Pacifism and the national interest
(Original Title: Pacifism and National Trust)
By John C. Darrow
(Published in The Christian Leader, December 1986)
Can a believer responsibly expect to enjoy the protection of a nation without participating in the military defense of that nation? Is pacifism, as some claim, both impractical and morally wrong? For answers to such questions, the Christian believer must turn to Scripture.
The Scriptures give rules for war, describe and predict war, and speak of war as one form of judgment against a nation. Yet participation in war is not commended. Rather, such participation should be viewed as are the "necessary offenses" in Matthew 18:7 - woe to the one who takes part, for this is an offense against Jesus' command to "love your enemies" (Luke 6:27). Protection, both of a nation and of individuals, does not result from military strength, but is dependent upon trust in the LORD. We read, "I will save them - not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the LORD their God" (Hosea 1:7, NIV). And again, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (Psalm 20:7, NIV).
We often think of Israel's entering the Promised Land as being a time of God-ordained warfare, yet the promise made by God (Exodus 23:20-30) is clear that if obedience to the LORD had been forthcoming, war would not have occurred - rather, the angel of the LORD would have been the agent of God's judgment on the nations of Canaan, driving them out by hornet, fear, and confusion. The warfare participated in by Israel was the result of their disobedience!
God's protection and deliverance of the righteous are found many times in Scripture. Psalm 8:2 ties deliverance to worship: "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise ... to silence the foe" (NIV). This is exemplified in 2 Chronicles 20:17-23, where we read (NIV):
"'You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.'
Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the LORD. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with very loud voice.
Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, 'Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.' After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 'Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.'
As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy each other."
Thus the LORD delivered Judah under Jehoshaphat from three armies as they began to praise and worship Him.
Other examples of God's deliverance may be found: Judah under Hezekiah was delivered from the army of Sennacherib in response to prayer (2 Chronicles 32:20-21); Elisha the prophet was protected by chariots of fire from the king of Aram (2 Kings 6:8-23); the LORD drove away the Aramean army from Israel by causing them to hear the sound of warfare (2 Kings 7:6-7).
Our trust in God, however, is not based on expectation that He MUST deliver us. The Hebrew youths in Babylon (Daniel 3:17,18) and Jesus in the garden (Luke 22:42) express plainly not only their trust in God, but also their submission to His sovereignty through "obedience unto death." We also are called, as in Revelation 2:10, to "be faithful unto death."
Participation by believers in warfare is rebuked in Scripture. David was not permitted to build the Temple because he had been a man of war (1 Chronicles 22:8-9). Jesus rebuked Peter for using the sword (Matthew 26:52), and He told Pilate that His disciples do not fight because they belong to His kingdom which is not of this world (John 18:36).
Paul states in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, "... we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world ...". Although his primary emphasis is on the fact that we ARE involved in spiritual warfare, his statement that believers do NOT participate in military warfare must be seen as literally true, and not spiritualized away. Romans 12:19 also forbids our participation in war, and reserves vengeance and judgment for God Himself.
For the nation that is disobedient to God, war does come, as judgment. "The cup from the LORD's right hand is coming around to you ... The violence you have done ... will overwhelm you ... For you have shed man's blood ..." (Habakkuk 2:16-17, NIV). Other judgments may also come to the disobedient nation (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).
In conclusion, we as believers bear a responsibility to our nation, not to kill for the nation, but to warn the nation, as Ezekiel was called to do in his day: "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me" (Ezekiel 33:7, NIV). In such a way, we are far more effective in the defense of a nation than if we kill other human beings for that nation.