By Robert Andrew Wood
I have been to many Center for Faith and Culture lectures, but I wasn’t looking forward to this one. Just the thought of hearing someone attempt to defend warfare from a Christian perspective made me scoff. How could anyone believe that there is anything just about warfare? Having been a violent and almost sadistic child, pacifism seemed to be the only way to curb humanities natural tendency towards destruction. In light of this, I came prepared with Greek and Hebrew flash cards to make the most of what was surely to be a pointless lecture that my wife desired to attend.
My attempt to disconnect from the lecture quickly failed as Dr. Daryl Charles’s charisma and arguments drew me in and proceeded to break the pacifism I had clung to since salvation. I learned from Dr. Charles that war is not a simple matter and attempting to solve all the ethical issues of war with pacifism is naive at best and immoral at worst. Here are three thoughts that changed my perspective of Just War theory.
1. I learned that a “just war” should really be called a “justified war.”
Part of why I discredited the idea of “Just War Theory” has to do with the connotation of its name. How could anyone sanely argue that warfare could be “just”? However, those who have advocated for Just War theory have never argued that there is anything just or fair in war, but instead that some wars are indeed justifiable. Warfare is a rough and bloody affair, but according to proponents of Just War Theory, sometimes war can be justified despite its horrors.
A recent example of a justified war is that of World War II, the extermination of so many Jews and dissidents called out to the world to stop the Nazi atrocities. Considering the atrocities committed against so many people, it was certainly justifiable to stop the evil being unleashed across Europe. This is not to say that every war pursued by a nation is just, but that sometimes, and this is the heart of Just War Theory, it would be more unjust not to go to war.
Dr. Charles offered this logical conclusion of Christ’s golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have done to you, [but also] don’t let something you would not want done to you, done to someone else.” For some, this fine distinction of wording may be irrelevant, but this slight nuance helps me approach the issue of war with a more matured and reasoned view rather than clinging to my idyllic pacifism.
2. I learned that pacifism lacks scriptural support.
Dr. Charles’s lecture also helped me to understand the fundamental problems of a pacifistic perspective from the Scriptures. While the image of Christ as the suffering servant is a common image in both our devotional reading and Church experiences, the Scriptures also present Christ as a warrior. To see Christ as only a peace-making savior is to gloss over His nature of right king and ruler of all of creation. As Psalm 2:12 says, “Kiss the Son lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (ESV). Even so, I at one time would argue that He has every right as king to do that, but we are still to “turn the other cheek” like the many great martyrs before us. However, this ignores other commands explicitly made by Christ to “carry a sword” (Lk. 22:36).
Furthermore, my former position failed to make differentiation between murder and killing, a concept foreign to the Scriptures which certainly makes such a distinction (Num. 35:30-31, Jos. 20:1-6). Finally, Dr. Charles explained the Sermon on the Mount. I would have appealed to the higher virtues in this sermon to justify my pacifism, but Dr. Charles argued that these are not virtues themselves, but the outpouring of being a virtuous person. To be the peacemaker Christ requires of us means that we must make peace in our personal life through humility and service and support the use of force to make peace in society and between nations as Paul says in Romans 13:3-4.
3. I learned I had an improper view of government.
I never considered how incorrectly I viewed human government. It is traditionally understood that God institutes government as a human institution to curb the natural tendency towards destruction, per Genesis 9:6. However, we often view the government as a necessary evil, and thus warfare and even police work as evils of a fallen world. This misunderstanding perpetuates a sacred vs. secular narrative, a notion which is absent from the Scriptures. The Bible presents all of Creation as God’s domain and ultimately under His rule. The Scriptures cast a radically different light upon human government, instead showing it to be a means of grace and restraint for proper human flourishing (Rom. 13, 1 Pet. 2:13-17, Pro. 21:1). Only the power of God and the threat of violence can restrain the sinful urges of man so that societies can exist and humans can flourish.
I have only shared a few of Dr. Charles persuasive arguments against Pacifism. Before this lecture I could never have conceived that Christians could have anything to do with warfare or government. However, I now see in God’s word that Christians must be a part of warfare and national security discussions to keep nations from unjust warfare, but also to help us to see when a war is indeed justified. I highly encourage everyone to watch Dr. Charles lecture and to consider how we as Christians should view warfare and the coercive force of government.
- Watch: J. Daryl Charles: “Pacifism makes the world unsafe for everybody.”
- Watch: Bruce Ashford, Daniel Heimbach and J. Daryl Charles on the Ethics of War
Robert Andrew Wood is a part of the Center for Faith and Culture’s mentorship program. This year’s theme is faith and the sciences.