|War and Peaceby Ken Sande, Founder of Peacemaker Ministries
Resolving Everyday Conflict
Small group Bible study that’s perfect for use in the church or workplace. Ideal for Sunday school classes, membership classes, mission teams, or neighborhood Bible studies—any group that wants to learn, discuss, and apply the principles of biblical peacemaking together.
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War has once again gripped the attention of the world. Regardless of our nationality, something deep inside each of us says, “This is not how it was meant to be!”Indeed, this is not how God intended people to relate to one another. We were created in his image and designed to love one another as God loves us. But sin corrupted God’s wonderful design, opening the way for selfishness, greed, hatred, conflict, and violence (see Gen. 4:10-11; Rom. 1:28-32; James 4:1-2).
Recognizing the reality of sin and the need to restrain violence, the Christian church historically has interpreted the Bible as approving the use of appropriate force to protect innocent people from harm. This may involve a policeman stopping an assault, or an army protecting its country or an ally from attack. Sadly, such actions often involve the taking of human life. Although this goes against God’s original design for human relations and therefore grieves every reasonable person, God himself has decreed that such actions are necessary and just when done to protect the innocent and restrain evil (see Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:1-6; Eccl. 3:8).
Since conflict between nations can lead to horrific bloodshed, the church long ago sought to limit war by establishing principled guidelines for when and how to wage war. These guidelines are generally referred to as the “Just War Doctrine.” According to this doctrine, a war is just if and only if: it has a just cause, it is declared by a proper authority, it is pursued with a right intention, it has a reasonable chance of success, and it has an end that is proportional to the means used. If war is commenced, it is also necessary to make reasonable efforts to protect non-combatants from harm and to use force that is proportional to the desired objective. 1
These seven criteria are highly subjective. When applying them to the present war in Iraq, reasonable people interpret them in different ways. President Bush and his supporters believe that these criteria have been fulfilled. But there are many others who disagree and therefore oppose the decision to take military action against Iraq.
What is a Christian to think and do in the face of such significant disagreement and world-shaking events? I believe it is appropriate for people in every land to continue to discuss why and how this war is being pursued, even as we pray for a swift restoration of peace. As Christians talk and pray, it will be helpful to keep three foundational principles in mind.
God Is in Control
It is always distressing when nations contend with one another in war. Forces beyond our control sweep us along to uncertain ends, and many lives hang in the balance. At such times, we can find great comfort in the fact that God is sovereign and always in control, even over the hearts of rulers and the course of nations.
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases (Prov. 21:1).
When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm…. It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another (Psalm 75:3, 7).
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them…. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ (Dan. 2:20-21; 4:35)
It is also comforting to know that God never exercises his power arbitrarily or unjustly. He is always good, and he always acts with perfect justice, even when his timing does not meet our expectations (see Ps. 145.9; Ps. 73; Prov. 16:4; Jer. 18:7-10).
I have found it helpful to pray aloud with these and similar scriptures, reminding myself of God’s power and goodness, and acknowledging his rule over the nations. I encourage you to do the same. As our confidence in God grows, we can be freed from doubt and fear, and be able to see troubling events as an opportunity to proclaim Christ and serve others.
Our Leaders Need Our Prayers
Regardless of what country they live in, Christians often struggle to understand their responsibilities in times of war. On the one hand, we remember Jesus’ command to love our enemies and his blessing upon peacemakers. On the other hand, we usually feel obligated to support our leaders and our troops as they go to battle. How can we do both?
The key to resolving this tension is to remember that God has assigned different responsibilities to different people. On an individual basis, each of us should seek peace and look for ways to do good to others, even those who hate us (Luke 6:27-31).
At the same time, we must realize that God has given civil government the responsibility and authority to promote justice, protect people from violence, and punish those who do wrong (see Rom. 13:1-6). This is a heavy responsibility, especially when it involves the exercise of lethal force — but without this restraint, evil would run rampant and innocent people would suffer. Thus there are times when those who lead and protect a nation must engage in war (Eccl. 3:8).
President Bush has concluded that this is such a time. Many people agree with his decision, while others do not. It is appropriate for people to continue expressing their opinions in thoughtful and respectful ways. We can also hope that future events will clearly reveal whether the President acted wisely. In any case, it is certain that he will be judged by voters in the next election, by historians when his presidency is over, and, most importantly, by God, to whom he must one day give an account for his order to attack (Eccl. 12:14).
This is a heavy burden to carry. Therefore, whether or not we agree that this war is necessary, each of us should pray frequently for President Bush and national leaders around the world, asking God to give all of them humility, wisdom, discernment, courage, and strength, so that they will do what is just, protect the innocent, and restore peace as quickly as possible (1 Tim. 2:1-2; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).
At the same time, no matter what country we live in, each of us should pray that our civil leaders would lead us in a careful and continuous examination of our national agendas and actions (Matt. 7:3-5). Leaders and voters alike are vulnerable to sin and error, which can lead any country astray. Therefore, we should repeatedly ask God to show us where our nation needs to change any policies and practices that do not satisfy his standards of justice, righteousness, and compassion (Psalm 82:3-4; Luke 12:48). As we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, he promises to lift and guide us (1 Pet. 5:5-6; Prov. 3:5-7).
Each of Us Can Still Be a Peacemaker
Even when civil leaders decide to wage war, there is still much that individual Christians can do on a personal basis. We should seek accurate information, listen carefully to opposing views, and strive to influence national policy through prayer, respectful debate, and our right to vote. We can also act individually to heal relationships and promote personal reconciliation. In Romans 13, just a few verses before Paul describes the government’s right to wield the sword, he describes the individual Christian’s responsibility to be a peacemaker:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:14-15, 17-21).
This passage echoes Jesus’ teaching that we should love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27-28, 35-36). Here are some practical ways that you can put these commands into practice in this time of conflict, regardless of where you live or what you think of the war in Iraq.
- Mourn with those who mourn. All of us should grieve deeply with those who lose loved ones due to war or other forms of violence, whether in Iraq or other countries that struggle with deadly strife. We Christians should share not only our tears and words of comfort, but also our time, energy, and material resources to minister to them and help rebuild their lives. We should also pray that these events would make us more compassionate toward people outside our country who suffer oppression, persecution, and violence.
- Remember God’s mercy to you. All true peacemaking springs from what Jesus Christ did on the cross to reconcile a fallen world to a holy God (Rom. 5:1-8). We cannot truly love our enemy or do good to those who hate us until we see that God has done exactly that with us. When we recognize our own sin, acknowledge the eternal judgment we deserve, and stand amazed at his offer of mercy and forgiveness, then and only then can individuals respond lovingly to acts of violence and do the hard, unnatural work of peacemaking.
- Pray for those who have done wrong. Praying for an enemy is not easy. Even when we get past our feelings of hatred and our desire for revenge, we struggle to know what to pray. Should we follow David’s example and pray for justice to come upon them (Ps. 28:4), or should we follow Jesus’ example and ask God to forgive them (Luke 23:34)? As we remember our own need for God’s mercy, I believe we must do both. We can pray, “Lord, display your love for justice and prevent further evil by bringing guilty people to account in this life for what they have done. At the same time, Father, display your love for mercy and magnify the glory of the gospel by bringing these people to repentance and faith in Christ, so that whatever temporal judgment they face at the hands of men, they might experience the eternal forgiveness that you purchased for us by the infinitely precious blood of Christ.”
- Stand up for the persecuted. Pent-up fear and anger in many countries is being sinfully vented towards innocent people of certain ethnic descent or religious beliefs. Christians should be the first ones to stand up for the oppressed (Ex. 22:21; Isa. 1:17). In addition to preventing individual acts of hatred that would propagate further violence, your loving intervention could open the door to share the gospel with people whose religious belief has been shaken and whose hearts have been opened.
- Make peace with those around you. Although most of us are not engaged in war and would not kill someone with our hands, all too often we kill others in our hearts. As 1 John 3:15 warns, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” The tumultuous events of our day could produce a harvest of peace and reconciliation if each of us were now inspired to fight the cancer of sin and estrangement on a personal level, seeking genuine reconciliation with a spouse, child, parent, friend, co-worker, or anyone else we may have offended. (For practical guidance on how to resolve personal, church, business, or legal conflicts, visit the Foundational Principles and Heart of Conflict sections of the Peacemaker Ministries web site at www.Peacemaker.net.)
- Study and teach peacemaking. In times of war many people are searching for better ways to deal with conflict. The time is ripe to wrestle with practical issues of confession, confrontation, justice, forgiveness, restitution, and reconciliation. Please do not let this incredible “teachable moment” pass you by. Dig into God’s Word and see what he has to say about these life-changing matters, and then teach others what you are learning about peacemaking (1 Pet. 3:15-16). Engage your children, talk with your friends, start conversations at work, lead a Sunday school class at church. Now is the time to learn and to teach!
- Pray for peacemaking around the world. Even if war ended today in Iraq, it is ready to erupt tomorrow in a dozen other countries. In response to this danger, Peacemaker Ministries is equipping Christians in some of the world’s most troubled lands, including South Korea, India, Israel, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. Please pray for us as we seek to bring our limited resources to bear in these volatile regions.
- Share the gospel of peace. Above all else, seize every opportunity to be an ambassador of reconciliation by pointing people to the Prince of Peace (2 Cor. 5:16-21). War and death are suddenly very real to everyone in the world, and questions about evil and judgment abound. People who would have brushed the gospel aside not long ago are suddenly open and marvelously interested in talking about eternal matters. The fields are truly “white unto harvest,” and there can be no greater peacemaking than to help others to be reconciled to their God.
War has come upon us but it need not overcome us. Now is the time to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ as we never have before. Even as national leaders carry out their legitimate yet heavy responsibilities of doing what they think must be done to protect innocent people from harm, let’s seize every opportunity to share the love of Christ and promote personal peace and reconciliation. In doing so, we can redeem these dreadful times and fulfill one of the most wonderful promises ever given, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/j/justwar.htm;
and “Good Wars,” by Darrell Cole, http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0110/articles/cole.html.
Ken Sande is an attorney, the author The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Baker Books, 3rd Ed. 2003), Peacemaking for Families (Tyndale, 2002), and founder of Peacemaker Ministries (www.Peacemaker.net), an international ministry committed to equipping and assisting Christians and their churches to respond to conflict biblically.
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