Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

War or Peace    (6/2/2019 1)

You will hear of wars and rumours of wars…” Those words of Jesus (Matthew 24, verse 6) have been more than fulfilled in the centuries since he spoke them. The Twentieth Century is notorious as being, by almost every reckoning, the most violent and bloodiest century for wars and massacres.

Christians, and indeed people of almost every faith, have been involved in some of these wars, and some wars certainly sound as though they were religious - “holy wars” or “crusades”, for instance. And people have often claimed to have God on their side, or to be acting in the name of God or their religion.

But wars are complex things, and often the cause of particular wars is not at all clear. When we ask - don’t religions start wars? - the answer is not always, in fact not often. The proportion of wars which have a purely religious motivation is actually very small.

And different faiths have different attitudes to war. Within the Christian tradition, war is seen as essentially evil, though sometimes justified in terms of the so-called “Just War”. But going to war is not a Christian objective.

The issue is complicated by the common link between a nation and its dominant faith. Some nations might be described as “Christian nations”, which might mean that their history and culture have deep Christian roots, or that the majority of their people profess a Christian faith. In the modern world such a nation might go to war to defend its territory and people - of all faiths and none - but would not go to war to spread Christianity.

For Christians in such a nation, the decision whether to fight or not, would be a personal one. Some would see it as their duty to uphold the state and fight for freedom; others might decide not to fight on the basis of the command not to kill. In either case, the decision would be a personal response to their understanding of their Christian duty. Their first loyalty would be obedience to Christ, not to the state.

When Jesus was interrogated by Governor Pilate in the hours before his crucifixion, he was asked what kind of king he was. He replied, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over… No, my kingdom does not belong here!” (John 18, 36). That is definitive. His kingdom belongs in the hearts and minds of his followers, not in their systems of government.

Historically, that has meant a degree of separation between church and state, though sometimes a difficult one to maintain. But it does seem as though the biggest problems have arisen when a particular faith has become part of a national identity, so making it look as though loyalty to one’s faith involves loyalty to the state.

For Christians, however, there is a personal challenge and a personal decision to be made.


Eternal God, bring peace to those oppressed by war; give me wisdom in dealing with powers of evil and division, and grant us peace.

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