War and Peace


I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.

This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.

As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.

Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.

War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.

If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.

Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)

The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.

During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?

Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?

Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.

War and Peace


I am one of the 75% of Americans who think Barack Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize he accepted today. But there have been a lot of headlines and commentators today mentioning that statistic in conjunction with the fact that Barack Obama is a “wartime President” – that he is accepting the Peace Prize at the same time he is ramping up a war in Afghanistan.

This line of thinking reveals a drastic misunderstanding of what “peace” is, and so in a highly unusual move, I am going to defend President Barack Obama.

As I have written here before, peace is not simply the absence of war. Ending a military engagement does not automatically equal peace. It is a simpleton’s mindset and worldview that holds that to be the case.

Here is what, for some reason, is so difficult for some people to grasp: war does not stand opposed to peace. Sometimes, war is a means to peace.

War is a horrid thing. But sometimes, it is a necessary thing.

If President Obama had chosen to withdraw all our troops from Afghanistan rather than sending more over, peace would not have been the result. The Taliban would still be in control and growing in their oppressive power. The country would still be destabilized.

Let’s take this one step farther. Former President Bush was called a war-monger and an enemy of peace for beginning military action in Iraq – as if Iraq was at peace before the Americans declared war there! But there was no peace in Iraq, even prior to the U.S. invasion. People were murdered and intimidated and tortured by their own government. Mass graves were filled with political dissenters. There was no peace. The goal of the invasion of Iraq was to bring peace to that country – for our sake and for theirs. (The question that still remains now is: has that goal been achieved, or can it still be achieved?)

The ancient Hebrew people had one of the best definitions of peace I’ve come across. They called it shalom, and to them it meant wholeness, harmony, safety, rest. Life put back the way it was intended to be.

During this Advent season, as we wait expectantly for God’s coming to earth, we remember the words of the angels: “And on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Should we suppose that the angels’ message of peace on earth simply portends the absence of conflict?

Or, perhaps, should we recognize that conflict is the road upon which men travel towards the destination of peace?

Barack Obama doesn’t deserve his Peace Prize because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Who knows – by the end of his four or eight year stint as President, he may very well deserve it. Time will tell. But let’s stop saying he’s not a man of peace simply because it appears he wants to win a war.

War – What’s it Good For? (Part III)

Be sure to read parts one and two of this series before this one.

If some wars are just and some wars are not, then, how can we measure or judge between the two? Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, the Catholic Church, and many other great Christian thinkers have attempted to answer this throughout the centuries.

Augustine listed three principles that must be met in order for a war to be considered “just”. Thomas Aquinas listed twice that many at six. And the Catholic Church in 1994 added the just war doctrine to their Cathechism along with four guidelines that had to be met in order for the Catholic Church to consider military action a “just war”.

But all of these attempts just betrays something about human nature in the context of religious beliefs: that we’d like everything to be black and white, that we’d prefer to have a checklist of things to go down in our relationship with Jesus to make sure we get things right.

True life lived in the Kingdom of God, lived with Jesus, is so much messier than that and can never be boiled down to a set of rules or a list of to-dos or not-to-dos or a checklist. A relationship with Jesus is more about just that: a relationship. (For a great book on this subject, check out Donald Miller’s “Searching For God Knows What”.)

And I would argue the same applies to the just war theory as well. Just the fact that three different people or organizations came up with three different numbers of guiding principles in their quest to define just war ought to tell us that there simply is no hard and fast Scriptural or “True” rule to what makes a war just or not.

And while that may seem like a cop-out answer, if you think about it, it is probably the truest answer that we can give in this situation.

All of those just war theories and guidelines and principles all more or less boil down to one thing: to wage a just war, you must act in moral authority to right a wrong or end an injustice. Of course, that begs several questions that probably already sprang up in your mind just from reading that: what constitutes moral authority? Nobody’s perfect, so what level of morals and whose code of morality do you have to meet in order to have that authority? What constitutes an injustice? Whose judgment of whether something is unjust or not is employed? When is military action the correct path to take to end the injustice? And hence the reason why it is such a sticky, messy situation that absolutely cannot be beholden to the rule sets which we attempt to apply to it.

It takes a lot more thinking on an individual level than many Christians are used to. It takes a lot more ownership of your faith than we’re used to. It means you can’t just let someone else make that decision for you, or work off of your old assumptions that Christians ought to oppose or support wars in general. It means you can’t mix up your sense of patriotism for America with your citizenship in Heaven (that’s going to be tough for a lot of people).

For example, there were two kneejerk reactions to the current Iraq War that highlights this perfectly. Evangelical Christians (who tend to be overwhelmingly Republican and conservative politically) also overwhelmingly supported the current war in Iraq. Reactionary to that were the Emergent Christians (who tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal) who denounced Evangelicalism for its blind support of the war, and who were ironically unaware of their own blind and blanket support of the cause of pacifism.

The only general principle I can give you then is this: be in tune with the Spirit as much as possible. And then recognize that honest, God-fearing and God-following people can and will disagree about this. Really know why you support or oppose military action, and do so for the right reasons. Find the moderation that is so key in so many areas of life in the Kingdom. Because sometimes war is used to mightily achieve God’s purposes in a broken world (whether the people waging the war know it or not), and sometimes war is itself a horrible injustice — and oftentimes the line is a little blurrier than we’d like to think it is.

War – What’s it Good For? (Part III)

Be sure to read parts one and two of this series before this one.

If some wars are just and some wars are not, then, how can we measure or judge between the two? Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, the Catholic Church, and many other great Christian thinkers have attempted to answer this throughout the centuries.

Augustine listed three principles that must be met in order for a war to be considered “just”. Thomas Aquinas listed twice that many at six. And the Catholic Church in 1994 added the just war doctrine to their Cathechism along with four guidelines that had to be met in order for the Catholic Church to consider military action a “just war”.

But all of these attempts just betrays something about human nature in the context of religious beliefs: that we’d like everything to be black and white, that we’d prefer to have a checklist of things to go down in our relationship with Jesus to make sure we get things right.

True life lived in the Kingdom of God, lived with Jesus, is so much messier than that and can never be boiled down to a set of rules or a list of to-dos or not-to-dos or a checklist. A relationship with Jesus is more about just that: a relationship. (For a great book on this subject, check out Donald Miller’s “Searching For God Knows What”.)

And I would argue the same applies to the just war theory as well. Just the fact that three different people or organizations came up with three different numbers of guiding principles in their quest to define just war ought to tell us that there simply is no hard and fast Scriptural or “True” rule to what makes a war just or not.

And while that may seem like a cop-out answer, if you think about it, it is probably the truest answer that we can give in this situation.

All of those just war theories and guidelines and principles all more or less boil down to one thing: to wage a just war, you must act in moral authority to right a wrong or end an injustice. Of course, that begs several questions that probably already sprang up in your mind just from reading that: what constitutes moral authority? Nobody’s perfect, so what level of morals and whose code of morality do you have to meet in order to have that authority? What constitutes an injustice? Whose judgment of whether something is unjust or not is employed? When is military action the correct path to take to end the injustice? And hence the reason why it is such a sticky, messy situation that absolutely cannot be beholden to the rule sets which we attempt to apply to it.

It takes a lot more thinking on an individual level than many Christians are used to. It takes a lot more ownership of your faith than we’re used to. It means you can’t just let someone else make that decision for you, or work off of your old assumptions that Christians ought to oppose or support wars in general. It means you can’t mix up your sense of patriotism for America with your citizenship in Heaven (that’s going to be tough for a lot of people).

For example, there were two kneejerk reactions to the current Iraq War that highlights this perfectly. Evangelical Christians (who tend to be overwhelmingly Republican and conservative politically) also overwhelmingly supported the current war in Iraq. Reactionary to that were the Emergent Christians (who tend to be overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal) who denounced Evangelicalism for its blind support of the war, and who were ironically unaware of their own blind and blanket support of the cause of pacifism.

The only general principle I can give you then is this: be in tune with the Spirit as much as possible. And then recognize that honest, God-fearing and God-following people can and will disagree about this. Really know why you support or oppose military action, and do so for the right reasons. Find the moderation that is so key in so many areas of life in the Kingdom. Because sometimes war is used to mightily achieve God’s purposes in a broken world (whether the people waging the war know it or not), and sometimes war is itself a horrible injustice — and oftentimes the line is a little blurrier than we’d like to think it is.

War – What’s it Good For? (Part II)

Be sure to read Part I of this topic below before reading this one…

What of a Christian’s duty to love our neighbor? Shouldn’t that mean that Christians ought not serve in the military or support actions of war? I believe this represents an overly simplistic view of Jesus and his message, and also, as I said before, an overly simplistic view of this world. After all, Jesus also said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) To make this hit home even more, think of it in these terms: the sword was the standard issue military weapon of the day in Jesus’ time. If he were saying this today, he might say, “I did not come to bring peace, but an M16.”

Many Christians point to Jesus’ instructions to “turn the other cheek” from Matthew 5 as a reason to oppose warfare. Even if attacked, they say, Jesus taught us to not fight back, and that applies to war as well. This belief, which in essence turns Christians into doormats to be walked all over, in all actuality means so much more, though. Turning the other cheek is actually a quiet and noble act of rebellion, not an act of weakness:

In the culture at the time, a Roman or someone higher than you on the social ladder could backhand you to punish you for a supposed slight. If they did, they would use their right hand and backhand your right cheek – which is what Jesus specifically says in verse 39. Turning the other cheek, then, would be to welcome them to slap your left cheek with their open palm – in essence, calling the aggressor a weak coward. The instruction from Jesus then is not to just lie down and take it when someone’s oppressing you or someone else – it is to rebel against such activity in a way that strikes at the heart of the aggressor.

The call to love our neighbor and show them mercy must also be balanced with our call to fight for the cause of the defenseless, oppressed, and powerless – to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. (Proverbs 31:8, Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:10, and many others.)

Two of those verses in particular speak to a Christian’s duty toward those people:

Is not this the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? -Isaiah 58:6

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. -Isaiah 1:17

Obviously, those verses are a clear and direct call to action: loose chains, set people free, break yokes, defend the cause…

Add to that the fact that God oftentimes used his people in the pages of Scripture to carry out military conquests in the name of ultimately fulfilling his judgment on people. In other words, God’s people were used sometimes as tools or agents of God fulfilling his purposes. And sometimes his purpose was to judge a nation or King or army via military conquest. (For instance, God tells Abraham in Genesis 15 that in the future, his descendants will come back to the Promised Land and take it over, but not at that time — because the “sin of the Amorites [the people currently living in the land] had not yet reached its full measure.” In other words, God knew eventually the sin of the Amorites would reach such a level that he could not leave it unpunished – and when that time came, he would use Abraham’s descendants to judge their civilization by destroying them militarily, while at the same time fulfilling his promise to give the Israelites the Promised Land.

Of course, God would also later use military force (that of the Assyrians and Babylonians) to judge Israel in the same way when they completely lost their way as well, so it’s definitely not like God just took his chosen people around wiping nations out for the fun of it.

So God, who within his character of being a God of love, is also a God of justice – and can (and has) mete out that justice by using human military strength to do so.

And it is quite possible to be a “good” Christ-follower and engage in acts of war – shining examples of this are the two Roman centurions in the New Testament who are both praised as being faithful, devout, and God-fearing (Matthew 8; Acts 10). The “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11 praises many warriors of the Old Testament as great examples of faith to follow today.

So quite obviously, a “Christian” response to war would not be complete pacifism as many are advocating today. However, equally as obvious is that this does not mean any and every war is “just” or morally right, either, or that Christians ought to as a default position support and cheer on war. And therein lies the problem: defining what exactly makes a just war.

To be continued in Part III…

War – What’s it Good For? (Part II)

Be sure to read Part I of this topic below before reading this one…

What of a Christian’s duty to love our neighbor? Shouldn’t that mean that Christians ought not serve in the military or support actions of war? I believe this represents an overly simplistic view of Jesus and his message, and also, as I said before, an overly simplistic view of this world. After all, Jesus also said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) To make this hit home even more, think of it in these terms: the sword was the standard issue military weapon of the day in Jesus’ time. If he were saying this today, he might say, “I did not come to bring peace, but an M16.”

Many Christians point to Jesus’ instructions to “turn the other cheek” from Matthew 5 as a reason to oppose warfare. Even if attacked, they say, Jesus taught us to not fight back, and that applies to war as well. This belief, which in essence turns Christians into doormats to be walked all over, in all actuality means so much more, though. Turning the other cheek is actually a quiet and noble act of rebellion, not an act of weakness:

In the culture at the time, a Roman or someone higher than you on the social ladder could backhand you to punish you for a supposed slight. If they did, they would use their right hand and backhand your right cheek – which is what Jesus specifically says in verse 39. Turning the other cheek, then, would be to welcome them to slap your left cheek with their open palm – in essence, calling the aggressor a weak coward. The instruction from Jesus then is not to just lie down and take it when someone’s oppressing you or someone else – it is to rebel against such activity in a way that strikes at the heart of the aggressor.

The call to love our neighbor and show them mercy must also be balanced with our call to fight for the cause of the defenseless, oppressed, and powerless – to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. (Proverbs 31:8, Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:10, and many others.)

Two of those verses in particular speak to a Christian’s duty toward those people:

Is not this the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? -Isaiah 58:6

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. -Isaiah 1:17

Obviously, those verses are a clear and direct call to action: loose chains, set people free, break yokes, defend the cause…

Add to that the fact that God oftentimes used his people in the pages of Scripture to carry out military conquests in the name of ultimately fulfilling his judgment on people. In other words, God’s people were used sometimes as tools or agents of God fulfilling his purposes. And sometimes his purpose was to judge a nation or King or army via military conquest. (For instance, God tells Abraham in Genesis 15 that in the future, his descendants will come back to the Promised Land and take it over, but not at that time — because the “sin of the Amorites [the people currently living in the land] had not yet reached its full measure.” In other words, God knew eventually the sin of the Amorites would reach such a level that he could not leave it unpunished – and when that time came, he would use Abraham’s descendants to judge their civilization by destroying them militarily, while at the same time fulfilling his promise to give the Israelites the Promised Land.

Of course, God would also later use military force (that of the Assyrians and Babylonians) to judge Israel in the same way when they completely lost their way as well, so it’s definitely not like God just took his chosen people around wiping nations out for the fun of it.

So God, who within his character of being a God of love, is also a God of justice – and can (and has) mete out that justice by using human military strength to do so.

And it is quite possible to be a “good” Christ-follower and engage in acts of war – shining examples of this are the two Roman centurions in the New Testament who are both praised as being faithful, devout, and God-fearing (Matthew 8; Acts 10). The “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11 praises many warriors of the Old Testament as great examples of faith to follow today.

So quite obviously, a “Christian” response to war would not be complete pacifism as many are advocating today. However, equally as obvious is that this does not mean any and every war is “just” or morally right, either, or that Christians ought to as a default position support and cheer on war. And therein lies the problem: defining what exactly makes a just war.

To be continued in Part III…

War – What’s it Good For? (Part I)

This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and when I started writing this blog I realized it was going to be far too long for anyone to read it all. So after I typed it all up, I split it into multiple parts and will be posting the additional parts in the upcoming days.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the whole concept of war, and of “just war”, and of Christians supporting or denouncing war for various reasons… and thought I’d throw out some of my thoughts on the subject.

First, I’ve heard the phrase “What good has war ever accomplished?” thrown around a few different places recently. Implied, of course, is the answer, “Nothing,” and the conclusion that we ought never go to war. Apparently this question is a serious one, so here’s some ideas just off the top of my head of what good war has ever accomplished:

  • Held the United States of America together as one country.
  • Abolished the evil and oppressive system of slavery
  • Halted Napoleon’s quest to conquer and subdue all of Europe
  • Liberated millions of Jewish people from Nazi concentration camps
  • Liberated millions of Europeans from the Nazi regime
  • Halted the advance, and led to the destruction of, Nazism
  • Gained American independence from Great Britain after suffering a series of injustices
  • Led to the collapse of the oppressive system of Communism

I’m sure you could add more to the list. To someone who believes war has never accomplished any good, all you would have to do is point to the millions upon millions of people who have been liberated as a result of war. It’s nice to live in a simple fantasy world where war would never be necessary – I don’t think anyone necessarily likes or wants war – but unfortunately, a world at peace is much like communism: it looks good in theory but would never work when you throw human beings into the mix (until Jesus returns and begins his rule, that is). And sometimes, the best way to accomplish peace is through war.

That’s what makes me wonder about some of these anti-war protesters these days… they hold signs like “War is never the answer” and such, thinking that “peace” is simply an absence of military involvement. We must clearly understand that is not true peace. If people are being oppressed or enslaved or are being mistreated by tyrannical forces, that is not peace – and demands action of some sort. That action, most of the time, will not be militaristic in nature, but it does demand action. And sometimes, the best or only action that will accomplish true peace is fighting for what is right.

All of this, of course, leads honest people then to the sticky issue of declaring that at least some war is justifiable. The problem then becomes what the dividing line is – if there is one – between just and unjust war. And when war does happen, should Christians support it? Should we fight in wars as part of the military? What of the Christian pacifism movement, built on Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors?

We’ll examine all of these issues in the next installment of “War – What’s it Good For?”.

War – What’s it Good For? (Part I)

This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and when I started writing this blog I realized it was going to be far too long for anyone to read it all. So after I typed it all up, I split it into multiple parts and will be posting the additional parts in the upcoming days.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the whole concept of war, and of “just war”, and of Christians supporting or denouncing war for various reasons… and thought I’d throw out some of my thoughts on the subject.

First, I’ve heard the phrase “What good has war ever accomplished?” thrown around a few different places recently. Implied, of course, is the answer, “Nothing,” and the conclusion that we ought never go to war. Apparently this question is a serious one, so here’s some ideas just off the top of my head of what good war has ever accomplished:

  • Held the United States of America together as one country.
  • Abolished the evil and oppressive system of slavery
  • Halted Napoleon’s quest to conquer and subdue all of Europe
  • Liberated millions of Jewish people from Nazi concentration camps
  • Liberated millions of Europeans from the Nazi regime
  • Halted the advance, and led to the destruction of, Nazism
  • Gained American independence from Great Britain after suffering a series of injustices
  • Led to the collapse of the oppressive system of Communism

I’m sure you could add more to the list. To someone who believes war has never accomplished any good, all you would have to do is point to the millions upon millions of people who have been liberated as a result of war. It’s nice to live in a simple fantasy world where war would never be necessary – I don’t think anyone necessarily likes or wants war – but unfortunately, a world at peace is much like communism: it looks good in theory but would never work when you throw human beings into the mix (until Jesus returns and begins his rule, that is). And sometimes, the best way to accomplish peace is through war.

That’s what makes me wonder about some of these anti-war protesters these days… they hold signs like “War is never the answer” and such, thinking that “peace” is simply an absence of military involvement. We must clearly understand that is not true peace. If people are being oppressed or enslaved or are being mistreated by tyrannical forces, that is not peace – and demands action of some sort. That action, most of the time, will not be militaristic in nature, but it does demand action. And sometimes, the best or only action that will accomplish true peace is fighting for what is right.

All of this, of course, leads honest people then to the sticky issue of declaring that at least some war is justifiable. The problem then becomes what the dividing line is – if there is one – between just and unjust war. And when war does happen, should Christians support it? Should we fight in wars as part of the military? What of the Christian pacifism movement, built on Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbors?

We’ll examine all of these issues in the next installment of “War – What’s it Good For?”.