This was written as a response to my friend Zach wondering about just war, killing, and all the rest….I thought it worthy of posting here….
Death, War, Killing, Defense, Capital Punishment….where is the end of the matter?
Extreme examples do little to advance the issue: “A man with a bomb on his chest about to destroy 100 babies,” Hitler, rape happening right in front of you. Of course, there are few people who could object to saving babies, who could keep themselves from punching the rapist’s lights out, or from seeking a way to stop Hitler.
The solution must be able to work in the simple areas of human life, else, how could it apply to the larger issues of a Hitler? Life is lived in the small, not the grandiose. More often than not, the decision is to strike out against a fellow human, not to go to war. Should we not govern ourselves in the micro, and thus, be able to govern ourselves in the macro? What was it Naaman was told, “Be faithful in the small things.”
You cannot get around the history of the Israeli people. The Bible is full of God-sanctioned wars, and killings. He Himself practiced genocide against the entire human race save eight people. But, granted, God is God, and the Creator by right has complete control over the Created. So God can move as He wishes. Herein is my first point. Most of the wars and killings we see are at God’s command. Kill Achan and his family. Wipe out every inhabitant of the land. Destroy the Amalakites with the edge of the sword. As human followers of God, we must obey Him, and do as He commands, no matter how it seems to us. But ok, I doubt any of us have received a directive from God to move against Toledo because it is an exceeding wicked city. What then?
Jesus taught a gospel of love. “Love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.” Who is your neighbor? Practically anyone beyond yourself. The book of 1 John declares how love is to be. Complete unselfishness towards another. If you are acting for another’s benefit, are you going to hit them, let alone, kill them? Chances are no. But ah, here is the issue, what if someone else is? Protection and defense, what then?
God goes to a point of telling us to accept wrongdoing against ourselves, to stand up and suffer for His Name’s Sake, and that He will reward us in the end. But for others, we are told to protect the fatherless, the widow, the weak. I believe God gives strength to protect weakness. The woman being raped, the unborn baby, the Jew, the oppressed, all lack the ability to protect themselves. It is the duty, the responsibility, and the obedience towards God to step in, and defend. But how far? Lethal force? Love is your guide, love of your enemy. I believe, only as much as necessary. If one punch will do the job, do not swing two. But some evil cannot be so easily restrained. If they insist on trying to harm to their own detriment and death, then that is a choice they have made.
This then, I believe, applies from the small, all the way to the large. Sometimes war, that great evil, is necessary to stop an aggressor who simply refuses to cease hurting the defenseless. In the rules of war in Deuteronomy, God gave instructions to give the city a chance to surrender, before the Israelites attacked. If you are governed by love, even of the unlovable, you will be slow, as God is, to move. He gave the inhabitants of Canaan 400 years to repent, and they still refused to turn from being evil. They chose their doom. Achan chose to sin, and to lie. He chose his doom. In both situations though, it was man who had to shed man’s blood.
Is the statement “Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed” a command or a prophecy? I could see both, but think of it this way: Which makes you less likely to repeat an act, making reparations yourself, or having another do it for you? If God killed all offenders, so be it. But if you, acting in obedience to God, yet still loving them, must kill the offender, will you be as likely to let it get to that point? No. I think not.
Of course, evil is in the world, and some murderers get themselves made executioners, but that is the way of things. It is for us to make it as much like God has declared it should be.
Love all men, even your enemy, but so also, protect those without protection.
This then, is my understanding.