Please forgive my use of the title of a lengthy Russian novel. It seems to fit the present circumstances. We are involved in war and praying for peace. Sometimes war is necessary to punish such men as Hitler and Saddam Hussien because of their evil schemes and their brutal disregard for life. If we have the power to prevent evil, and stand by and watch it happen, are we guilty of the evil we permitted?
Yahweh, the God of Abraham, the creator of the universe, has decreed death as the punishment for sin. That decree is just. The one who sheds innocent blood is to be killed. But God is also merciful. He allowed Cain to live, and protected him, even though he had murdered his brother Abel. Eventually God satisfied His own justice by giving the life of His Son Jesus to pay the price for sin. Mercy and grace opened the way for redemption. But that redemption is only for those who believe. Peace is for those who serve the Prince of Peace.
Where does that leave the unbeliever? Under the penalty of death for sin. God will destroy the wicked, and punish them with everlasting banishment from His presence. That is justice. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, “since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thess 1:6-10, NKJV)
I received a letter from a Christian brother asking me to clarify that I am not speaking for all Christians when I count the conflict in Iraq a just war. Many Christians are pacifists, and do not believe in war for any reason. They believe that killing for any purpose is wrong. There is a long history of this Christian pacifism, and it is to be respected. Jesus taught us to do good to our enemy, and to love those who mistreat us.
There is another kind of pacifism, that taught by Buddhism, to do no harm. The Buddhist delights in believing that life is an illusion, and that we should not be unduly concerned with events around us. That philosophy permits a man to see his family murdered before his eyes without showing any anger. But it is a philosophy that is devoid of love. There is no encouragement to do good to others.
The scriptures say that the greatest love is to lay down our life for our friends, John 15:13. There are men and women in Iraq who are willing to lay down their lives for the cause of justice, and I honor them. They are doing a good work. They are showing great love for their friends and their nation. I pray for their protection and their success.
But there is another kind of warfare that does not involve guns, planes, bombs, and missiles. This warfare is fought with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This weapon is powerful enough to change the hearts of men. We should be willing to lay down our lives for the cause of the gospel, to carry the gospel even to our enemies. Ultimately, the only way to peace is through bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ. It is no accident that the men who terrorize the world today are followers of a prophet who denied that Jesus is the Son of God. It is no accident that the suicide bombers mistakenly believe that they will go to Paradise because their religious leaders told them so. People need to hear the truth. Everyone, even our enemy, deserves to learn about Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace.