reprinted from the book, Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses see catalog
by Randall Watters
God's Response To Evil
Looking over six thousand years of human history, it is clear why some people are agnostic or atheist. "If there is a loving God," they say, "then why does he allow evil?" God's moral character is called into question, and because there seems to be no satisfactory answers, many thinkers have concluded that God, as a personal Being, must not exist; or at least he is not concerned with his creation.
The Bible has much to say about God's character, as well as the issues at stake in determining God's response to evil. However, when all is said that can be said, there is a suspicion that we are not fully capable of understanding the whole picture; and therefore we MUST trust the character of God to come through in the end, or we are all lost! Faith must enter the picture; faith that believes in what we DO know about God's character, and therefore trusts that He will come through in unfamiliar areas. This trust in God's character is the kind of faith that agnostics and atheists fall short of possessing.
There are three basic explanations that the Judeo-Christian religions offer for God's allowance of evil. They are:
FIRST VIEW: God is not all-powerful, therefore he cannot fully curtail evil (though evil may be eliminated in the future). This view is typified by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his bestseller Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.
SECOND VIEW: God does not have or did not choose to use foreknowledge to know the outcome of evil. Because the free choice of his creatures must be respected and not interfered with, He must not know the future so as not to share responsibility in it. This is the view of Jehovah's Witnesses. They say that since the universal issue is said to be the vindication of God's character, He is obligated to allow the Devil to rule for a time, so that all may see that God is right. Otherwise, doubts of God's goodness might persist.
THIRD VIEW: God knew everything that would happen before the beginning of time, and purposely chose to create a world where his creatures would possess full moral freedom of choice for good or evil, because He saw it as having the best possible outcome (rather than creating a world where man would not or could not sin). He knew that man would fall, and He knew that much pain and suffering would exist in such a world before he even created it. In fact, he knew that he himself would suffer with it. Because He is God, by definition he must know all things from beginning to end, though he is not responsible for evil.1 God evidently sees farther than we do in our small reasonings, and sees the most glorious outcome in this kind of a world. This view is widely held among Christians, and is typified by Norman Geisler's book, The Roots of Evil (Zondervan).
Though the author seeks to avoid judging others as to their views in these matters, he will advocate the third view of God's allowance of evil, as he personally feels this to be the correct one. This view allows for God's being in full control of every matter from the beginning to the end. Additionally, he would express that he believes God has chosen to suffer along with man as part of his purpose in creating such a world.
Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is pictured as possessing full control of all situations. He can change the hearts of people for good or bad (Ex. 4:21; Ps. 51:10), he can create evil or good circumstances in the lives of people (Isa. 45:7), frustrate the devil or encourage him on (Job 1:12; Jude 9), motivate pagan kings for good or bad (Isa. 44:28; Jer. 27:5,6), and even lead the devil's servants about by a hook in their jaws (Eze. 38:16).
To outsiders, the Bible seems obscure or unbelievable in its presentation of Yahweh and his servants. His own people often fail to be a force for good in the world (Rom. 2:24; Rev. 2:20); falling short of God's character, and seeming to lack the power to change things. The nonbeliever often even sees the life of Jesus Christ as a defeat! (Matt. 27:3944) Ah, but that is where the secret lies.
Sooner or later, the Christian learns something that the nonbeliever does not understand - that there are superior ways to overcome the evil in the world. It is true that Christ could have prevented his death (and could have ruled the world at the time!), but he chose a course that appeared to be a defeat by most standards. Yet, though humans could not see the victory then, the actual result was far superior to mere physical force (Acts 2:22-36). Jesus' use of force to take charge of the world at that time would have, in fact, been undesirable in the long run. It would convey the impression that God created a world where full freedom of choice was allowed, yet he was obligated to step in and force people to serve him (since it didn't work).
Regardless of one's view of God, one thing cannot be argued. No matter how much we try to ignore it or deny it, God allows sin, suffering, warfare and death. The Bible itself is full of the same, and that is one of the reasons it is accepted as history, because its record is honest and plausible regarding man's imperfection. Attempts to make the Bible more palatable by "toning down" the judgments of God against other nations, the conducting of aggressive warfare against the Canaanites, and God's occasional strong hand against his own people are simply wishful thinking. It is easier to accept the God of the Bible, because of what we see around us, than to believe that God is like a kindly old grandfather that would never get angry or have harsh words. The God of liberal theology exists outside of reality! Furthermore, a God who is not in absolute control and having full foresight of the future is not really "God" at all; just a powerful being with limitations.
RECOGNIZING SIN AND EVIL
Society often ignores the nature of sin and evil. Especially is this true in our court system. Rather than hardened criminals being diagnosed as wicked or incorrigible, psychiatrists often diagnose them as "ill," as if there is some kind of treatment that, when found, will make them whole again. It is increasingly popular to believe that if such people can understand themselves or get "in touch" with themselves, that they will be healed of their criminality.
However, not all people yield to gentle persuasion. Many learn life's lessons the hard way, through much suffering and loss, because of stubbornness or pride (Prov. 1:32; 16:18). Though the Spirit of God has transformed the lives of millions, the coming of the kingdom of God must include the destruction of those who refuse to change; as their continued presence works against good. Sadly, untold greater numbers must someday be resurrected to face the throne of judgment without hope (Rev. 20:11-15).
EVIL AND TOTALITARIAN NATIONS
It is easy to forget the nature of evil during times of prosperity. Many of those who object to a country being militarily prepared for defense are often those who deny the nature of evil, let alone the reality of sin. In studying the aims of Communism, for instance (which have not changed in decades), it amazes me how naive the Free World is regarding totalitarian governments. We seem to be eager to believe that totalitarian nations will keep their word, or that they really have our good in mind; but a study of history shows this to be far from true.
An article in The Review of the News of Dec. 26, 1984 (p. 53-54) reveals that a team of historians did a study (at a cost of over one million dollars) of all the disarmament agreements of the last 1000 years of Western history, and found that in every recorded instance, the disarmament agreements led to war. The study shows that without exception the "honest" side that actually disarmed was attacked by the "dishonest" side, and was usually conquered. These agreements have always given aggressors a superior position while putting peace-seeking nations in a state of fatal weakness. Even Ghandi, noted for his hunger strikes and peaceful demonstrations, admitted that his tactics would not work with totalitarian governments.
BIBLICAL VIEW OF SELF DEFENSE AND WARFARE
(The following represents one view towards the issue of self-defense and secular responsibilities. This material is submitted for the purpose of providing a defense for those who believe that self-defense is a moral obligation, both for one's families and one's neighbors who seek to live in peace, but who are threatened by godless aggressors who seek their destruction. This essay does not particularly represent the author's personal view on involvement in politics, government and the military. This essay is merely intended to establish a government's right to use military force to protect themselves against totalitarian systems, and the individual's right to involve himself in this function at times.)
Self-defense is not something that needs to be taught to people, but is part of man's natural reaction to imminent danger. Not only evident among humans, self-defense comes natural to all animals and even some plants. Accordingly, it was not usually necessary for Yahweh to teach his people how to defend themselves, but rather, in the time of Moses, he lays down laws governing the limitations of self-defense (Ex. 21:12 through 22:3). Since warfare is often a form of self-defense, the two are often connected.
Long before the nation of Israel was established, war was sanctioned by Yahweh for just causes. In Genesis chapter 14, due to the capture of his nephew Lot, Abraham goes to war against Chedorlaomer king of Elam. There is no mention of Yahweh directing this action, but he does afterwards have Melchizedek king of Salem bless Abraham, saying, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand." In chapter 15, God further blesses him in a vision. Abraham believed in self-defense as well as aggressive warfare, and trusted in God's blessing in war even though there is no evidence that he petitioned God for victory first. He simply did what he knew to be proper.
In giving the Law to the nation of Israel, Yahweh tells them he is a Warrior God (Ex. 15:3) and that He would go before them to defeat their enemies. This was not a matter of self-defense, but aggressive warfare with a view to claiming their promised land. Yahweh directed them to either take the captives as slaves (condoning slavery) or to destroy every able-bodied man; and in some cases women and children as well (Deut. 20:10-18). Here is where God's understanding of evil transcends man's response to it. While the Israelites often objected to this approach due to its "inhumanity" (which disobedience later proved to be their undoing), God knew that it was necessary to destroy evil people rather than to allow them to corrupt his own children (Deut. 20:18). Over and over in the OT, as the Israelites went to war, "there was left no one who breathed." These would be labeled as wars of aggression by modern standards, similar to the modern nation of Israel nearly capturing Egypt during the Six Day War.
Yahweh warned his people that if they did not destroy all the Canaanites in their victories, that they would later become a snare to Israel. This would bring about a reverse effect, for God would then inspire the pagan nations to war against Israel (Deut. 28:15-37). Israel would then naturally respond in self-defense (even though their God was the one who inspired the war against them!) God would then respond by raising up judges to help his people in this warfare, implying that he certainly expected them to fight their enemies (even when he inspired their enemies to war against them in the first place - Joshua 23:12-16; Judges 2:14 through 3:12). God apparently felt that war served to keep his people on their toes, so to speak, and that extended times of peace resulted in apostasy due to their sin nature (Judges 2:18-19).
We find in Hebrews chapter eleven that these very judges who used assassinations, terrorism, sabotage and guerrilla warfare are praised as examples of faith and courage for Christians, because they were willing to risk their lives and die for a just cause. It is no wonder that many critics of the OT consider Yahweh as a "tribal God," different from the New Testament Christ!
NEW TESTAMENT TIMES
In the first century, we find believing Israelites who were soldiers (they may have been Romans who converted to Judaism, or Jews under the service of Herod Antipas). When the people came to be baptized by John, they would ask him questions about whether they should make changes in their lives (Luke 3:10-18), and he would give them the same kind of advice that Jesus later gave. When soldiers asked him, "And what about us, what shall we do?" he answered, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14). This would have been John's perfect opportunity to tell them to resign from the military, but he counseled them instead to be content with their jobs.
In Acts chapter 10 we find Cornelius, who is a centurion of the Roman army, described as a devout man who feared God and prayed continually. In verse 35, the apostle Peter implies that he is a doer of what is right. He becomes a believer in Jesus and is baptized, apparently remaining a centurion in the army. There is no mention in the NT of any soldiers who were admonished to leave their profession to become a Christian. The apostle Paul, in fact, counsels new converts to "remain in that condition in which he was called" (1 Cor. 7:24).
The Lord Jesus only appears to have said two things that deal directly with self-defense and warfare, and these statements appear to be contradictory at first glance. On the night of his betrayal, knowing that he would soon be parted from his disciples, he told them,
And he said to them, "When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?" And they said, "No, nothing." And he said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one." (Luke 22:35, 36)
The second statement he made later that night, when Peter struck at the slave of the high priest with his sword:
Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scripture be fulfilled that it must happen this way? (Matt. 26:52-54)
Why did Jesus tell them to take up provisions that would equip them for new conditions in the ministry, including a sword for self-defense, and then shortly thereafter tell Peter not to use the sword?
The key lies in the context of each statement. Peter was told not to use the sword, because he was acting in the flesh, forgetting that Jesus told him he would have to be arrested and suffer death. Peter did not see the purpose in Jesus' arrest and death. He was acting out of his flesh rather than from wisdom. Those who live out of their flesh, Jesus intimated, with its violent and unbridled passions, will die at the hands of the same. Yet, Peter and the others were told to take up swords and money pouches and an outer garment for specific reasons (not just out of symbolism; as he would have only mentioned swords and not pouches if this was the case).
Yet, other statements of Jesus that seem to bear on the issue of self-defense seem pacifistic, such as in Matthew 5:39, where Jesus says "not to resist the one who is evil; but to him who slaps you on the cheek, to offer him your other cheek." How are we to understand this?
Matthew 5:39 is part of a larger sermon of Jesus, where he advocates giving everything you have to those who ask it of you, doing favors for any who ask them, and allowing yourself to suffer loss in lawsuits others may bring against you. Do we accept such statements without qualification? Was Jesus contradicting the Proverbs (Prov. 22:26,27; 25:26)? To accept this advice without qualification would make one an unusual person, indeed! Most Christians believe that there are other Biblical truths that qualify, or limit, the application of this advice, such as in 2 Thes. 3:10, where a brother who asks for a meal should be turned down if he refuses to work. Robert D. Culver has this to say about passages such as Matthew 5:39:
It is surely a mistake to interpret Jesus' sayings as if they must have unconditional application - that is, apart from other biblical revelation and apart from all interpretation.
Especially, attention must be given to hyperbole as a technique to capture attention and enforce a point. Jesus used it often. How else can we understand such a saying as: "If any . . . hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). Jesus did not intend us to apply his sayings about lending, accompanying guests, presenting a cheek for smiting, and so on, without respect to common sense and care for family and others who are neither borrowers nor guests nor having temper tantrums.
The Old Testament is not wanting in instructions very similar to Jesus' famous sermon. Strack and Billerbeck provide sufficient evidence of parallels to one verse (Matt. 5:25, "agree with thine adversary quickly") to cover most of three pages - and so on through the Sermon on the Mount Jewish scholars rightly protest that Jesus' ethical sayings were not unique to him among ancient rabbis. Pacifist writers sometimes find what they think are their own pacifist teachings in the Old Testament, but when they do so the divinely commanded (not merely permitted) wars do not fit the scheme. ("Justice Is Something Worth Fighting For", Christianity Today, Nov. 7, 1980, pages 17, 20)
KINGDOM NOT OF THIS WORLD
Jesus said that his kingdom was no part of this world; otherwise his servants would fight that he not be delivered up to the Jews (John 18:36). Jesus made it plain that the real hope of believers was in the future literal kingdom of God, to be established on the earth (at his return). He continually emphasized this to his followers, who erroneously believed they would somehow bring about the existence of the kingdom through physical force or revolution (Acts 1:6).
Such cannot happen, due to man's sinful nature and the influence of evil. Armed resistance is not proper in resolving spiritual issues, such as when you are being persecuted for your faith (compare Rom. 12:14). In contrast to this, though, Jesus did not hesitate to use aggressive force in clearing out the temple area of the moneychangers (Matt. 21:12; John 2:15). His use of a whip of cords and the violence of his actions stands out; revealing that Jesus (at least once) condoned the just use of force. Yet he never appears to advocate it.
Rather than suggesting that we cease resisting evil and simply give in to its demands, Jesus redirected the nature of warfare for the believer. Of much greater importance and significance is spiritual warfare; the ability to recognize evil at its source and put on the appropriate weapons of battle to combat it. The apostle Paul gives a stirring description of the armor that Christians are to put on to war against evil in Ephesians 6:10-17:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Spiritual warfare is where the Christian has the greatest advantage. Paul reveals that the long-range effects of such warfare are so far superior to what man can do in the flesh, that every Christian should be spending his or her energies in this direction (2 Cor. 10:36). While one's obligations to "Caesar" may, to some extent, slow down our movement towards this goal, they should never be viewed as a substitute for aggressive Christian ministry.
ROMANS 13:1 AND CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY
Since neither Jesus nor his apostles addressed issues such as the morality of war, nuclear weapons, disarmament treaties, serving on a police force, etc., we must consider the principles involved in each issue.
Jesus made it clear that Christians will suffer persecution for their faith, but said that such persecution will prove to be a witness to others. God would reward them for their tolerance of injustice in matters of their faith. It is vital that Christians have a peace-loving attitude, not desiring conflict or struggle. A disposition to glory in mortal combat is clearly of the devil (James 4:1, 2). Yet in the face of sudden or imminent evil, wisdom is required to know the best course to take, as situations can be complicated. War is not an unmixed evil, or God would not have commanded the Israelites to war, nor would Michael and his angels war against the devil and his angels (Rev. 12:7). Though war is an evil, it is a moral necessity.
In times and places where Christians are not suffering as a whole, such as in most of the Western world, they must carry on life as usual, dividing their time between secular and spiritual responsibilities. In Romans 13:17 Paul tells Christians to "be in subjection to the governing authorities, for God has set up the authorities for our sake" to provide law and order in the midst of a hostile world. However, as in the case of Matthew 5:39 (as mentioned before), there are qualifying statements one must consider, realizing that we are not to be obedient to governments in ALL situations. Peter elsewhere says that we are to "obey God as ruler rather than man" (Acts 5:29), and Jesus said that we "are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21). Clearly, conflicting issues could develop over which a difficult choice must be made by the Christian.
The state, the church and the family all have different spheres of responsibility, each functioning in its own divinely appointed tasks. The leadership in each sphere has authority so long as it functions as intended, not seeking to dominate the other spheres. Yet, at no point are we to expect perfection in the performance of any of these spheres, and then purposely deny the authorities their due because they aren't doing things just right. Similarly, it is not right for children to disobey their parents because the parents make mistakes or show stupidity at times. Christians are not to discredit the church because something isn't done just the way they think it should be done or taught. Citizens are not to stop paying taxes because they feel the government is spending the money foolishly, or spending it on military equipment. Why? Because each one is functioning within their God-given realm of operation; and unless they require us to disobey God, we are to support them, knowing that even though they make mistakes, we must choose the lesser of two evils and respect this arrangement so as to carry on our lives (Rom. 13:4).
PEACE NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE
Christians do not believe that utopia will come on the earth apart from God's direct intervention. In his discussion about not paying back evil for evil and the taking of vengeance, Paul says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." (Romans 12:18) If there is something we can do to ward off arguments or violence with others, then we are to seek this foremost. This does not mean, however, that we are to consistently allow evil people to use us for their own ends (Prov. 25:26). If we are aware of evil intentions on their part that will bring harm to others, we would not logically seek "peace" by giving in to their demands. You do not turn over your child to a child molester just to "keep peace."
By the same token, many Christians feel that the Free World is not to disarm so that totalitarian countries can take over and destroy the lives of millions. They see it as the same kind of issue, one of self-defense, rather than an issue of the faith. Clearly, there are going to be situations where maintaining peace will be impractical, unlivable, and even impossible. Even when we are not motivated by a desire for vengeance, peace will still be impossible at times.
Consequently, "peace" cannot always be the Christian's response, because of the malevolent intent of others. Paul did not allow the fornicator to continue influencing the Corinthians (though they felt it would keep the peace to allow him to remain), but said to disfellowship him (1 Cor. 5:13). It is hard for us to deny a brother a meal; but if he refuses to work, we are to deny him food (2 Thes. 3:10), and deny him fellowship. The apostle John tells us that we are to refuse to make peace with a "brother" who is teaching a different Christ, not even giving him a greeting (2 John 9,10).
In summary of the above, peace is not the only option for Christians. The above mentioned Scriptures qualify our being peacemakers, because making peace in those situations would result in far greater evils! That is the main point. That is why a refusal to defend your own family from a sex criminal or a murderer can result in much greater evil than physically resisting such a one. Peace isn't always maintained by giving in to deliberate evil.
HARD DECISIONS and THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS
Even to the non-Pacifist, the issue of self defense and warfare is rarely black and white. It is a matter of which principles to follow in any given situation, obligations to one's fellow man, preserving one's faith, and often choosing between the lesser of two evils. It has been said that once we admit the justice of killing a murderer for his crime, then, in principle, we will have to admit the justice of destroying an entire army under certain conditions. Gleason Archer says:
Is it really a manifestation of goodness to furnish no opposition to evil? Can we say that a truly good surgeon should do nothing to cut away cancerous tissue from his patient and simply allow him to go on suffering until finally he dies? Can we praise a police force that stands idly by and offers no slightest resistance to the armed robber, the rapist, the arsonist, or any other criminal who preys on society? How could God be called "good" if He forbade His people to protect their wives from ravishment and strangulation by drunken marauders, or to resist invaders who have come to pick up their children and dash out their brains against the wall?
. . . No nation could retain its liberty or preserve the lives of its citizens if it were prevented from maintaining any sort of army for its defense. It is therefore incumbent on a "good God" to include the right of self-defense as the prerogative of His people. He would not be good at all if He were to turn the world over to the horrors of unbridled cruelty perpetrated by violent and bloody criminals or unchecked aggression of invading armies. (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 219, 220.)
At the same time, however, Christians must realize that there will be no permanent victory in self-defense or warfare. Evil will continue to abound in the world, and any victories are usually of a temporary nature. All major civilizations have eventually fallen and have been replaced with others, and this will continue to occur until the Lord comes.
While there are a few religions (as well as Christian denominations) that believe in living physically separate from all worldly affairs, most Christians believe that if we are to be a "light to the world," then we must share some degree of corporate responsibility in the community in which we live. Christians do not claim that they are thereby helping to bring God's kingdom to the earth, nor do they consider God's "weapons" to be primarily secular. It is simply a matter of fulfilling secular obligations; however unpleasant they may be. As John Wenham says,
Living Christianity is a force of truth and love which influences the whole of a man's life and all his relationships. Inevitably and inescapably a Christian group has a social (and eventually a political) power directly proportional to its spiritual power. No matter how otherworldly the emphasis of the movement and how averse in theory to any partnership between church and state, it cannot (if genuine) remain passive in the face of social injustice, when it alone has the power effectively to challenge it. So the Quakers worked to reform the prisons, the Methodists built up the trades unions, the Clapham sect fought slavery, Shaftesbury battled against the horrors of the Industrial Revolution, the Salvation Army worked among the dropouts and the Pentecostalists among the drug addicts. But involvement in the real world means a partial Christianizing of society, bringing with it an outward approval of Christian ideals. (The Enigma of Evil, p. 142)
QUESTION: What if, in going to war with another country, a Christian was to unknowingly kill another Christian?
Hypothetically, the question could also be asked, "What if an errant Christian tried to rape or even kill one's wife or children?" There are, after all, Christians who have embarked on a wrong course, and find themselves in jail at times. In such a case, God will allow them to fall under the full weight of secular law as a penalty for their actions. As Christians, when we find ourselves in situations of personal or corporate guilt, we must face the secular consequences, even if God forgives us.
To illustrate: A Christian in Nazi Germany may not have realized that Hitler's plans were evil from the start of the war, and thus felt an obligation to enter the military. Later, if he realized what was really going on, his conscience should have moved him to get out. If he did not become aware of the facts for some reason, and faced death even at the hand of a British or American Christian soldier, it could be said that he suffered for the corporate sin of his nation. But death is not the end of a matter in God's eyes, and God can resurrect him.
Some will object, saying that Christians are not part of a nation chosen by God, like Israel was. Therefore, we are not to defend a nation for the cause of Christianity. That is true! But although we do not do it for the faith, we do it for our children and loved ones - it is not a spiritual issue, but one of secular self-defense. Let's examine a similar situation in the time of the judges of Israel.
A CLASSIC EXAMPLE
Israel was one nation; all were believers in Yahweh; all were brothers in the faith. (Today, though Christians are scattered in all nations, they are all brothers.) In Judges chapter 20, we find leading men from the tribe of Benjamin falling into gross sexual practices, arousing the ire of the other eleven tribes, who proceed to congregate for war against their own brothers of the tribe of Benjamin. Yahweh himself gives them a battle plan when they later inquire how to fight, though the war was THEIR IDEA, not God's, in the first place. They suffer defeat twice and lose 40,000 men, to Benjamin's 25,000. On the third try, Yahweh promised them the victory, and they won out, leaving Benjamin with a handful of soldiers left.
NOTE THE ISSUES INVOLVED: This was not primarily a religious issue, but a moral one. Yahweh allowed and even later directed brother against brother to fight to the death, and over a moral issue! While far from being desirable, warfare is at times impossible to avoid. A Christian, like the Israelite, believes that God will judge us and that death is not the end of the matter.
VIEW OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS ON WAR
In reviewing the records of the early church fathers up to about 170 A.D., no mention is made of Christians being enrolled in the military. Of course, no mention is made up until the time of Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) that it was wrong to serve in the military, either. Christians apparently refrained from military service for a number of obvious reasons. The most significant was the fact that the Romans often persecuted Christians, thusly offering them no encouragement to become a Roman soldier! The Roman government was not only corrupt but required a soldier to take an oath of allegiance to the emperor as his god. It would be rare, indeed, for a Christian to even desire to enlist in the Roman army under such conditions. Additionally, there was no universal conscription into the army, no pressure to serve; so citizens had a choice to join or not.
None of the earliest writers, such as Polycarp (A.D. 70-155) mention anything for or against military service. The writings of St. Clement (A.D. 30-100), Mathetes (A.D. 130), Ignatius (A.D. 30-107), Papias (A.D. 70-155), Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165), the epistles of Barnabus (A.D. 100), Ireneas (A.D. 120-202), the Shepherd of Hermas (A.D. 160), Tatian (A.D. 110-172), Athenagoras (A.D. 177), and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 153-217) do not discuss whether war is justifiable or whether Christians can be involved in war.
However, the fathers said many things dealing with personal ethics. When these statements are examined in their context, war was not being discussed, nor the Christian's attitude towards the military. One revealed that Christians could be found in all walks of life, including military service. Clement of Alexandria wrote:
Practice husbandry, we say, if you are a husbandman; but while you till the fields, know God. Sail the sea, you who are devoted to navigation, yet call the whilst on the heavenly pilot. Has (saving) knowledge taken hold of you while engaged in military service? Listen to the commander who orders what is right. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, p. 200))
Pacifists often claim that the apostolic period began with pure pacifism, continuing until the time of Constantine. During Constantine's time, they say, the church strayed from the faith and joined the military in order to support the first Christian emperor. Often they do not consider the difference in circumstances that had come about by Constantine's time. Christians were no longer being persecuted by the Romans. Christians no longer had to worship the emperor. An attempt was made to unite the empire under Christian principles and ethics. Serving in the military was no longer an issue of idolatry for the Christian, and so many joined. Some of the bishops objected, but for various reasons. R. G. Clouse, writing in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, tells us:
It would be helpful if statements about war had been preserved from this early period, but because the Romans did not have universal conscription there was no pressure on Christians to serve; thus they did not seem to comment on the subject. The closing years of the second century brought changes in the situation, and there is evidence of Christians in the imperial service despite the protests of church leaders. Many members of the military forces were converted, and others joined the army because they felt that a person should support the empire. (p. 1153, "War")
Before one can take the record of the early church as "proof" that Christians are to be pacifists, one should realize that:
1. The NT never condemns war or the Christian's participation in it specifically, nor does it condemn self-defense (Luke 22:36).
2. There is no record that Cornelius or other Roman soldiers in the Bible left their posts upon becoming believers (Luke 3:14).
3. Enrolling in the Roman army in the first three centuries involved taking an oath of idolatry, and Christians were often persecuted by the Romans. Under these circumstances, Christians would hardly rush to become volunteer soldiers!
The Bible neither supports absolute pacifism, nor does it condone an aggressive stance regarding warfare or self-defense. I believe that every Christian must face this issue before God, and trust in His grace for the outcome. Below I have outlined several points mentioned in this article:
1. God has allowed evil to exist for a time, and we are forced to adjust to this circumstance.
2. This evil must at times be resisted with force, or greater evil will result. There is a time for self-defense.
3. The Bible does not specifically speak on the issues of modern warfare or involvement in the military; but assumes its existence.
4. Christians are not to wage physical warfare for the advance of the Kingdom, but rather, spiritual warfare.
5. At least up to 170 A.D., the early church did not specifically address the issue of war and self-defense.
Jehovah's Witnesses at present maintain a stance of allowing for self-defense, but not for going to war or serving in the armed forces for any reason. They do not wish to be called "pacifists," but have chosen to be exempt from military service as ministers or as conscientious objectors. Even as conscientious objectors, however, they will not serve in any noncombatant service; they refuse to have anything to do with conscription or community aid.
Few Witnesses realize, however, that the WT once allowed for military service. The Aug. 1, 1898 WT on page 231 says, "There is no command in the Scriptures against military service," and, "It would be quite right to shoot, not to kill." The April 15, 1903 WT on page 120 says, "There could be nothing against our conscience in going into the army. Wherever we would go we could take the Lord with us, the Captain of our salvation, and wherever we would go we could find opportunities to serve him and his cause."
A complete reversal of this reasoning later occurred, as is demonstrated by this statement from the February 1, 1951 WT on page 73: "It is only due to conscience that [Jehovah's Witnesses] have personally and legally objected before draft boards to participating in the armed conflicts and defense programs of worldly nations."
JWs will, however, allow for self-defense. In the Sept. 8 Awake! in 1975 (pp. 27, 28), several points are made to this effect: (1) Matthew 5:39 does not apply to matters of self-defense. (2) self-defense is instinctive. (3) In certain circumstances there is no bloodguilt in the case of a death blow to the opponent. (4) It's okay to protect one's family in self-defense - Eph. 5:25. (5) Jesus' apostles had two swords for protection (Luke 22:38).2 (6) Peter's action in Matthew 26:51 was wrong, not because it was self-defense, but because Peter was resisting both the lawful authorities and God's will.
The WT of June 1, 1968 (p.347) adds that one could ALSO defend one's SPIRITUAL BROTHERS AND SISTERS from personal attack if necessary, and uses John 15:13 as a reference.
These last two references are very important if one wishes to reason with the JW on the issue of military service. The following steps of reason should be employed:
1. self-defense is proper if there is no other workable solution.
2. Defending one's family is proper by the same token.
3. Defending one's spiritual brothers and sisters can be proper.
4. Defending one's neighbor who is being viciously attacked may also be proper, considering the circumstances (Luke 10:27). REASON: How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you offer him no assistance in emergency? To stand by or walk away would be similar to the ways of the Pharisees (Luke 10:30-37).
5. REASONING TO USE: Where do you draw the line? Your spiritual brothers and sisters and your neighbors may comprise a sizeable sector of a whole nation, and this nation may be under attack by a totalitarian country seeking its destruction. Is not this an issue of self-defense for one's neighbors and many spiritual brothers and sisters? Do you draw an imaginary line at your doorstep, or that of the Kingdom Hall, saying "I will go this far, and no farther?" (Matt. 5:46,47)
NOTE: One's efforts should not be to persuade the Witness that war is proper or that one should always defend one's self. The SOLE POINT to be made is that their position is somewhat contradictory. They believe in self defense, but cannot draw a line of demarcation biblically between who is their neighbor and who isn't. If a war may be fought in self-defense, they may find it necessary to resist evil in protecting their neighbors. Hopefully, such a presentation offers them food for thought, before they go and condemn Christians who do go to war.
1 Some will say that since God created all things, he must have created evil. This is a flawed argument, since evil is not a "thing," but is rather a deprivation (something is missing from that which would be otherwise perfect). Evil is simply good deprived of some aspect of its completeness (i.e., Lucifer was once good until his perfect love became flawed, making him evil.)
2 In other publications the WT will bypass the point of Luke 22:36,38. In the Sept. 1, 1986 WT (p.19), they explain Jesus' command to "take up a sword" as part of a lesson in teaching the disciples that one is not to take up swords! The WT is implying that Jesus told them to take up swords so that they would be tempted to use them, thereby giving Jesus the opportunity to rebuke them for it. It should be pointed out that if Luke 22:36,38 was simply a "lesson," why did Jesus tell them to take up a money bag and food in the same breath? Money, food and the sword were customary for the traveler, and Jesus' disciples would be on the road more often. (Contrast Luke 10:4.)
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