The War Less Travelled (Part 2)

Posted by admin in October 15th, 2008
Published in Uncategorized, War

Jesus preached an upside down philosophy. He said it is better to give than receive. Then he tells his followers that if they want to lead they’ll have to serve–the first will be last. That’s just crazy stuff. He says we are to love our enemies, do good to mean folks, pray for those who abuse us; those who take advantage of us. His teachings are absolutely contrary to everything we know about survival, getting ahead, ambition, success, and of course winning. Jesus said if anyone wants to gain their life they must lose it; to live we must die. This oxymoron gospel turned civilization on its ear. (See Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity).

There are two things I want to address here and then tomorrow I’ll move off the subject of war as a post. (Dialoging in the comments is still a go).

First, how do we protect ourselves from truly evil people if we do not fight? How do we protect the innocent from such evil if we do not engage in acts of war? The Civil War in the US was fought in part due to slavery. Right? And yes, because of economics. World War II was fought to stop Hitler and the SS from its Nazi war machine destroying Jews and trying to occupy all of Europe. And what about the Taliban in Afghanistan? For me there is just so much to unpack here.

First of all, wars don’t start overnight. There is a build up and signs of trouble usually manifest way before blood is shed on the battlefield. I wonder if followers of Christ are called to prevent war. Scripture says that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. For we aren’t battling with flesh and blood, but against principalities and spiritual powers of darkness in high places. (Ephesians 6)

William Wilberforce ended slavery in Great Britain without firing a single shot. He went through the system of government and worked hard to end slavery without bloodshed. He began his war less travelled in 1787 and sacrificed his health, his family, and his reputation to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. In 1833 British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act and Wilberforce died three days later. The weapons of Wilberforce’s warfare were not carnal, but they were mighty for the pulling down of slavery.

Hitler also could have been stopped by European and US Alliances as early as 1933. Hitler publicly overturned the Treaty of Versailles and boldly left the League of Nations at the London conference that year. Britain, France, Italy, and the Scandinavian nations could have boycotted Germany (which was already in economic turmoil). Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, blaming WW I enemies and Jews for his nation’s economic and social problems. Hitler spoke publicly and on an international stage of the German people’s need for more living space (Lebensraum) and his belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. He flagrantly announced to the world that Germany would begin to rearm itself, despite disarmament agreements Germany had signed in the 1920s.

In this hideous environment, the US adopted an official policy of neutrality. Between 1935 and 1939, Congress passed five different Neutrality Acts that forbade American involvement in foreign affairs. Americans wanted to be left alone and Roosevelt wanted to heal America’s reputation abroad. And even though FDR wanted to talk tough (see his famous Chicago speech of 1937) about needing to “quarantine” aggressors (i.e. Hitler) FDR did nothing about the imminent danger he saw. England actually got in bed with Hitler and signed an agreement to help him build ships. There were ways early on that nations could have banded together and cut off the oxygen that fueled Germany’s fire and actually could have prevented Hitler’s war machine and his horrific crimes against human kind. Hitler boasted that democracies around the globe were failing to respond to his aggressions.

Challenging as it seems and maybe a little pie in the sky I am not so sure that Christians around the world shouldn’t truly band together in prayer to stop violence, crimes against humanity, and insane leaders. Here’s an example: Rees Howells, a Welsh preacher from the early 1900s, testified that during WW II he and his small congregation prayed over every battlefield and spent long sleepless nights interceding for soldiers on both sides of the war to be saved from death and saved from the war and surprisingly they were able to document a shift in the war with a direct correlation to the times they prayed (see Norman Grubbs’ Rees Howells Intercessor). I am just wondering if there are alternatives that we as followers of Christ are missing. We certainly aren’t being taught these alternatives by church leaders. Not here in the US anyway.

Next, and this is the really crazy part. Jesus didn’t preach much about human or civic rights. Simon the Zealot, one of the twelve apostles, kept trying to figure out when Jesus the Messiah was going to overthrow Rome and deliver Israel. The Zealots were a Jewish political group committed to overthrowing Rome. By following Jesus, Simon Z was moved from hardcore patriotism to heartfelt evangelism. Jesus taught about dying to self and living for others. I don’t know if God is that concerned with my happiness. I do believe He is concerned with my holiness and His greatest wish for me is to be conformed to the image of His son. I am called to be crucified with Christ. Let’s be honest, that’s not a really happy picture.

During Rome’s tyrannical rule over the empire the early Church was persecuted. (See The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought by Margaret Miles). In fact, Rome loved having Christians as part of the coliseum entertainment lineup. Folks who would not deny Christ were literally thrown into the coliseum to face wild animals, gladiators, and to be burned at the stake. Nero wanted a new Rome built so badly that he set the old one on fire and blamed it on the Christians. The citizens in Rome were in an uproar and demanded the punishment of these strange followers of a religion they did not understand. So, in the early years of Christianity followers of Christ were senselessly and unfairly sent to their deaths in Roman coliseums with crowds cheering and reveling in their horrific and torturous deaths. But, little by little the crowds’ enthusiasm began to wane. And week after week (190 days a year were dedicated to deaths in the colesium), year after year the crowds came to the coliseums not to watch the bloody, gory details of the torture, but to watch these men and women (many of whom held their children in their arms) die. They died singing, and rejoicing and praising God. They died with the glory of God on their faces and it was this facing of death that brought thousands to their knees as pagan Romans cried out to know this God–this God that could hold His people in death and to give them such peace. The deaths of the saints in those coliseums were so glorious that Nero ordered their heads to be covered because he couldn’t bear to see their shining faces. Nero would scream at the saints to stop singing because the sound of their voices haunted him at night. He would wake up at night screaming for them to stop singing. He could not get the sound of their overcoming voices out of his head. It was not the way the Christians lived that won those coliseums filled with people, it was the way they died and none of the world had ever seen anything like it before. They loved not their lives even unto death. Christianity in Rome was built on the blood of those who died for their faith and that kind of spiritual awakening is contrary to anything we here in free, wealthy, churched America can even understand. Death for the Believer is not the end. Dying for Christ may mean for us not to take up arms, for us not to protect ourselves, for us not to defend ourselves but for us to trust God that in our deaths others may come to know Him. None of us has the right to take a human life…not even to protect ourselves or those we love. We do have the mandate of God to pray and to intercede; to call on the name of Jesus when we are in harm’s way. But we do not have the biblical or scriptural mandate to take a human life. Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. Even when Peter was trying to protect Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus scolded him. Remember how Christ picked up the ear of the soldier Peter had cut off in his attack and put it back on that soldier? This he did for the very man who was carrying him away to his death…AND Jesus knew this.

God has shown us that Jesus conquered death by dying. Jesus didn’t come to build a kingdom here on earth made with human hands. No. He came to build a kingdom in the hearts of men and women that would be built on principles such as loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us and laying down our lives when necessary. Either Jesus said these things or he didn’t. As followers of Christ we have opted for an upside down Kingdom that says if you want to live, you must die.

In closing I want to make a point that some of the Church’s greatest growth has taken place under ungodly, wicked governments. Take China for example. The Church of Jesus is growing in China at an unprecedented rate never before known in history–under a communist regime that forbids human rights. In 1983 I went to live in China as a young woman fresh out of college. After several months of living in my city a man approached me and asked if I might be interested in attending an underground church meeting. I was, so I did. Here was a church that was made up of poor people. Most of them were elderly as well. Their thick winter coats were torn and cotton batting was oozing out of rips and holes in their clothing. The building where they were meeting was made of concrete blocks, no heat, little wooden benches with no backs on them. The floor was concrete and dirty from all the melted snow we had tracked in. The little band of men and women (children were not allowed and the government took children away from anyone who had a profession of faith in Christ so that they would not be raised by imbeciles and the mentally deranged Christians) gathered together women on one side, men on the other. Some had lost arms. Some had lost legs. Some had distorting scars on their faces and one man with a head like a slick, yellow peeled onion was missing a large part of his skull. They looked broken and poor and defeated and weak. But when they prayed the power of God came so strongly into that little building that I couldn’t even raise my head. I asked my companion what was wrong and she told me, “Shhhh. It is the Shekinah glory.” And it was. Because in that little group of broken and battered men and women I saw God’s power come down and clothe them. He clothed them with His very presence and He bathed them with His glory. I was forever changed. I know now what it means when Paul says that when we are weak then He is strong. Losing a war to a bad government isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a nation. The worst thing that can happen to a nation is to live in peace, prosperity and not know God.

Intercession, prayer, seeking God’s face and making sacrifices for His kingdom may be the war less travelled and indeed may be the one followers of Christ are commanded to choose.

He is the Prince of Peace and I am absolutely convinced that Jesus is a pacifist.

11 users Responded In This Post

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6. Kevin said,
October 15th, 2008 at 1:40 pm

“Losing a war to a bad government isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a nation. The worst thing that can happen to a nation is to live in peace, prosperity and not know God.”

How many innocent people have to die (regardless of their belief/disbelief) in order to teach an purely evil person that there is such a real God? Beyond that who are we to let such evil take the lives of those that are innocent? That sounds even more wrong to me. Moreover how many innocent lives are worth wagering that bet that such an evil person will ever see the light?

There were millions of Jews that were submissive, did not take up arms, and died. I fail to see how that at all made a difference in anyone’s eyes especially Hitler’s. It merely showed how evil humans can become if they are not met with resistance to prevent such inhumane acts and genocide. Submissiveness and neutrality is what prevented the U.S. and other allies from saving more lives. By saving them they could have possibly one day came to Christ if they hadn’t already done so.

Another stupid question of mine: if being submissive is the way, then why didn’t Jesus submit to Satan?

7. Teri said,
October 15th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Kevin you mad scientist you! Thanks for your comments and for your questions. I think you’ve raised some very good points (and yesterday’s comments were super groovy as well). I’d like to start my response comment with a theology of satan. Here it goes…satan is not a human being. When Jesus said to love thy neighbor, satan was not considered in that “neighbor” category. He is/was an angel–a fallen angel. Probably on the same level as Gabriel and Michael. But he screwed up and was kicked out of heaven and then became an evil spirit being that focuses his energy on killing, stealing and destroying the human race (John 10:10). Jesus said that human beings sort of become like the angels when they die and are raised to heaven, “in the resurrection from the dead people will neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like the angels…” (Matthew 22). So in answer to yesterday’s question I don’t think it goes against scripture to hate satan, but I do think it’s a waste of time. Perhaps I can better spend my energy and use my mind worshiping God and praising Him rather than focusing too much attention on the old diablo. As to Jesus submission to satan, that’s interesting because I wonder if satan thought Jesus actually DID submit, or lose anyway. Think about Jesus’s death on the cross. Satan must have thought he’d won. Little did he know that Jesus’s greatest moment of power was illustrated on that cross when he died for the sins of us all. It was such a horrible death that Jesus cried out to his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” And yet,through that humiliating crucifixion comes the greatest victory the world has or will ever know. Today, because Jesus humbled himself on that cross he now holds the keys of hell and death (Revelation 1:18). Jesus conquered sin, death and satan by dying and then raising from the dead. This is the very point I am, and very badly I must admit, trying to make. Perhaps in God’s economy weakness is really strength. Jesus’s only demonstration of “violence” was when he turned over the money-changers’ tables in the Temple. Outside of that we have no written account of him ever raising his hand to anyone or ever physically fighting.

Now, about innocents lost in war. My point about Hitler is that God-fearing democracies didn’t stop him BEFORE he became the war monger. Even with Libya we have seen that boycotts, sanctions and international shunning can have an effect on a nation. My pondering is, “What would have happened if Hitler had been ridiculed, criticized and NOT supported by his peers in 1933?”

And Jews not taking up arms or not defending themselves had nothing to do with following the words and teachings of Jesus. Jews don’t really think of him as their example.

As to innocent people dying, well I think most soldiers are innocent people. They either are fighting the war of their countries because of things like being drafted or they join the armed forces for employment. And yes some join out of a real sense of duty and pratriotism. They are noble. The non-innocents are the leaders who wage the wars and never step foot on a battlefield. Innocent lives are lost and it is horrific. I am just questioning if followers of Christ should be the ones taking the lives?

Submissiveness and neutrality is not what prevented the US and other allies from doing something about Hitler before his war machine started moving; economics, self-centeredness and isolationism were the main motives behind looking the other way while Hitler built his army. I still believe that WW II could have been prevented. I still believe that Jesus said those hard sayings. I don’t believe that it is easy to follow them.

You know I love you right? Thanks for posting.

8. Kevin said,
October 15th, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Yeah, this is fun. It all boils down to what you and I believe is the right answer. It’s okay to agree to disagree because a lot of time we don’t know the right answer and you will not be able convince me that I am wrong, and vice versa.

I know you think that it could have been prevented and I’m sure it probably could have in a perfectly good world, but we can’t see into the future and you can’t prevent every atrocity. Humans can be very cruel to each other and evil dictators don’t make the best listeners 🙂

Good and interesting talking points. You know I love you too, huh 😉

9. admin said,
October 16th, 2008 at 4:32 am

For me Kevin it boils down to, What is the right answer? That’s the whole purpose of the blog. Let’s say that you and I are standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The ocean is on the west and a large mountain range is on the east. You’re facing east. I am facing west. Then we ask each other “What do you see?” You’ll see mountains, with snow on them and high peaks. I’ll see the incoming tide and perhaps a passing ship. It’s all a matter of perspective. Neither of us is wrong in what we see, we’re just looking at different things. If I have come across as one who knows the right answer I have failed. My point was merely Did Jesus say these things? If he did indeed say these things, then what do I do with these words as a follower of Christ? As Francis Schaeffer asked, “How should we then live?” If Jesus meant what he said and Jesus meant that for us to follow his words, then what exactly does that mean to us when it comes to war? BTW, I don’t want to ever sit down with a evil dictator and talk. They scare me.

10. Jenna said,
October 16th, 2008 at 8:18 am

First of all, I love this blog!!
Next, I agree with Teri on several points. The category of innocents in a war CAN, and in many cases does, include the soldiers. I’m no history buff but there had to be some way that WWII could have been cut off at the roots. There were clear causes, and while no one might have foreseen the ultimate consequences, Germany, it seems, could have been effectively economically crippled by the U.S. and the allies. Isn’t this an important lessen? When countries begin behaving like this, do we (an international super power)not have an obligation to assess the situation and at least try to foresee possible outcomes and prevent them? I know this sounds like I’m a supporter of the U.S. as world police but I’m not. I think we might have an obligation to use NON-VIOLENT pressure points to prevent things like genocide. Of course, all of this is easy to discuss and next to impossible to accomplish on a national scale, especially when national government usually has its own best interest at heart and many U.S. citizens simply do not care about the rest of the world as long as their little bubble of suburban utopia remains undisturbed, but large groups of individuals can make a difference through boycotts (to use one example). I also heartily agree on the non-violence issue. No one really believes that Jesus’ teachings should be EASY to live by. And in the case of wars that are deemed necessary, non-violence is not an easy issue. It’s most certainly better that we did join WWII (in my opinion) but only in the light that the U.S. and others MESSED UP by not stopping Hitler before he got started and had to pay the consequences of war as a result of delayed action. While I believe that war is wrong, I think it becomes necessary as a result of previous sins.
I hope I’m not rambling. Thanks for the discussion topics.

12. admin said,
October 16th, 2008 at 8:57 am

Hey Jenna: You are definitley NOT rambling. In fact I love the phrases you used like, “non-violent pressure points” and “little bubble of suburban Utopia.” I guess my big fear is that I will succumb to bubble life and become detached from the things that really matter in life…like Jesus’s words, poverty, engaging in the world around me and struggling with the hard issues. Truly, you summarized the whole enchilda in the simple phrase that war should be our last resort not our first course of action. Well-said sister girlfriend! Thanks for responding! Teri

15. PhilB said,
October 16th, 2008 at 3:25 pm

My son says, “Those who say violence isn’t the answer haven’t tried enough violence!”

My good friend John Cooper agrees with you totally. St Augustine did have “just war” criteria.

“There will be wars and rumors of wars.” But we don’t have to be participants.

Jesus’ response to the soldier and centurion were pretty supportive.

BUT… I think you’re liley right in all respects.

16. Carpenter said,
October 16th, 2008 at 8:20 pm

Congrats on the new blog, T! Great stuff. I am enjoying reading what you come up with. I stand with you on the War Less Travelled. I am re-reading Luke in big chunks, and it is amazing how brutally countercultural almost everything He says is. It also strikes me how much of Jesus’ words we really don’t believe. Like Dallas Willard says, I will never do something that contradicts what I believe. The whole fruits showing the good/bad tree thing. I wonder what we think he meant by “let your yes be yes and your no be no” and “love your enemies”? We obviously don’t take him literally, or the Church would unable to be contained.
Couple of things I am reading right now that might be relevant. Resident Aliens by Hauerwas, and The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. I’m too early into both to have anything relevant to put forth from those.
I will say that I think in the war question, as in many of the more politically charged “Christian Discussions”, we tend to accuse on a micro level, but want action on a macro level. For example, who do we see as the sinner when an abortion is committed? (the mother) and who do we think should be responsible for stopping the abortion? (the government) Who do we think is threatening our definition of family? (gays who marry) and Who do we think should preserve our families? (a constitutional amendment) My examples are a bit controversial I know, but the point I am wondering about is whether we wouldn’t be better served if we did this in opposite form–by approaching actions and questions of sin on a personal level first. For example, I can discuss the merits of the Just War for hours and never have to address how I struggle to forgive someone who abuses me. If I believe abortion is wrong, what am I and my community willing to do about it personally? If I see the Family as threatened, am I loving my wife the way Christ loves the Church?

I have been intrigued by Hauerwas’ treatment of the sanctity of human life as in this sermon:
This is relevant to the just war issue. If we believe that although life is important, God certainly has other things that are higher on His list, that would radically change our operatus modi.
Just trying to work it out.

18. B B Brain Bill said,
October 17th, 2008 at 2:05 am

Hi, Teri,
Try starting war analysis from: “When, Biblically, may one take the life of another?” Self-defense (including, maybe, defense of home and others in the home), obviously (Ex. 22:2-3). In case of death penalty (presumes Due Process of Law) after due consideration for ransom (Ex. 21:28-30) and banishment (can’t find the passage right now), certainly. But beyond that, maybe we can’t — and have to due the maximum we can to exert pressure and turn hearts while trusting God is in this nightmare somewhere.
By the way, if He popped your ankle back into place, and took away the pain, why didn’t He stop me from coughing my neck apart? But He did keep me alive, functioning, and I think no more addled in the brain than before.
Hugs to the two of you.

21. admin said,
October 17th, 2008 at 6:54 am

What amazing comments! First of all, Bill I’m honored. Being a judge, a lawyer and a law professor I think you have insights to these subjects unique to your calling. I love the phrase, “…maybe we can’t – and have to do the maximum we can to exert pressure and turn hearts while trusting God is in this nightmare somewhere.” Big D and I went to Scotland a couple of years ago to research the phenomena of so many revivals occuring there (especially in the Hebrides). First sign of God’s power in the place? The jails were empty. Men quit beating their wives, women stopped gossiping, even the sheep didn’t miscarry anymore. A true move of God by the Holy Spirit on the hearts and minds of the human race results in a decent and peaceful society. The power of God was so strong on one village that at night it looked lit up from the sea. When people would walk to the village, many were knocked over by the power of God on the road to the church. Unbelievable? I met some of the people who had experienced it and they weren’t prone to hyperbole, believe me! Church of Scotland. Love you and Ellen. Glad you’re alive! Every day I am glad you’re alive! Maybe the Germans needed to see a miracle? 🙂

22. admin said,
October 17th, 2008 at 7:01 am

Carpenter: I gotta get a hold of those books. Of course Big D ain’t so fond of Hauerwas or Yoder, but I want to hear their perspectives. Thanks for adding to the conversation. Good points to not just ponder, but to wrestle with. I want to live Jesus’s words. I want to do what He said, even if it’s hard and controversial. I am sick and tired of my own anemic Christianity. Be sure and check out today’s blog: My Steeple is Bigger Than Your Steeple. Guess what? It’s on brick and mortar. 🙂

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