The Imminence and Immanence of War
The “Deal” that cannot be negotiated.
The “Freedom” that cannot be defended.
There may be good or just reasons to engage in combat. The nations of the world reserve the right to do so when war seems like the only resort left. Sometimes, conflict boils over and wrongs must be righted. The United States has been at war for 15 consecutive years for various reasons, and renewed threats of conflict with Russia, North Korea, and only God knows who else seem imminent to much of the world. In fact, war appears to be immanent to the culture of the United States and the rest of the world. War may be a human condition.
As those who place faith in the God of Abraham and Sarah, and know the will and commandments of this God through the life of Jesus; we understand that the human condition is unconditionally sinful. It is only through Jesus that we are liberated from the consequences of unmediated and uninhibited sinfulness. It is only through Jesus that we are liberated from the temptation and seductiveness of evil. Through Jesus, we are liberated from a precarious place on scales of justice left teetering by sea-changes of power and control brokering.
There may be good and just reasons to engage in combat or to commit an act of violence against another. Some of those reasons may even be moral. However, as the people who know Jesus as our salvation, the military option is not faithful option. We must instead know the cross. As we know God through Jesus, we know his teaching to focus on two commandments. Love God with your heart, your soul, and your might; and love your neighbor as yourself. In these the law and prophets are known. In this, others will know the righteousness of Jesus, and be guided toward the light of his salvation.
It may be that the church has been so wrapped up in issues of law and order that we are no longer a credible witness to God’s justice, which is only known in absence of violence and needs no legislation. While nations and patriots may have good reasons to fight; it is a biblical truth that those who follow Jesus and call themselves the church are never to fight. We are never to return evil with evil. Rather, we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We provide food and drink to them so that they may be humbled. In this, the church has failed to be the church in the pursuit of constructing an idolatrous ideal of “the good American.” One cannot serve two masters. It is either the cross or the flag. Yes, it is either/or, and cannot be both where violence and coercion are an option.
The concept that human rights are God-given is hardly evidenced by close reading of the Bible. Such a claim is based on our understandings of what the outcomes of God’s realm might look like in the here and now. But the here and now salvation we receive through Jesus, every bit as important as our concepts of heavenly reward, are only biblical when believers prioritize giving up our claim to rights in order to serve others, even our enemies, in righteousness. I may in fact choose not to use a hand gun to defend property when a car is not as important as even the most sinful of human lives. We have choices to leave rights unrealized in our personal lives in the service of God.
I may not demand freedom to own and exclude when I understand that liberty only comes through serving Christ, and being a servant is God’s will for the church. While freedom is integral to God’s design, the faith in militarism as the defender of open markets and cheap labor, Happy Meals and sweat-shop clothing, only mocks God, and it mocks God’s design where freedom and liberty are concerned. How easy it is to forget God’s promises to Abraham. Remember, it was God that promised servitude for the Hebrews, just as God liberated them. It was God who offered the Promised Land, just as it was taken away. And it was God who inaugurated the cross as our salvation, rather than driving out the Romans to restore the status of the elect.
The cross responds to the reality of violence, military occupation, and social and economic injustice not by driving out or conquering the oppressor, but by inviting one and all to experience the love of God. The cross invited the Gentiles into a story of salvation. This salvation is known by Christ, who commands us to attend to our own crosses. How do we bear our cross, not in the violent expression of dominance of the enemy, but rather by sacrificial acceptance of the other into a new kind of world. The baptism of fire is one of self-sacrifice that ordains the kingdom of God as a kingdom that knows no borders. Our faith in this truth will be vindicated, for just as we know God through the life of Jesus, we have faith because Jesus was raised, Like him, we will conquer death. If our faith is in violence, we cannot make God a liar, but we make a lie of the church, and we will be judged as such. Amen.