We live in a world of much conflict due to power struggles, resources and pride. They involve people from different countries, different people groups and different ideologies. Some are just within borders, others involve ‘players’ across nations or the world.
The following list shows how widespread conflict is:
Kashmir (India and Pakistan); Western China; Colombia; Mexico, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan (Iraq, Turkey); Southern Thailand; Southern Philippines; Chechnya (Russia); Ukraine; Kenya; Nicaragua; Guatemala; El Salvador; Central African Republic; Nigeria; Northern Mali; Algeria; Egypt; Israel/Palestine; Lebanon; Turkey; Northern India; Bangladesh; Southern Pakistan; The Yemen; South Sudan; Sudan; Ethiopia; Eritrea; Eastern Tanzania; Somalia; Northern Ireland; the Mafia, Islamic State and similar groups: Brazil (mainly the cities and in the Amazon forest); Georgia (Ossetia); etc.
The issue of war is very difficult to deal with because of the many layers that are involved, including politics, economics, spiritual warfare and many others. As far as Christians are concerned, there are a number of viewpoints from total non-resistance to total involvement, which is sad. But, I believe that there are a number of themes in the Bible which we need to bear in mind in an attempt to form a biblical approach to the issues that not only cause war, but also in its conduct and post war reconstruction, justice and reconciliation.
The first point to make is that God made each one of us in His image, that is we are each a unique human being that exists to be relationship with each other and, most importantly with God Himself, made possible through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, for we had become sinners in need of redemption because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God does not see us as people from different races or backgrounds or status – we are all equal in His eyes. Many conflicts are due to people seeing others as inferior to themselves (eg the Nazis or the Rwanda massacre or the Khmer Rouge genocide).
The second point to make is that God commands us to love our enemies, either individuals or countries:
Luke 6:27-29, 32-36 ‘I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other one also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic….If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. But love your enemies, do good to them, lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father (ie God) is merciful.’ (See also 2 Corinthians 5:16-20.)
So, it should be impossible to go to war as Christians because we are to love everybody, no matter what they have or have not done that is evil or simply wrong. This is talking not only about physical wars, but also wars in the area of values like the right to life for the unborn. Of course, God does not imply that those who do wrong should go unpunished for He is a God of justice as well as a God of love. As it says in the passage above we are also to take action and not simply lie down and take the evil; instead we are to ‘do good’ to ‘shaming’ them. The ‘doing good’ should be about being pro-active in our actions to prevent war.
To be able to start thinking how to take actions to prevent war, we have to make sure that we have a biblical worldview to understand what God says about a given situation without being tied to one’s cultural context. A biblical worldview is based on the Scriptures and seeing the world through God’s eyes in the following areas:
Our view of God; Moral Absolutes; Relationships; Justice; Government, the Family and the Church; Rights and Responsibilities; The Supernatural; Man’s Depravity; God’s Redemption of Man through Jesus; The actions of the Holy Spirit; God’s redemption of His Creation through Man; Death (in no particular order)
We also need to be reminded that we are involved in Spiritual Warfare: Ephesians 6:10-18
‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’
With regard to spiritual warfare and prevention of war, we need to teach people what the Bible says about the subject, and spend time in earnest prayer, claiming God’s promises and calling on Him to deal with the causes of a potential war and to change people’s heart. More thinking needs to be done on this specific subject.
Now, we have to be careful that we do not see spiritual warfare as the total picture. As we said above, we are called to take a number of different actions as a result of having a biblical worldview. This include the following:
Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War
Part One: PEACEMAKING INITIATIVES
- Support nonviolent direct action
Nonviolent Direct Action is spreading widely, ending dictatorship in the Philippines, ending rule by the Shah in Iran, bringing about nonviolent revolutions in Poland, East Germany, and Central Europe, transforming injustice into democratic change in human rights movements in Guatemala, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America, in South Africa…. Governments and people have the obligation to make room for and to support nonviolent direct action.
- Take independent initiatives to reduce threat
Independent initiatives: 1) are independent of the slow process of negotiation; 2) decrease threat perception and distrust but do not leave the initiator weak; 3) are verifiable actions; 4) and carried out at the announced time regardless of the other side’s bluster; 5) have their purpose clearly announced–to shift toward de-escalation and to invite reciprocation; 6) come in a series; initiatives should continue in order to keep inviting reciprocation. This new practice has been crucial in several recent breakthroughs.
- Use cooperative conflict resolution
1) Active partnership in developing solutions, not merely passive cooperation. 2) Adversaries listen to each other and experience each others’ perspectives, including culture, spirituality, story, history and emotion. 3) Seek long-term solutions which help prevent future conflict. 4) Seek justice as a core component for sustainable peace.
- Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness
Until recently, it was widely agreed that nations would not express regret, acknowledge responsibility, or give forgiveness. But Germany since World War II, Japan and Korea, Clinton in Africa, the U.S. finally toward Japanese-Americans during World War II, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other actions described by Shriver, An Ethic for Enemies and Wink, When Powers Fall, show a crucial new practice is emerging that can heal longstanding bitterness.
Part Two: JUSTICE
- Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty
Extensive empirical evidence shows that the spreading of democracy and respect for human rights, including religious liberty, is widening the zones of peace. Democracies fought no wars against one another during the entire twentieth century. They had fewer civil wars. And they generally devoted lower shares of their national products to military expenditures, which decreases threats to other countries.
Ties of economic interdependence by trade and investment also decrease the incidence of war. Engagement in international organizations like the UN and regional institutions is a clear predictive factor that they will be much less likely to engage in war.
- Foster just and sustainable economic development
Sustainable development occurs where the needs of today are met without threatening the needs of tomorrow–where those who lack adequate material and economic resources gain access, and those who have learn to control resource use and prevent future exhaustion.
A key to economic development in East Asian countries, especially Korea and Taiwan, has been land reform that made wealth more equitable and thus created a sizable local market for developing firms. By contrast, Latin America lacks real land reform and equality, and therefore local consumers cannot afford to buy products produced by local industries.
Part Three: LOVE AND COMMUNITY
- Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system
Four trends have so altered the conditions and practices of international relations as to make it possible now, where it was not possible before, to form and sustain voluntary associations for peace and other valuable common purposes that are in fact working: the decline in the utility of war; the priority of trade and the economy over war; the strength of international exchanges, communications, transactions, and networks; and the gradual ascendancy of liberal representative democracy and a mixture of welfare-state and laissez-faire market economy. We should act so as to strengthen these trends and the international associations that they make possible.
- Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights
Acting alone, states cannot solve problems of trade, debt, interest rates; of pollution, ozone depletion, acid rain, depletion of fish stocks, global warming; of migrations and refugees seeking asylum; of military security when weapons rapidly penetrate borders.
Therefore, collective action is increasingly necessary. U.S. citizens should press their government to pay its UN dues and to act in ways that strengthen the effectiveness of the United Nations, of regional organizations, and of multilateral peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building. They resolve conflicts, monitor, nurture, and even enforce truces. They meet human needs for food, hygiene, medicine, education, and economic interaction. Most wars now happen within states, not between states; therefore, collective action needs to include UN-approved humanitarian intervention in cases like the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda “when a state’s condition or behaviour results in… grave and massive violations of human rights.”
- Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade
A key factor in the decrease of war between nations is that weapons have become so destructive that war is not worth the price. Reducing offensive weapons and shifting toward defensive force structures strengthens that equation. Banning chemical and biological weapons, and reducing strategic (long-range) nuclear warheads from 3,500 to 1,000 each, are key steps.
Arms imports by developing nations in 1995 dropped to one-quarter of their peak in 1988. But the power of money invested by arms manufacturers in politicians’ campaigns is a major obstacle to reductions.
- Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations
The existence of a growing worldwide people’s movement constitutes one more historical force that makes just peacemaking theory possible. They learn peacemaking practices and press governments to employ these practices; governments should protect such associations in law, and give them accurate information.
Each practice is recent in its widespread use, and is causing significant change. Together they exert strong influence, decreasing wars. Each is empirically happening and being effective in abolishing some wars. Each faces significant obstacles and blocking forces that are named in the chapters. We contend that just peacemaking practices are ethically obligatory for persons, groups, and governments to strengthen them and help overcome the blocking forces.
A number of years ago, there was a Consultation on a Simpler Lifestyle – https://www.lausanne.org/content/lop/lop-20 – calling Christians to live more simply so as to reduce the amount of the Earth’s resources used and to release them for the betterment of the world, so that things like economic injustice and poverty is overcome. It would also release more money and time for people to use to make reproducing disciplemakers and thus change people’s worldview (providing of course they are taught a biblical worldview and how to lead a life based on biblical character traits). This could be also applied to everyone else for tackling consumerism, for then we could make sure that resources are shared equitably.
As part of the above, we need to make sure most of what we produce can last longer and be recycled again, thus reducing the amount of raw materials we need for an ever growing world. See https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy. Alongside this is the importance of climate change. Both these issues are extremely important, as they could lead to war as resources like water get more and more difficult to find.
One final issue that needs mentioning before we go onto other things, is the subject of tax havens. These are basically places which hid the taxes that should be paid by wealthy people and corporations. If they were abolished, it would be easier to make sure that these avoided taxes can be reclaimed and help countries get back on their feet, especially in infrastructure projects like hospitals, schools, transport systems, etc – people are then less likely to rise up against governments.
See my next instalment on whether we should go to war, if so, on what grounds, and how to conduct wars.