understand our theological stance regarding the Bible and it's place within worship and education at North Star. It will always be the center piece of everything we say and do!!!!!It simply appears that our views differ regarding around the timing of the formation of scripture and how that shapes our view. Please tell me if I am wrong on this.

  5. 2Cents says:

    Jim – After reading your follow-up, I do believe we agree on much more than we disagree.It was my understanding that while there are a few dissenters, the great majority of Biblical scholars agreed that much of the beginning of the Bible was written by Moses. You seem to be saying that there is a pretty major school of thought that disagrees, or at least leaves the question completely open for debate. I do not have the training nor study experience to dispute your statements there, so there's not a whole lot of point in continuing to debate that.My main concern is that we simply cannot dilute, distort, or discount any of the Scripture, and it seems (from my untrained and simplistic viewpoint, anyway) that that's what happened. Even in your follow up, you caveat the language timing question with 'BUT no matter when it was written'. By doing that, you seem to be saying that it really doesn't matter if it was written to be interpreted as historical fact or not. I think it makes a great deal of difference, for the same reason that we read Psalms as poetry rather than prophecy, Revelation as prophecy rather than history, and so on – without the proper context, the Bible becomes meaningless, and even ludicrous. We have to have that context to correctly interpret the words, and understanding how the words are intended to be read is the foundation for that understanding.I would come down on the (admittedly 'bold and emphatic') side that would say in the event of any question whatsoever, we should take the Bible as it was intended. Thus, generally speaking, since the Old Testament was written to document the history of God's chosen people, it should be read as a true historical account.I fear that these sorts of minute compromises that seem insignificant up close are what has caused the Church today to lose much of its potency over the years.Maybe it's a lack of formal education on my part, though.Regardless, thanks for taking the time to clear things up a bit more!

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