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Thomas: Moral justification for war can be made

POSTED: December 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A holy end, no matter how glorious, can never be vindicated by unholy means. To many Americans the Iraq war was, and is, unnecessary. To some Americans the Iraq war was, and is, unjust. (I happen to believe that it was neither of these, but that is not the point of this column.)

The pacifist sees no war as just. With the same reasoning, pacifists, or like-minded individuals, oppose the death penalty in any and all circumstances. In other words, in the minds of some people the taking of human life is never justified (unless, of course, it is still in the womb).

I believe that these folks could not be further from the truth. In fact, I think that such placatory thinking is not only wrong, but subversive to true peace and justice.

On this matter C.S. Lewis wrote, "All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army; nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major —  what they called a centurion."

Loving your neighbor as yourself, of course, does not mean ignoring his evil deeds or saying that he is nice when he is not. The word of God tells us that, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed. For in the image of God has God made man." (Genesis 9:6)

In other words, as the pacifist would agree, life is indeed precious. This is why good government, for the sake of justice and civil harmony, must hold those who shed innocent blood to the ultimate accountability.

As noted historian David Barton puts it, "Life is God-given; He formed us, made us, and breathed life into us. Therefore, He gave clear commands both on preserving innocent life and on punishing those who take it." (See, for example, Exodus 23:7, Deuteronomy 27:25 & 21:8-9 & 19:10, Proverbs 6:16-17, 2 Kings 24:4, Psalm 10:2,8, et al.)

Just as Scripture supports capital punishment, it also supports the idea that a nation may go to war when the cause is just. The author of Hebrews in chapter 11, the champions of faith chapter, describes men such as "Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets - who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice ... became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. ..."
Thus here we have deeds of war lauded as acts of faith.

Abraham, with whom God covenanted, promising him descendants "as numerous as the stars in the sky," waged war against and defeated five kings. He was then blessed by Melchizedek who was "priest of God Most High." Christ Himself, being zealous for His Father's house, made a "whip of chords," which was no instrument of peace, and drove the money-changers out of the temple.

Founding Father John Jay, member of the Continental Congress, one of the three coauthors of the Federalist Papers, and first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in a series of letters expounded on the biblical view of war. In them he goes into great detail of how Scripture supports the waging of justified war.

In his first letter, Jay asks, "If every war is sinful, how did it happen that the sin of waging any war is not specified among the numerous sins and offenses which are mentioned and reproved in both the Testaments?"

In his second letter Jay notes that, "The depravity which mankind inherited from their first parents, introduced wickedness into the world. That wickedness rendered human government necessary to restrain the violence and injustice resulting from it. ... The law of all the nations prescribed the conduct which they were to observe towards each other, and allowed war to be waged by an innocent against an offending nation, when rendered just and necessary by unprovoked, atrocious, and unredressed injuries. ... It is true that even just war is attended with evils, and so likewise is the administration of government and of justice; but is that a good reason for abolishing either of them? They are means by which greater evils are averted."

Given all of this, some might wonder, what then is the difference between Christian morality and the rest of the world? There is a great deal of difference indeed, for the Christian knows that we are all eternal beings and this world is not our home. Death, though tragic, is not the end of all things.

As Lewis puts it: "Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good."

Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist. His columns appear regularly; Web site



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