War’s Anxiety and Grief (May-Jun 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
May – June, 2003

Few words generate so much immediate anxiety or long-term grief. Few events present more of a stumbling block to faith in the goodness of God. Few realities so rivet our attention. And my presumption is that few things evoke more intense prayer from the followers of the Prince of Peace. War.

The first anxiety among Christians has to do with the appropriateness of war. It seems both natural and commanded for Christians to pursue peace. Wars, after all, are rooted in human greed, lust for power, inhumanity, and the like. And the disciples of Christ are supposed to make every effort to live at peace with one another and our neighbors. So there is a long tradition of pacifism among Christians.

Those of us who believe there are times when it is appropriate—if not mandatory—to use military force would call attention to the two dependent clauses preceding Paul’s exhortation: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). Even so, the use of such force is not without anxiety—not only for ourselves but for those who have set themselves as our enemies. And tears of grief come easily on behalf of those who mourn the casualties and deaths of war, whether friend or foe.

In the post-9/11 world, new theories and doctrines of force appear to have emerged—causing even more anxiety. How does one fight an enemy whose tactic is terrorism among civilians? Is it right to take preemptive action against individuals and regimes actively promoting genocide, oppression, and terrorism? Deeper reflection, however, allows one to see that such questions only “appear” new. The Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestled with this issue more than half a century ago in Germany.

War is even an ostensible factor to unbelief when persons tell me they could never believe in a God like the one of the Hebrew Bible who sent armies to “utterly destroy” Canaanites or other groups. Students of history who know the atrocities of Nebuchadnezzar and Nero, Pol Pot and Idi Amin, or Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein are less likely to make such declarations. The moral justification for eliminating particularly evil persons and sometimes even the larger culture that produced and sponsored them can be argued persuasively.

The spring of 2003 has seen the American-led “Coalition of the Willing” move against Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq. What has been discovered in the prosecution of that war is every bit as bad as President Bush and Prime Minister Blair led us to expect—forbidden weapons, torture, murder. No, it has been even worse—turning the cruelest weapons on his own people, forcing men to fight by menacing their wives and children, imprisoning children who did not participate in the youth branch of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, chemical baths, human shields, pleas for suicide-murders, etc.

“We [Christians at war] are called to the hardest of all tasks,” said Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple (1881-1944), “to fight without hatred, to resist without bitterness, and in the end, if God grant it so, to triumph without vindictiveness.” It seems to me that he might have added: “and in the meanwhile to curb our anxiety, doubt, and grief by fervent prayer, vibrant trust, and ready compassion.”


[See the discussion carried in the January – February 2002 issue of New Wineskins (Vol. 5 No. 6) between Lee Camp and Rubel Shelly.]New Wineskins

Rubel Shelly

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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