The death of Osama Bin Laden has revived questions about U.S. involvement in war.
At present, our military is fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the NATO-led resistance in Libya. Even some of the most patriotic theists struggle with supporting war.
The Hebrew Bible offers no shortage of stories of violent conflict among nations. Many times, Israel’s leaders were instructed by God to wage battle with foreign powers. Some use the Old Testament accounts to bolster an argument that war is always justified, especially when the United States, a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, engages with non-Christian nations.
On the other extreme are those who suggest that it is never appropriate to engage in war, quoting the Decalogue, “Thou shall not kill.” Furthermore, the incarnation of Jesus instituted a new covenant rooted in grace in sharp contrast to the sometimes-callous nature of the law. Jesus quoted from the law, saying, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” and then redefined it by urging people to “turn the other cheek.”
Not enough biblical evidence exists for either argument to prevail, but there are instances when war seems justified. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul suggests peace is not always possible. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Military force should never be the first response; diplomacy should be preferred. There are times when sanctions can be equally effective, but there are times when war is justified. For instance, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. retaliated in self-defense. Similarly, with great wealth and power come great responsibility; we cannot ignore genocide in any part of the world or attacks on allies unable to defend themselves.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, proved that there are those who have no regard for human life. We live in a world where ideological and religious differences can prompt violent responses. If this were not the case, we might be able to adopt an absolute anti-war stance. While we do not want to become that which we despise, we cannot allow such evil to prevail.
Christians are called to live in peace with others, but peace is not always passive.