About War and the Military
Sin brings conflict. Soon after Adam and Eve sinned, we have the account of Cain’s murderous behavior toward Abel. Without the presence of sin and evil, war and conflict would be foreign to us, as they will one day be when we enter the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:4). That being said, should Christians ever be involved in a war in which the enemy is being mercilessly killed?
That God commanded the Israelites to go to war to kill their enemies is clear enough, but does this justify present-day believers to fight for their country? Are we not under a new dispensation of grace in which we fight only on our knees? What about the remark of Jesus that if we are slapped on one cheek we should turn and let our enemy slap the other?
By far, Augustine is the most notable proponent of the need for war in certain instances. He argued that in a “just war” innocents were being defended, and thus the goal is preserving the peace; in other words, a just war means that the goal is peace. And, what is more, such a war must be led by proper authorities. As Solomon said, there is a “time for war” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). In the defense of good, even the angels are permitted to make war (Revelation 12:7-11).
God expects the government to wage war in defense of its citizens (Romans 13:4). As government is an instrument of God, it is intended to preserve innocent life and discourage evil. God’s sovereign plans are often carried out through the warring nature of less-than-perfect governments (Jeremiah 51:20). However, this should not cause us as a nation to irrationally pursue war.
As for an individual’s participation in war, the Scriptures do not offer condemnation. Afforded an incredible opportunity rebuke Roman soldiers, Christ Himself urged soldiers not to leave their posts but to pursue justice and contentment. When Peter is granted an extended opportunity to converse with Cornelius the Centurion, he does not even hint that Cornelius’ occupation was illegitimate (Acts 10). For this reason, we suggest that believers can prayerfully consider military involvement.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ’s comments are best understood as describing the personal relationships that should exist between us as a society, and especially in the coming Kingdom. His Jewish audience would have understood the phrase “slap on the cheek” as one person insulting another. Thus when He says, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mathew 5:39), Jesus is, in effect, saying, “if a person insults you, give him the opportunity to do it again.” He was not speaking about whether a soldier should enlist in his country’s army; nor is He referring to police officers who have to restrain offenders and even kill them if necessary. Enlisting to fight for the cause of both protection and freedom is amply justified in Scripture.