The Third Day Comes: The 911 War
On September the 11th, America was attacked with a grievous loss of life. War was declared—war, which in the words of our President, would be like no other war ever fought. Because of that, no one seems to know what to call this war. I choose to call it “The 911 War”—and today I wish to speak from one Christian’s perspective to the subject of that war.
I lost an uncle in World War II. He was killed not long after I was born. He is buried in one of our military cemeteries in Italy. As I was growing up, I would hear stories of him in the family circles, but I never thought very deeply about what his living and his dying meant. However, some years ago now, my wife, Trisha, and I were in Europe, and I wanted to visit his grave. No one else in my extended family had ever been able to do that, and I felt that it would be an important thing, not only for me, but for my family as well. Somehow, the information about the exact location of his grave had not been accurately communicated to us. He was not buried in the cemetery to which we had been directed. Now there are a number of our military cemeteries in Italy, and we were pressed for time. I remember the two of us driving frantically across great portions of central Italy, searching for the right cemetery. I remember the frustration unto tears when we were unable to find the right spot. In the personal pain of those hours, I resolved that I would never again take for granted the sacrifice of those in military service, particularly those who have been buried beneath those rows of white crosses in this land or in the far reaches of the world. It is out of the depth of that resolve that I speak to you today.
Now some might argue that I have no right to address the subject, since I have not been to war myself. I don’t know what it is like to live in a night which has a thousand eyes. I have never heard the hideous scream of falling bombs or targeted missiles. I have not been called upon to sacrifice my arm or my leg or my sanity or my life in war. I don’t know what it is to kill another human being. So perhaps I have no right to speak about war. However, under my call to be a minister of the Gospel, I do have the obligation to bring the truth of the Scriptures and the light of Christian belief to bear upon this subject. Therefore, look with me now at the three primary understandings of war.
There are those who suggest that the only logical response, especially for Christians, is to adopt the position of the pacifist. But after years of studying the Bible, I do not believe that pacifism can be supported by Scripture. In the Old Testament, taking up arms in defense of one’s country was a divinely-encouraged obligation of citizenship.
Furthermore, Jesus was not a pacifist. Jesus said: “There is no greater love than this, that you lay down your life for your friends.” Jesus knew when He said that that the only way you can lay down your life for your friends is in your friend’s defense or in your friend’s place—and both of these are the death that comes in war. Make no mistake, Jesus abhorred violence, yet in a moment of profound violence, He took a whip and drove the evil money changers out of the Temple. Jesus sought peace, made peace, lived for peace, but He was not a pacifist. Read what he says in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” He knew that complete commitment to Him would draw attack from the evil one, and would divide people one from another.
I have heard some people suggest that Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” is evidence of His pacifism. To make such a statement reveals an ignorance of the Bible. Jesus specifically refers to being struck on the right cheek. In order to be struck on the right cheek, you must, unless you are confronting the rare left-handed person, be struck with the back of the other person’s hand. In Jesus’ day, that was not an act of attack, not an act of violence, rather it was an act of insult. Jesus was simply saying that insults and slanders that come our way ought to be ignored—and His words cannot be enlarged to include the subject of war.
Move on to Paul, writing in Romans 13 and I Timothy 2, and you see that God has established the governmental authorities for the purpose of maintaining goodness, righteousness and peace. In addition, Paul says that it is the God-given task of those authorities to bear the sword when necessary in order to stop and control evil and wrongdoing. Interestingly enough, that Biblical principle was applied to our present circumstance by a man who happens to be a pacifist. Scott Simon wrote a thoughtful piece in the Wall Street Journal just this past Thursday. Listen to his words:
“But those of us who have been pacifists must admit that it has been our blessing to live in a nation in which other citizens have been willing to risk their lives to defend our dissent. The war against terrorism does not shove American power into places where it has no place. It calls on America’s military strength in a global crisis in which peaceful solutions are not apparent. Only American and British power can stop more killing in the world’s skyscrapers, pizza parlors, embassies, bus stations, ships and airplanes. Pacifists, like most Americans, would like to change their country in a thousand ways, and The blast of September 11th should remind American pacifists that they live in that one place on the planet where change, in fact peaceful change, seems most possible. It is better to sacrifice our ideals than to expect others to die for them.”
As I examine the pages of Scripture, it is apparent to me that the Bible does not call us to pacifism. I’ve always loved what Ruth Graham had to say. In her inimitable way, she said: “There is a vital difference between ‘pacifist’ and ‘peacemaker’. Occasionally, the peacemaker has to whip the daylights out of the troublemakers in order to make peace.’ Remember that Jesus never said, “Blessed are the pacifists.’ Instead, He said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’” Amen.
There are those who try to make war into something noble and holy. Echoing in our minds and hearts these days are the shrieking demands from those in the Islamic world to engage in Jihad, “Holy War”, against the infidels, primarily in the west. Before we too quickly condemn that call to holy war, we must remember that in our own Christian tradition, back in the 11th and 12th centuries, Christians picked up the sword and went off to kill in the name of Jesus Christ, labeling the ensuing slaughter a “holy war.” Thankfully, in all the years since, Christians, for the most part, have acknowledged that sin and abhorred that strategy. Still, there are a few Christians who claim that war is a crusade and you kill and maim indiscriminately in God’s Holy name.
That is blasphemy. I don’t care whether you are Christian or Muslim. No war is holy. No war is decent. No war is good. War is evil. There have been those, and there are those now, who enter into the evil of war in order to defend humanity against some even more monstrous evil—and we honor them, yes, by all means, but let us never ever honor war. We dare not ever call it “holy”. That is an affront to God. Let me say this clearly: Those who call for “holy war” are speaking outside the will of God, and those who engage in what they call “holy war” will have to face the unrelenting wrath and judgment of God. We dare not honor war by labeling it “holy.”
Through the ages, the greatest thinkers in the church like Augustine, Ambrose, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, have declared that under certain circumstances, war can be just. Sometimes when diabolical evil is running rampant in the world, war becomes the last resort in controlling that evil. Yet even then, war must be utilized for a “just cause” and with the “right intent”. These great Christian thinkers established a “just cause” as being securing peace, punishing evil-doers, protecting the innocent, and upholding good. Aquinas and Calvin went so far as to say that a just war can be engaged in to overcome an unjust peace. For example, Nazi Germany provided peace and order for those who were willing to accept Nazi rule, but no one would dare to argue that the sort peace offered by the Nazis is the sort of peace we ought to preserve. For those great Christian thinkers, “right intent” means targeting only those who deserve to be punished and formulating plans of action which will result in more good than evil. The President’s powerful appeal to the children of this country to help the children of Afghanistan placed him squarely in the center of solid Christian belief.
Now I know that there are those who would argue that the best way to bring peace and justice is through non-violence. I would agree, up to a point. But you see, non-violence works only when there is a conscience in those to whom these peaceful voices are addressed. A number of times in recent days I have heard those critical of our military efforts hearken back Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., as proof that nonviolence is the way to bring change. However, that line of reasoning is faulty in one respect. Non-violence brings change only under certain circumstances. Gandhi, for example, succeeded in bringing freedom to India because he knew that British conscience and decency and regard for human life would never permit the British people to brutally end his non-violent rebellion. He knew that they could do it, but he also knew they wouldn’t do it. By the same token, Dr. King’s non-violent civil rights campaign succeeded because our American reverence for freedom, justice and human life runs so deep in our national conscience that we as a nation could never countenance violence against our own people, and Dr. King knew that our nation would categorically reject any individuals who tried to stop the campaign with violence. Mark this down: Nonviolence works only when there is a clear voice of conscience sounding in the hearts and minds of those on the other side. But when evil is so pervasive, when there is no voice of conscience and no regard for human life, then war becomes the last resort, the only way to control such evil.
We see that so clearly in “the 911 War”. The madman in Afghanistan with his insatiable lust for power, his dreadfully silenced conscience, his demonic disdain for human life, and his brainwashed networks of henchmen and allies cannot and must not be tolerated in the human family. War against him and all like him has been declared, and it is a just war, because there is just no other way to deal with that kind of evil in the world.
Here then is my response to this war.
We go to war only because we have to and only because there is nothing else we can do. As we go, we cry out to God in pain that sometimes all we can do to control the evil in our world is to engage in war. And when we go, we go with the prayer of the poet on our lips: “O Lord, we trust that somehow good will be the final goal of ill.” You see, I believe that hatred and cruelty, fear and falsehood will never win. I believe that there will come a time when the nations shall “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they learn war anymore.” I believe that day will come because it is the will of God confirmed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ogden Nash is noted more for his whimsical poetry than his theological depth. But tucked away amidst his humorous writings there is a striking little poem contrasting events in the Middle East 2000 years ago with the unholy horrors of modern war. Listen:
Gentlemen of the High Command
Who crucify the slums
There was an earlier Golgotha
The third day comes.
Hear that, all you evil tyrants in the world who seek to enslave and destroy: The third day comes! Hear that, all you soldiers in a just war willing to lay down your lives for freedom’s sake: The third day comes! Hear that all you with loved ones on distant shores and in harm’s way: The third day comes! Hear that, all you who are weighed down beneath this world’s crushing load of pain and peril: The third day comes!
Jesus Christ is alive
Jesus Christ will win!