War: What is it good for in God's plan?

I never had a big brother. In fact, I spent my growing-up years in a single-parent household surrounded by my mother and three sisters.

There are several reasons why this could be considered a serious liability for a young boy, but one stands out for me: No one to step in and polish the jaw of a bully or someone else wanting to throw a punch. I think that made me into a sort of pacifist, more out of survival than any inner conviction.

That actually blends into a very relevant discussion. Namely, what is the role of aggression, or even war, in God’s whole plan for planet Earth?

Some have taken an aggressive position against armed conflict, and others have taken an equally passionate position on the opposite side of the issue.

Religious teachings are not very helpful in this regard, because there is a wide range of opinion and belief. For instance, there are those who hold the position that all aggression is wrong and violence is never justified. Probably the best-known group holding this position is the Amish, who will take a substantial amount of abuse rather than violate their beliefs. After all, they argue, didn’t Jesus say to turn the other cheek?

Of course, many religious teachings advocate taking up arms, and by this I am not referring to Middle Eastern extremists. Evangelical and mainline Christianity often looks to armed conflict with an open attitude, though certainly few would welcome violence. Of course, in any religious circle, there are always elements that live at the far edge, and it is patently unfair to classify an entire group on the basis of a handful of misguided extremists.

Even the Bible itself seems to give varying viewpoints, ranging from explicit commands in the Old Testament to take up arms against an enemy, to Jesus’ words and even action to shun violence.

Perhaps looking at the same issue in a different context might shed some light on the difficult question. For example, in my boyhood household, my mother had an unfortunate relationship with an alcoholic and violent boyfriend, and it frequently turned abusive and created injury on her part. The position of the pacifist sometimes seems to border on standing and tolerating terrible abuse without so much as a word. Since human beings (even oneself) are created in the image of God, isn’t it a contradiction to just allow that without resistance? On the other side of the issue, would someone be justified in brutally retaliating against the abuser and committing the same act of violence back on them?

I think the fact is clear that God indeed is love and does not wish for violent action in the world that he created. However, to simply allow one person or a group of people to inflict atrocities on someone else and not act creates a certain amount of blame and responsibility. This means, then, that any action of that nature is sometimes an unfortunate reality and is usually done with a great deal of reluctance.

This probably explains why the teachings of faith don’t clearly come out on one side or the other, because while ideally no one desires violence, at times there is a need to act, even if it is with reluctance. Even Jesus, who spoke of living at peace and love with all men, felt anger when there was injustice, and on two recorded occasions resorted to aggression when it was appropriate (referring, of course, to driving the corrupt money-changers from the Temple courts).

The greater lesson in pondering this unsettling issue is that, in the grand scheme of things, human beings require the morality and inspiration of faith to aspire to a life and a world that seeks to live beyond violence, while learning to cope with it when it appears. The greatest lesson of all is that even with all the technology, education and prosperity that is possible in the world today, the human race needs God now more than ever.

Joe Rinehart is a Federal Way resident and a former pastor.

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