Jesus promised there would be wars and more wars. He knew well our corrupt human nature. As nation takes up arms against nation, the followers of Jesus ask a simple question, do we serve the nation, or do we become a conscientious objector.
The first three chapters of Genesis give us a picture of the intended created order. Humanity is in society (in relationship), living together in love (other person centred) and governed/directed by God himself.
With the fall, the human race becomes egocentric and is divested of God's direct rule. Yet, although human rebellion deserves immediate catastrophic judgment, God in his mercy reserves this to the "last day" and sets about the restoration of Eden, a restoration that far exceeds the wonder of the original garden.
In the vacuum between Eden and heaven, humanity is ruled by God's representative, by government. Created in God's image means we still bear an "other person centred" nature, (although affected by sin) and so we form social units administered by government and bound by laws and regulations. These laws invariably need to be enforced, because of our selfish nature, and so government must resort to the use of some form of coercive power (police, army) to restrain and protect. Inevitably power corrupts and thus government itself often destroys, rather than promotes friendship.
It is within this framework that Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:11-17 must be understood. The Christian is to support good government through its political machinery, taxation, armed forces etc. for in so doing we are loving our neighbour by providing a framework for the development of free caring relationships.
We do well to remember that Jesus clearly stated that taxes were due to the Roman Empire, obviously for the support of good government through the political process, law enforcement, a standing army....., Mark 12:13-17. In the Roman Empire a large slice of taxation went toward the maintenance of the armed forces. Note also how John the Baptist does not condemn the military in his preaching, but rather only their misuse of power. Luke 3:10-15.
So it is that any member of society, Christian or otherwise, may be asked to "lay down their life for their friends" when good government is threatened by an external aggressive power. Greater love has no man than this, John 15:13.
Yet government may not always act in the best interests of the society it serves. government is "not a terror to good conduct but to bad." It is to execute God's wrath on the wrong doer, Romans 13:3-4. Yet if it takes up arms for other than righteous reasons, then a citizen is within their rights to defy a government that is acting immorally. A citizen may become a conscientious objector, even a martyr.
Jesus and war
The example and teachings of Jesus serve as a major problem for Christians inclined toward a "just war" theory.
Jesus behaved as a passivist. He allowed himself to be killed without resisting. Still, the New Testament view of Jesus death is more purposeful than passivist. Out of love Jesus gave his life that others may live. Is it not the same when a person in the armed forces gives their life to protect the freedoms of those at home?
Jesus' teachings seem to push toward a passivist view:
i] "You shall not kill", Math.5:21-26. Probably the word is better rendered "murder. As well as the act, Jesus condemns its source - the hateful thought. Yet to defend the weak from an aggressor, if necessary with force, stems from love rather than hate.
ii] "Do not resist one who is evil. If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also". Math.5:38-42. Here Jesus is concerned with revenge; "an eye for an eye". His teaching is: suffer personal wrong rather than respond in anger. To defend the rights of another has nothing to do with Jesus' demand that we forgive those who personally wrong us. We must also remember that Jesus is using an ideal response to illustrate our always less than ideal response. The ideal serves to expose sin and drive us to the cross for mercy.
iii] "Love your enemy" Matt.5:43-48. The Pharisees had fiddled with the Old Testament such that now hate was acceptable in God's sight, as long as it was directed toward the heathen, Samaritans or Gentiles. Jesus' teaching is that we must show loving concern for all people, not just some particular group. Yet if an aggressor wrongs another, even though we love both, does not righteousness demand we protect and aid the wronged party even if we are forced to act violently in their defence?
The basic principles
God has created humanity to live in community, and within this state it is our chief aim to develop caring relationships. Although loving care promotes and strengthens relationships in community, our fallen nature can unleash forces that serve to destroy relationships. In the face of this aggression, government has the responsibility to wield the sword of justice in protection of a community's freedom to develop loving relationships and as a consequence there is an obligation on the citizenry to support the government's use of the sword. Mk.12:28-34, 1Cor.13:4-7.
Three types of "just" wars
It is often argued that there are three forms of a just war that a Christian can rightly support:
1. A war undertaken as a defence against an aggressor. National government is God instituted to enable the free development of human relationships by controlling the forces of chaos through the use of the "sword (judicature, police etc.), Romans 13. Any act, whether internal or external, which attempts to disrupt good government may rightly be apposed by the use of appropriate force.
2. A war undertaken in aid of another country facing aggression. National Governments are duty bound to show love toward neighboring countries. This love is guided by action which is right and fair. Thus appropriate aid should be offered to a neighbouring country wrongfully attacked by another country.
3. A war undertaken as retributive judgment upon a nation which is evil, but not an aggressor. Most "just" wars are of types 1 and 2. The third type of just war states that an evil government can be overthrown when it has abandoned all attempts to regulate society justly, but rather seeks to destroy the basis of human relationships. On the ground of love an evil government can be removed. This is the most dubious of "just wars" since "evil empire" descriptions are usually quite arbitrary. See the related study on the War on Iraq where the invasion by America, England and Australia is tested against the "just war" theory.
Deciding if a war is just
Augustine, a great Christian scholar, concluded it was possible for a believer to go to war, but the war must be just. He developed a set of 8 questions to help believers decide whether a conflict was just. He said, "we do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.
1. Is the cause just? A just war is one that resists an unjust leader or defends against an aggressor.
2. Is the intention to restore justice between friend and foe?
3. Is the action a last resort?
4. Is the action instigated by the highest government authority?
5. Are the goals limited?
6. Is the action proportional to the offence?
7. Will casualties be kept low, particularly among those who cannot or do not bear arms?
8. When contemplating an offensive war, is there a reasonable hope of success?
1. Is it possible for a citizen to decide the righteousness or otherwise of a proposed conflict?
2. Does the estimated quantity of human suffering have a bearing in the righteousness of a proposed conflict (in the extreme, a nuclear holocaust)?