22 November 2005

What about peace-making?

In a previous post I raised the issue of whether I--as a Christian--should not rather be praying for my enemies, instead of discussing how best to defeat them (which I have defined as stopping them before they kill us, and killing them if that is what it takes to stop them). I said that I would like to offer a longer, more cogent reply; and here it is.

I don't want to talk about this from the command to pray for one's enemies. I want to approach it from the blessing that Jesus pronounces upon the "peacemakers" (e.g., Matt. 5:9). There are, and always have been, Christians who are opposed to war simply because Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." There are at least three problems with this view. The first, which I won't deal with here, is that it imtimates a works-oriented salvation. As a Calvinist, I reject the assertion, even the tacit assertion, that we do something (even "peace-making") to earn the right to be called sons of God. That right is a free gift (see John 1:12). The second problem is that it just doesn't square with Scripture. It defines "peace" as nothing more than the absence of war. And it ignores the fact that the Prince of Peace is the Son of a God of war. The third problem is that it just doesn't square with the rest of Scripture.

First, let's deal with the idea that "peace" is nothing more than the absence of war. The usage of the word, shalom renders it impossible to believe that shalom is merely the absence of war. Since I have discussed this before, I will just quote myselfhere
On this view, Jesus, in giving us a duty to be peace-makers, is giving us a duty to do no more than to be absence-of-armed-conflict-makers. But 'peace' in Scripture is not just the absence of war. Jesus, a Jew, was talking about shalom-making. As it is used in the Tanak, or Old Testament, 'shalom' is a word that admits of a great many meanings, perhaps the least of which is merely the absence of armed conflict. When Joseph, in Egypt, saw his brothers again--but before he revealed himself to them--he inquired after "their welfare, and said, 'Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive?'" (Genesis 42.27) In this passage both the English words 'welfare' and 'well' serve to translate the Hebrew word 'shalom'. In his commentary on this passage in Matthew, Hendricksen says that this peace is the peace of God's salvation (cf I Corinthians 1.18). Peace-makers are those "who, having themselves received reconciliation with God through the cross, now strive by their message and their conduct to be instrumental in imparting this same gift [i.e., not absence of armed conflict] to others." Look in Scripture and see who are called sons of God; it is those who have put their trust in Him and in His Anointed One. Other wise, everyone who ever signed a peace treaty ending a war, is a shalom-maker and, thus, a son of God. No only that, but on the Sojourners' view, Jesus himself is not a peace-maker, for he says he says he has not come to bring peace [i.e., now we are talking about armed conflict] but a sword. Read it for yourself:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a
sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the
daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man?s foes shall be they of his own household (Matthew 10.34-36).

So it is useless to argue that (a) peacemaking is nothing more than producing or working for the absence of war and (b) that we are, by being peacemakers, being absence-of-war-makers.

Second, with respect to the God of War we must take note of the fact that if the orthodox Christian view is true, then Jesus Christ, being fully God and fully human, was in complete agreement with God (i.e., the Father) who--among other things--commanded the Israelites not just to conquer Jericho but to kill every inhabitant, man, woman and child (Joshua 6.17). He must surely have been in agreement with the Father's command to Saul to kill every last Amalekite (1 Samuel 15.1-3). If Jesus Christ is, as the writer of Hebrews claims, "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13.8) then He still has no problem with war as such. And do let's take note: the war with which Jesus concurred was a war of conquest, which is supposedly not a just war.

A Brief Digression
But, you say, all those things notwithstanding, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, presents a new teaching on our duty. We must love our enemies, turn the other cheek, etc. Presumably this means that a nation must not pursue war if attacked. This is nonsense.

This sort of reasoning assumes that nations have such duties as individuals have. So then, if an individual has a duty to allow himself to be assaulted, a duty not to defend himself, then so does a nation. If an individual has a duty not to relatiate when attacked then so does a nation. This sort of reasoning is logically falacious; it's composition, asserting that the whole possesses the attributes of its parts. Taken to its extreme, it would mean that since I have a duty to fulfill my wife's sexual needs, so does the state. (It's an extreme example, but it works better than any other example I've been able to use with leftist Christians.)

Here's a rhetorical question: If the duties of state and individual are identical, then do I have a power to tax? Do I, like the state, have any police powers? Can I take it upon myself to perform the duties of a highway patrolman? (Oh, boy, how I would like to!)

Returning to the main subject...
Third, with respect to the rest of Scripture, there just does not seem to be--anywhere--a conviction on the part of God's people that war, as such, is just always wrong. The Hebrews just were not pacifists. Clearly, they did not go out looking for war, but they were not pacifists as we understand the term; they did not--as Christian pacifists suggest we do--avoid war at any and all costs. When attacked, they responded in kind, with the obvious intention of conquering the enemy. And, speaking of the people of God, when the Prince of Peace returns, he is returning, sword in hand, with the armies of heaven. He is returning to conquer. It is interesting that this is the image of the returning Messiah that John gives us, is it not? The Prince of Peace carries a sword. To me that means--among other things--that there is something to be said for "Peace through superior firepower."

For all that, I believe that the strongest New Testament argument that the State, even in the New Testament era, still possesses the power to prosecute war is Paul's assertion, in Romans (13.4), that the State does not bear the sword in vain. In asserting that the state does not bear the sword in vain, Paul claims, in effect, that the state will, from time to time, kill people. If this is not the case, then he lied: the state does bear the sword in vain; it barks, with no intention ever of biting. We should also understand that the people whom the state will kill fall into two classes: (a) those within, who break certain laws; and (b) those without, who wage war against the nation. Paul seems not to hold the view that the state must lay down its arms, and eschew all war, in the name of "peace" (i.e., "absence-of-war") making.


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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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