Authors Note: This was written in 2011. I have made no changes except editorial ones (grammer and spelling).
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Upon reading the above passage, the phrase “heap coals of fire on his head” strikes us as a violent outcome. If we are peaceful we heap flames upon them and they burn. However it is not. It could refer to the act of the enemy “burn[ing] with pangs of guilt and remorse” (Laymen’s Commentary). However the Jewish encyclopedia states this:
“The word “coal” is often used in a metaphorical sense: 2 Samuel 14: 7 speaks of the “quenching of the coal” of a man, meaning the complete annihilation of his issue; while in Proverbs 25:22 kindness bestowed upon an enemy is called “heaping coals of fire upon his head,” since it tends to waken his deadened conscience and help him to realize his wrong. Ecclus. (Sirach) viii. 10 compares the smoldering and easily roused passion of the godless man to the coal that is easily lighted and breaks forth into flame.”
So in being peaceful the act is of a revival. The act is healing. The reason we should be peaceful is so that we can stand next to God when he says that he delights in goodness and kindness to all men (Jeremiah 9:24).
In the scripture above, Paul makes a very strong case for peace. In the current war atmosphere, I think it is very important to visit the reasons for peace and the reasons against war. I want to first place theological reasons from the Bible and from Christian authors, then place “secular” reasons why war is undesirable and should be avoided at all costs.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Peace
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian. He wrote a very famous book called The Cost of Discipleship (Which I would highly recommend). In this book, among other subjects, he wrote three chapters on peace and our response to evil. He writes in his chapter Revenge citing Matthew 5:38-42:
“The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match”
Here Bonhoeffer creates the image of a peaceful christian. In a practical sense, if someone is harming us, it does no good to do the same. God could have waged war with us and surely wiped us out. But instead he came to earth to discuss peace terms. He came to give life and peace to our souls that are at enmity with Him. We are to now shew forth His love and grace to other men. All men. Also Bonhoeffer writes in the chapter The Enemy-the “Extraordinary”, referring to Matthew 5:43-48:
“Here Jesus goes further and bids us not only to bear with evil and the evil person patiently, not only to refrain from treating him as he treats us, but actively to engage in heart-felt love towards him.”
Once again we see the same principle stated. We are to patently endure the evil, for this comes as a shock to the evil. It has not meet the resistance it is looking for. Bonhoeffer makes a call to love, peace and prayer. We are to pray for our enemy; to plea to God for them and that He would protect us. War is certainly not in the disciples mind. The disciple should take great measures to ensure peace. Finally my last quote from Bonhoeffer:
“Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility… As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.”
Bonhoeffer in Practice
Unfortunately Bonhoeffer did not live fully up to his ideas. I want to include that the actions of the messenger does not change the truth of the message. We should expect the messenger to abound by his laws, for who else has greater understanding of the message than the messenger. However Bonhoeffer’s action does not change the truth of the message and he does redeem himself. Bonhoeffer, after careful consideration, found it necessary to assassinate Hitler. He participated in a group that wanted to achieve this cause. I believe that his action is a result of a lack of faith in God. His involvement in this group led to his arrest and imprisonment. During his imprisonment he behaved much like Paul. He did not resist. He was executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp by direct order of Heinrich Himmler, April 9, 1945.
Bible Verses on Peace and Anti-War
This list is by no means exhaustive because it was compiled by myself based on the verses I know. The verses listed relate to my overall message.
- Matthew 5:9
- Romans 12:9-10;18-21
- Ephesians 6:12
- Matthew 5:43-48
- 1 Corinthians 6:20
- Romans 13:14
- Genesis 1:27
- Acts 5:29
- Philippians 4:8
- 1 Thessalonians 5:15
- 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
- 1 Timothy 4:7-8
- 1 Peter 4:15-16
- 1 Peter 5:10
- Romans 13:9-14
- Psalms 37:1-2;7-8
- Psalms 20:7
The Muslim Religion
Before I go into the “secular” reasons why war is unacceptable (esp. the current wars) I want to address the issue of the Muslim religion being violent. First off, the Bible commands us to be peaceful to all Muslims. As explained earlier this Muslim hate will do nothing good. However when one looks at the Quran, you can not but see the violence that is commissioned. I found this webpage listing various verses of the Quran and giving anti-violence commentary. The link is http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm. After reading this I am convinced that the Quran is inherently violent. However we are not to have a hate or even a distaste for Muslims. My opinion of Muslims have not changed. I believe them to be respectable people. I still call us to be at peace with them at all costs.
Conclusion To The Theology Section
If we truly have a love for the truth and a longing for peace, we will find that war is essentially unnecessary. We can not reach lost souls by killing them. We are not glorifying the name of Christ, nor are we showing forth the end of this world, by taking part in violence and warfare. If we truly care about evangelizing to lost souls and we claim to never rest until the whole world hears the gospel, then warfare is not compatible. If all men are created in the image of God, then why kill our brother and even potential fellow Christian? If we claim that grace is by God and “not of our own works lest any man should boast”, then there is no man more deserving of death than us.
Resolved, peace is the ultimate good and can even proclaim the gospel of Christ, and war is never an acceptable thing.
We should be more concerned about sending missionaries overseas rather than soldiers.
Pacifism Not Passive-ism
I want to say that my views are not passive, rather I am calling for peace at all costs. Bonhoeffer rights in the chapter Revenge
“Patient endurance of evil does not mean a recognition of its rights…the shameful assault, the deed of violence and the act of exploitation are still evil. The disciple must realize this, and bear witness to it as Jesus did, just because this is the only way evil can be met and overcome.”
I still say murder is evil. I still say that torture is evil. However It is not my duty, or any of my business to punish people thousands of miles away from me. And it is certainly not the government’s responsibility. I am against evil, but in fighting wars we exchange bullets for bullets. Look as this quote by the historian Howard Zinn:
“It was a war against an enemy of unspeakable evil. Hitler’s Germany was extending totalitarianism, racism, militarism, and overt aggressive warfare beyond what an already cynical world had experienced. And yet, did the governments conducting this war—England, the United States, the Soviet Union—represent something significantly different, so that their victory would be a blow to imperialism, racism, totalitarianism, militarism, in the world?”
Obviously the answer is no. Obviously World War 1 was not “the war to end all wars”. That very title is laughable. I was reminded of the quote by Bonhoeffer:
“By refusing to pay back the enemy in his own coin, and by preferring to suffer without resistance, the Christian exhibits the sinfulness of contumely and insult.”
By not fighting evil it runs out of “coins” and it is seen as truly evil. Are the jhadists in Iraq and Afghanistan evil? I’m not sure. Our troops are doing exactly what they are. bombing, maiming, torturing, and killing.
Therefore, by being peaceful, we still have a duty to declare evil and bear witness to atrocities. We do not turn a blind eye, and we do not sink into isolationism. The pro-war rhetoric promotes a excluded middle argument: we must go to war to protect ourselves or sink into isolationism. Well no. There is a middle. How about “Opening ourselves up to friendship, honest trade and diplomacy” (Ron Paul)? How about refusing to exchange bullets for bullets? In the 90s, the U.S. put war embargo’s upon Iraq, killing an estimated 1.5 million children. The number of U.S civilians killed in 9/11? 2,996 people. Now yes 9/11 was a great tragedy, and I abhor any loss of life. So why do we mourn the loss of 2,996 people, when a decade ago 1.5 million children (not including adults) were killed and most responded the same way one would hearing about the loss of pawns on a chess board?
The Struggle of “Defending our Country” Vs. History
The most common last word on american wars is that statement, well don’t we need to protect our country against its enemies? Yes we most certainly do. As stated above, I am not advocating a “play dead” strategy. However as also stated above, how can we mourn our three thousand dead, yet shrug at their 1.5 million dead?
American history is one filed with imperialism and interventionism. From the Mexican war under Zachary Taylor to the Iraq war under Bush, they are all atrocities that were un-just. The list goes on. The Mexican-American war, the Philippians war, the Spanish-American war, the annexation of Hawaii (which was essential a military coup), the Platt Amendment, and a list of interventionist policies that existed from Taft onward.
In the current war, and the past one (Iraq), great atrocities were committed on behalf of the U.S. government. Just take a quick look at U.S. history in the Middle East (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WVtpao0KSM). Upon this understanding, and an understanding of other Imperialist history touched on in Lawrence Vance’s book Christianity and War (and reading chapter 12 entitled The Empire and the People in Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States which is available online), it become difficult for me to say the wars we are fighting are defensive. Certainly the past wars mentioned above were not defensive. The question raised by history is this: are we really protecting ourselves from an unforeseen, unprovoked enemy? History seems to be shouting, no we are not. Until we adopt the getting-our-tentacles-out-of-foreign-affairs policy, we will not be able to say we are acting in self-defense.
The Costs of War
I read a book last year called Lethal Warriors by David Philips. I would recommend this book to just about anyone. It’s a book about soldiers overseas who come home with untreated PTSD. It’s mainly meant to be a critique of the army’s handling of PTSD. In general it explains, point-blank, the horrors of war. It fully embodies the quote by William Tecumseh Sherman:
“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”
Honestly I find this quote to be very ironic considering the horrible actions of Sherman, but none the less his quote is true. War is a nightmare. In Lethal Warriors, soldiers give multiple accounts of terrorizing civilians:
“‘I’m all about spreading freedom and democracy and everything,’ said Josh Butler, another soldier in the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. ‘But it seems like the Iraqis didn’t even want it.’
Soldiers said discipline started to break down.
‘Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated,’ Freeman said. ‘You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley.’
If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and ‘just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em.’
Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.
‘It was just a free-for-all,’ said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. ‘You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off.’
Unfortunately that’s just a taste. War leaves a country with huge scars. War leaves troops wondering what they even fought for. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said:
“Almost every war ends, properly, with its veterans feeling deceived and pointless and gullible, with their being persuaded that all participants were equally vile.”
War is never a great thing. To me it is detestable and it always has a great cost. Again from Lethal Warriors:
“In June 2005…his platoon was walking across a field when a sniper’s bullet smashed through his best friend’s skull under the helmet.
The platoon circled its guns and grenade launchers, Marquez said, and ‘tore that neighborhood up.'”
Lesson from Lethal Warriors
PTSD is the acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It usually happens when a person suffers a serious traumatic event or comes across traumatic events repeatedly. Soldiers are trained on instinct. It should come as no surprise that most people don’t want to shoot other people. It was found that most soldiers don’t shoot during combat (Read On Killing by David Grossman). To fix this, the army implemented a training exercise that teaches soldiers to shoot upon seeing the enemy. This made shooting an instinct and it was found the number of soldiers who shoot went up.
The problem with this is the soldiers brains “ethic part” shrunk (literally) and the instinct part of the brain grew. That is what trauma did to the soldiers. They began to be very jumpy and stressed. The instinct part of their brain took over. Also the brain freaks out with the overload of stress and they begin to have nightmares and flashbacks and even hallucinations.
All the soldiers knew to do was kill. They had this instinct drilled in them. Animistic behavior works in some contexts (war) but it cannot work in society. That’s exactly whats happened. That is one of the many costs of war.
Against the Current Foreign Policy
We cannot be the policemen of the world. In truth we don’t have the resources or the energy to take on such a task. And such a task will certainly procure enemies who wish for us to get our nose out of other people’s business. I believe this explains our situation today. Do not by into the lie that they hate us for our freedom. This is by far the dumbest reason to attack someone and it covers up the past. We have established a military presence in their neighborhoods! Are we so surprised that they don’t like our soldiers? It should come to no surprise.
And the whole idea of us liberating them is pure fantasy. In taking down “the enemy”, we have killed countless civilians, destroyed buildings and other property, and have demolished their economy. You can never expect a war to happen, and someone not be affected by it. We do not wage war in a vacuum. Countless lives over there are being affected.
The thing that is laughable to me is we went to Iraq looking for “weapons of mass destruction”. Less than two years later it was found that there are none. So why are we still over there? We are wasting our resources and our men (Fathers, sons, brothers, workers) and we are destroying their resources and men. We have convinced ourselves that the men over there are all “Islamic extremists”.
I stand by Ron Paul and others (esp. Lawrence Vance) by saying we need to remove our troops from all of our 160 countries that we find some need to be in all in at once. Our warfare needs to be purely defensive.
In conclusion we should have peace at all costs (war≠peace). Albert Eisenstein once said:
“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, science for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable an ignoreable war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”
As Christians we should strive to show the love and peace of Christ to all men. We should strive for peace with all men. I would defiantly argue that the current wars are unjustifiable and will do a lot more damage in the long run than we expect. Finally I want to quote Charles Spurgeon:
“The great crime of war can never promote the religion of peace. The battle, and the garment rolled in blood, are not a fitting prelude to “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I do firmly hold, that the slaughter of men, that bayonets, and swords, and guns, have never yet been, and never can be, promoters of the gospel.”
- Christianity and War by Laurence M. Vance
- Lethal Warriors by David Philips
- On Killing by David Grossman (recommended by David Philips)
- War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges
- What About Hitler? by Robert Brimlow