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Wednesday, November 01 2006

"Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment--even to death.  If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged.  It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy.  I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace.  It is no good quoting 'Thou shalt not kill.'  There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder.  And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew.  All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery.  When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major--what they called a centurion.  The idea of the knight--the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause--is one of the great Christian ideas.  War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken." Mere Christianity

I was taken to task the other day for a children's sermon I delivered.  Every Sunday for the children's sermon in two churches I serve, a different child is invited to put something into the "Mystery Box", as long as that something is not alive or dead (!), and bring it to church with them the following Sunday.  It is my job, as the preacher, to say something about that object and tie it into something from the Bible.

A few Sundays ago my son, Jonathan, put a model of a cannon in the Mystery Box.  (He had gotten it during a visit to New Market Battlefield here in Virginia.)  And so I talked about how Christians need to work for peace, but sometimes in this evil world, war is the lesser of two evils.  I noted, as Lewis does, that a centurion once came to Jesus and Jesus did not condemn him for being a soldier or tell him to change his occupation.  Sometimes great evil must be stopped by waging war.

After the service, another pastor, who happened to be visiting our church that day, pulled me aside and told me how he thought what I said was wrong.  He recommended the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a better example to follow.  I could not help but agree with him that King's example is an excellent one to follow in many instances.  However, when I asked this other pastor what he would do about Hitler, he had to admit that if ever there was a just war, World War II was that war.  And he admitted that if he had been in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's position he might have participated in an attempt to assassinate Hitler.

Are these two examples, King and Bonhoeffer, then in conflict?  Or do both examples find some root in Scripture somehow?  As Lewis points out in his essay entitled Why I am not a Pacifist, the whole Christian case for pacifism rests on the utterance of Jesus: "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."  Lewis explains Jesus' saying in this way:

I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases which every hearer would naturally assume to be exceptions without being told. . . . That is, insofar as the only relevant factors in the case are an injury to me by my neighbour and a desire on my part to retaliate, then I hold that Christianity commands the absolute mortification of that desire. . . . But the moment you introduce other factors, of course, the problem is altered.  Does anyone suppose that Our Lord's hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim?  I at any rate think it impossible they could have so understood Him.

What then is the difference between the Christian attitude to war and the attitude of any non-Christian participant in the same war?  The difference is this, says Lewis:

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves--to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good.  This is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not. (Mere Christianity)

Father, we are, at present, a nation at war.  Sometimes it is hard to know whether this particular war is just or not.  But a few things seem clear from your revelation in Scripture.  While war is dreadful, it is sometimes necessary.  And since it is sometimes necessary, soldiers who wage war are engaged in an honorable profession.  Therefore, we pray that you would help us, as individuals and as a nation, to honor those who serve our country in the military.  And at the same time, O Lord, help us to work for peace and to love even our enemies, to desire their greatest good as well as our own.  Lord Jesus, we know that the ultimate peace will not be present in this world until you return to reign as Prince of Peace.  But in the mean time, help us as Christians to be peacemakers who would prepare for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  For this task we need the help of your Holy Spirit for which we ask in your name.  Amen.

Posted by: Will Vaus AT 08:32 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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