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It's good for something

War is problematic, but earthly peace is not the highest good

Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

I told my kids that Philip Berrigan of the "Berrigan Brothers" just died, and they thought he was half of a rock group. So we did a little ancient history (the Vietnam War) and I explained that it was also local history, since two Catholic priest anti-war protesters took hammers to warheads at the General Electric Nuclear Missile plant in nearby King of Prussia, Pa., and were tried and convicted in Norristown, our county seat.

The children and I then went a few rounds over war and "what is it good for?"-their view being "absolutely nothing!" and mine being hard to fit into a slogan because I knew I would have to drag the whole Bible into it, which no one was in the mood for on a short drive to get sushi.

I was about to remind my fellow passengers in the car (who outnumbered me three to one) that the Old Testament was pretty much just one long string of wars interrupted by occasional peace, but they beat me to it. Their take was that war is an abomination, and that just as God says He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and merely regulates it (Matthew 19:8), he hates war too. This is a good college try, but not as tidy a parallel as they would like because God not only regulates wars, but calls for them now and then.

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To be perfectly pugnacious about it, a good case can be made that one of God's attributes is that of warrior: "The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is His name" (Exodus 15:3). Furthermore, while it can possibly be argued that the little skirmish at the Red Sea around 1400 b.c. was a case of self-defense, or a freedom struggle, the series of wars begun 40 years later in Palestine cannot by any stretch be so characterized. The Canaanites were just minding their debauched business (sacrificing children to Molech and such) when the Lord slated them for destruction. "You shall save alive nothing that breathes" (Deuteronomy 20:16).

War is problematic for my thoroughly modern children (and for every thinking soul). It would seem to bring into collision two prominent themes of Scripture: God the warrior (Isaiah 42:13), on the one hand, and on the other, God the lover (1 John 4:16), the compassionate (2 Corinthians 1:3), the merciful (2 Samuel 24:14-15), the hater of violence (Ezekiel 12:19). But, I ask you, my children, would love be love-would it be compassionate, merciful, and a hater of violence-if, say, it let the murderer of your best friend go on his merry way?

Can we then at least establish, considering all the above, that if God is against war, He is not against it categorically? That extenuating circumstances may justify it? "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven ... a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace" (Ecclesiastes 3:1,8). The highest good is not earthly peace but heavenly peace. Earthly peace has given us such things as the tower of Babel and Sodom and Gomorrah, after all.

The Lord has a score to settle with the nations of the earth, and it will not come about without violence. It will be as in the days of Joshua, when the heavenly host, the sun, and hailstones all fought on his side (Joshua 5:14; 10:11-13). That first time was a sip of His justice; the second will be the full cup (Revelation).

The "Plowshares 8" was the other name the Berrigan brothers went by, which moniker I'm sure they were happy to pinch from Isaiah 2:4: "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks." This is a wonderful vision to hold in the heart, and will surely come to pass when He returns, and war will cease forever, and the tree of life will spread her boughs for the healing of the nations. But until then, I am afraid, we are still in for a little more of this: "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears" (Joel 3:10).

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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