The Command to Love Human Life (Part 4):
A War of Love, Not a Love of War
Deuteronomy 5:17, et al.
A War of Love, Not a Love of War
Deuteronomy 5:17, et al.
The sixth commandment forbids taking innocent human life. Does this then outlaw all war? I have no doubt that if the sixth commandment particularly and all of the Ten Commandments generally were followed, then we would not have wars. But we live in a sinful world in which men do not love human life and do not submit themselves to God’s directives. In such a setting, the sixth commandment actually serves to reinforce a biblical view of participating in a just war, for it shows us the value of human life. Human life must be defended and protected. If it becomes necessary for legitimate authority to take up arms to defend human life, then Christians ought to do so.
But on a very personal level, war can force on us some deep spiritual challenges. As Christian soldiers participate in war, the pressure, stress, sweat, blood, and gritty reality of death can squeeze questions out of you that you might never have thought of otherwise. It will bring on emotional responses that you didn’t know you had in you. Civil War Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson is reported to have said, “If to be a soldier I must lose my humanity, I do not want to be a soldier anymore.”
Today I want to discuss two things about the Christian soldier – the Christian’s motivation for war, and the Christian’s response to war.
The Christian Soldier’s Motivation for War – Love for God and for others
Jesus Christ taught us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. This must guide our motivation for war. There are many wrong or inadequate motivations for war. Wrong motives include anger, hatred, revenge, rebellion, greed, power-lust, and desire for glory. Inadequate motivations are not necessarily wrong, but they are unable to provide moral direction and moral protection in war. One particular motivation for war has often been twisted and corrupted into serving wars of aggression. That motivation is patriotism. Patriotism is not wrong. We can and should be very grateful for our nation. But we are foolish if we think that we cannot fall into the trap of being drawn into an unjust war simply because we fight for our nation. Many Germans in WWII did not fight for Nazism, per se. They fought for their fatherland, but in so doing they participated in and enabled an unjust war of aggression. Another completely inadequate motivation for a Christian soldier is the “I’m just doing my job” attitude. This is an attitude that tries to deal with the reality of war by pretending not to get morally involved. But we are all morally responsible before God, and we cannot pass it off by
Yet there are godly motivations for war. This might sound strange to some people, but it is biblically true. But you might think it even more strange when I tell you what that motivation is. In one word, it is love. This love has both a horizontal and a vertical dimension. It is, first of all, love for others. The Christian soldier should be motivated to engage in war when it is necessary to defend his people – their persons and their property. When this is the motivation, there is no degradation of human life through war. Human life does not become cheap. On the contrary, its value is lifted high for all to see because of the soldiers who are willing to risk their own lives for the sake of others.
The love for others must flow from supreme love for God. Christian soldiers want to see God’s righteousness and justice upheld. We want God to be glorified, and God is glorified when human governments use the authority that he has delegated to them to prosecute just wars. We are proud to stand up for what is right and true, because ultimately we stand up for God (not for a nation).
Love is the most powerful of all motivations because it is totally selfless. Love conquers fear. Love gives a courage that a terrorist knows nothing of. And because love is concerned for what is best for others as God (not man) defines what is best, it does not lose its moral bearings in the midst of the passions of war.
Now what happens when a man really approaches war this way? Every combat veteran I have ever talked to says that war changes you. This is true. But the question before you as a Christian soldier is, How does it change you? Does it change you for the better or for the worse? I believe that when a man approaches war truly and fully from a perspective of love for God and love for others, then he has no bitterness, no guilt, no grudge, no anger. He may well have some sadness. He may well suffer some of the physical trauma of war. But he can come through war with something incredible – joy in God, and a heart overflowing with thanksgiving. In order to see this, I want to use an example from the writings of the consummate warrior in the Bible, David, and what he wrote in Psalm 18. Here we see
The Christian Soldier’s Response to War – Joy in God’s Goodness
The Christian soldier can respond to war by praising the Lord (18:1-3). The Lord is your strength and your salvation. Meditating on this led David to call upon the Lord because he is worthy to be praised. Hope and joy and love pulsed through David’s heart because he looked at the Lord, not his circumstances.
The Christian soldier has seen the Lord’s deliverance (18:4-19). We see the Lord’s power poetically described, and that incomparable power produced personal deliverance. He delighted in me! Have you experienced the Lord’s personal delight in you like David describes? Perhaps it is because you have not been looking for it. Have you been calling on the Lord? I don’t mean foxhole prayers. All kinds of people, ungodly people, pray that kind of a prayer. I mean a sincere, ongoing effort at looking to the Lord for deliverance. That is what we see next in the psalm.
The Christian soldier pursues righteousness because the Lord empowers the righteous (18:20-29). Notice in vv. 20-24 how earnestly David sought the Lord and kept his ways. Soldier, does that characterize you? Is your number one concern to just make it through the war, or is it to please God supremely no matter what happens? Why should you want to do this? Because of the character of God (vv. 25-26)! When we are seeking the Lord with all our heart, then we can be confident of his empowerment (vv. 27-29).
The Christian soldier can experience the Lord’s goodness (vv. 30-45). God’s way is perfect. It may not be what we expect, but we know that he will accomplish all that he has promised us. David experienced God’s goodness through God giving him military victory. In fact, at this point I want to contrast sharply some things you might have been told as a soldier with what David saw. Certain counselors for soldiers say, “The soul takes a full broadside when the mind is triggered and the impulse surfaces to kill another human.” This is true. But they go on to say, “It cuts across the grain of everything we have been taught and know about goodness” (Down Range to Iraq and Back, 24). This is not true. David rejoiced in the death of his enemies as an expression of God’s goodness to him. David was not a psychopath who loved killing people. Read the Psalms and see what a tender heart he had. But he also knew that there was no sin involved in putting the wicked enemies of God to death. He was not delighting in the death of people per se; he was delighting in the triumph of God accomplished through him. In order to know that, the Christian soldier needs to be confident that he is fighting a just war in a just way. And when he has that confidence, he knows that God is using him as an instrument to make God’s righteousness and justice prevail on the earth. And that is cause for joy. Do you see David’s attitude? There is no snear on his face. There is no macho bragging going on. There is no hatred and no revenge. He is saying, “I killed my enemies because God was using me to execute perfect justice.” God gave him total victory, because God is good! That’s what David learned from this. God is so good. The Christian soldier can experience this first hand.
The Christian soldier concludes that the Lord is alive and loving. God is good (18:46-50). Picture this – a soldier returning from Iraq, shouting for joy, not just because he is back home with family, or because he can sleep in his own bed again, or because he is with people he understands now, or because he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore. No, he is shouting for joy because through his war experience he has experienced first hand that the Lord lives! The overriding song of his heart is, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” I don’t know of any other human experience that could teach us this the way war can teach us this. War humbles us. War makes us depend on the unfailing strength of the Lord. And as we do that, we see his goodness and his greatness. And when we see God for who he is, we will say, “I love you Lord!” (What a testimony this could be!)
I would like to conclude with just one more observation. When we think about war as Christians, we realize that we are dealing with a temporal thing. Yet we also know that this is part of a much larger and eternal warfare. The ultimate warrior is God, and he has declared war against sin, Satan, and death because he loves his people. And the good news is that the victory is already secure. God became a man so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). And when Jesus rose from the dead, he won the battle. “He led a host of captives and gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:8). He “was declared to be the Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). And we now live in the time in which we are awaiting his return to fully claim all that is rightly his as the victor. And then there will be a kingdom of peace. There will be no more war. If you have been through combat, doesn’t that thrill your heart? There will be perfect peace. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” Isaiah prophesied, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).
When we as Christians think about war, we do not love war. But we are willing to engage in a war motivated by love, because we know that in the end the supreme power of the love of God will be victorious. That is cause for great joy!