Would Jesus Order Military Strikes Against ISIL?
The United States is at war…again.
Some would argue the war that began on September 11, 2001, never ended. But nevertheless, the war has surely entered a new phase as the United States is back in Iraq, and for the first time, our military forces are now in Syria.
The tipping point for the new offensive seems to have been the devilish beheading of American and British journalists posted in high definition video on the internet by ISIL (also known as ISIS or IS). The sentiments of the western world have demanded a result, and so, regardless of the politics, the bombs have begun to drop.
So what does God think about this current war against the forces of radical Islam?
More specifically, what would Jesus say about the matter were He walking among us today? Would He advocate the launch of Tomahawk missiles on ISIL targets?
It’s a legitimate question for two reasons. First, as Christians, we are followers of Christ. That means that in our conduct and character we seek to imitate the mind and actions of Christ. Second, in a very real sense, the church, as represented by followers of Jesus, is the embodiment of Christ’s presence on earth. That means that the church should have an opinion, and more, the church should speak to all issues, even, and especially now, the issue of war.
The Christian pacifist argues from the position of non-resistance to aggression and evil.
Most notably the Sermon on the Mount is referenced as the ideal response. In Matthew 5, Jesus explains:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
This is certainly an important passage of Scripture as Jesus teaches us how to live among those who would do us harm. In seminary, my professors would have a saying when approaching biblical interpretation, “Context is king.” Meaning that the context of any given passage of Scripture is vital to its accurate understanding. In the case of the above passage, it should to be pointed out that Jesus is commenting on an Old Testament Law. In fact, he quotes the law that appears each in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. But Jesus does not quote the whole law, just enough of it to jog the memories of the hearer. When Jesus says, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” the listener would harken back to the whole context of the Old Testament teaching. In the case of the Leviticus passage, which you can read for yourself in Leviticus 24, the context is that of a man who has broken one of the 10 Commandments by cursing God’s name. Up until that moment the people had the Law but they did not have any consequences for breaking the Law. So God lays down a list of consequences. The operating principle being that a punishment should match the crime. So if someone punches you in the face, yours is not to bash his or her head in with a baseball bat. That is not “and eye for an eye.”
Coming back to Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continues with an interesting statement:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….”
The reason this is interesting is because Jesus is quoting for sure, but not entirely from the Old Testament Law. Yes, the Law says that we should love our neighbor. But nowhere does it say that we should hate our enemies. Yet Jesus claims that this, hating ones enemy, is what has been passed down from one hearer to the next.
So if the idea of hating ones enemies is not in the Law, then where does it come from?
Very simply – from the heart of man.
You see, it is in the heart of man to want to “get even,” to want revenge. We are so bent this way that we will even take something as pure as the Word of God and add to it. Pervert it, actually, to say things it never was intended to say. Things like, we should hate our enemies.
So Jesus comes along and provides a corrective and a better way to live one with another.
And that’s an important statement for our discussion today. Jesus is speaking, I believe, about individual conduct toward other individuals. What He is not speaking to is how a community or a nation should conduct itself in the face of evil and injustice. Nations and countries, you see, have a responsibility that individuals do not.
In all that Jesus teaches in the Gospels, He also was the one that told us we should “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” This verse found in Mark 12 is usually quoted in the context of taxes and tithing, but the over arching principle Jesus is speaking to is that national authorities do have legitimate authority to which we should submit.
Further, Paul provides clear help for all believers in Romans 13:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
By this we know and can affirm:
- Bad people should fear rulers of nations, because,
- The rulers of nations are God’s servants. Imperfect for sure but the best God has to work with for restoring justice in a world gone awry. Therefore,
- Rulers of nations carry the “sword” for God. Or in the case of our contemporary culture, laser guided missiles.
While “getting even” and revenge is in the heart of man, JUSTICE, is in the heart of God. So when the unmitigated black wind of ISIL sweeps across the Middle East, it is incumbent upon the rulers of nations to seek justice and defend the innocent.
The early church father, Augustine, wrote of four conditions in which it is right to go to war. These have been passed down through early church catechisms and have become known as the Just War Theory:
- The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
- All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
- There must be serious prospects of success.
- The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
When one considers the evil and the threat of ISIL…
When one considers conditions that would lead the Kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to join in like mind with France and the United States…
Surely we have a common threat to peace and justice that must be stopped by means of war.
So, would Jesus order military strikes against ISIL? I suppose, in a way, by ordaining the rulers of the earth’s nations and commissioning them with maintaining peace and order on this planet that we all share, He already has.