This post is part of the July Synchroblog on the topic of Just War and Pacifism. Scroll to the bottom for links to other participating blogs.
In the course of your Christian growth, if you never have a serious flirtation with pacifism, you’re just not paying attention. We serve a martyr king, a lamb who was slain and raised in glory. The original band of apostles were all martyred except John, and the only reason he didn’t die a martyr’s death was because he survived being boiled in oil; it’s not like they weren’t trying to kill him. Those martyrs were consciously following a tradition that stretched all the way back to Abel (see Matthew 23:35 and Hebrews 11, for example). In both Old and New Testaments, there’s a glorious history of powerful martyrdom in service to God, and the blood of the martyrs really is the seed of the Church.
At the same time, in the course of your Christian growth, you ought also to notice that God seems to approve of an awful lot of the violence in the Bible. Even if you’re inclined to a Marcionite tunnel-vision focused exclusively on Jesus, you have to address Luke 22:35-38, in which–whatever its other implications–Jesus definitely told His immediate followers to go out and buy swords in preparation for their future journeys. This same Jesus returns in Revelation 19, all tatted up and slaying the nations. He shall break them with a rod of iron….
Paul says the civil magistrate is God’s servant for good, and does not bear the sword in vain. The kings of Israel went to war regularly with God’s blessing–in fact, both David and Saul had trouble because they didn’t go to war in the way they should have. And so on — ain’t no shortage of divinely sanctioned war and police action in the Scriptures. (There’s even a reference in Numbers 21:14 to a Book of the Wars of the Lord.)
All of this has been written about, over and over again. Lots of divinely commissioned martyrs, and lots of divinely commissioned violence, all over the Bible. The basic data are not much in dispute. The question is, how do we make sense of this mess?
The answer, of course, is that we should exercise discernment. The simple answers — reflexive hawkism and pacifism equally among them — are not just bad ideas; they are temptations. Their appeal is in the way they authorize us to ignore complicating factors and reject maturity.
And maturity is required, because we really are sorting out a mess here. The basic impulse that drives pacifism is a sense that the world shouldn’t be like this, that violence is not okay. The pacifists are absolutely right about that. The world was never meant to descend into struggle and death. But God gave us real choice in the Garden. We broke the world and introduced death, and that had real consequences.
Downstream from the Fall, we live in a profoundly broken world. We need only look to places where rule of law (and the governmental violence it requires) have fallen apart to see that brokenness in all its horror. In such places, rape, murder, and every form of predation on other human beings are commonplace. The strong terrorize the weak at whim, and in the face of such horror, pacifism stands revealed for what it is: a blanket abdication of our duty to care for the poor and defend the weak and helpless. No one has a right to shirk that duty because the world isn’t supposed to be violent. (And there’s nothing more deeply hypocritical than a pacifist calling 911 to summon gun-toting professionals to do violence on his behalf. Yech.)
Our duty to care for the weak requires effective responses, and effective responses to a determined attacker generally involve maiming or killing the person. (Less-lethal solutions are getting better all the time, but they are plagued by range limitations and reliability problems. A stout knife or a firearm are far more versatile and reliable.) We are tempted to appeal to hard cases, and say that no one but God has the wisdom to wield such power well. But we cannot ignore the fact that from Noah to Caesar, from Genesis 9 to Romans 13, God consistently delegates that power to human beings.
From a woman fighting off a rapist in an alley to a nation-state fighting off an aggressor, the same principles apply all the way up and down the scale. A solid Christian response to the problem of evil encompasses an intellectual response to the intellectual difficulties, a compassionate response to the emotional difficulties, and a pastoral response to the physical difficulties, which includes being willing to draw a weapon and say, “Not today, pal.” The shepherd has a rod and a staff for a reason: if you love sheep, you fight wolves.
This post was part of the July 2018 Synchroblog on the topic of Just War and Pacifism. Here are links to others who contributed this month. Go read them all!