Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about warfare in general. Actually, it says quite a lot. The words “war” and “battle” are found over 350 times in the Old Testament. We find God commanding war many times. In 2 Samuel 22:35, David says the Lord taught him to fight. In Joshua 3:9-10, God commands Joshua to conquer the Canaanites. In Exodus 15:3, God is called “a warrior” after defeating the Egyptian army. In many places in Scripture, the Lord uses warfare as an instrument of judgment against sinful nations (e.g., Numbers 31:1-24).
What we learn from such passages is that war is necessary at times. When the Philistines took up arms against Israel in 1 Samuel 17:1, Israel had to either fight a necessary war or capitulate to the enemy. The same was true in 1938 when the Germans marched into Austria. While war is terrible, there is nothing inherently evil with it per se. In a fallen world, war is inevitable (Luke 21:9-10).
However, the Bible does not condone war indiscriminately. Most of the scriptures we’ve cited so far have dealt with Israel in the Old Testament. To establish Israel in the Promised Land, war was necessary. At the same time, God used Israel militarily to judge the idolatrous nations of Canaan (Deuteronomy 18:12).
We need to make a clear distinction between a holy war and a just war. A true holy war is one specifically commanded by God to Old Testament Israel. The commands to do battle in the Old Testament were for a particular group of people for a particular time, for a particular purpose. That purpose has been accomplished, and no one can claim a “holy war” today.
The Christian’s battle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4). This means, among other things, that God’s people do not use physical means to coerce people into God’s Kingdom. However, does the Christian emphasis on a spiritual war mean that physical warfare between nations is always avoidable? Do we allow aggression to go unchecked? Should we ignore hostility and injustice? No, there is a place today for a just war.
A just (or justified) war is one that is waged on behalf of justice. The goal of a just war is peace. Romans 13:1-5 gives us the God-ordained role of government in society:
1) to govern with authority from God (v1-2)
2) to praise the good in society (v4)
3) to punish the evildoer in society (v4)
4) to bear the sword and execute wrath against wrongdoers (v4)
Just like the shepherd’s job is to protect the sheep from wolves, it’s the government’s job to protect its citizens from aggression.
Again, we make no attempt to justify war in general. There is no way to mitigate the horror and tragedy that war brings. But we do recognize that, at times, war can be justified. We list the following six guidelines to bring war under the rule of justice:
1) There must be a just cause. Bringing aggression, injustice, and genocide to a stop would promote righteousness and therefore be a just cause.
2) There must be just intention. The goal is peace and safety for all involved. The desire for ideological supremacy, geographical expansion, or economic gain does not justify a war.
3) War must be the last resort after all other methods to resolve the conflict have failed.
4) There must be a formal declaration of war. This shows that it is the government taking action on behalf of its citizenry.
5) Proportionate means are used. Weaponry and use of force must be limited to what is necessary to repel the attack and prevent future aggression. Unlimited war is wrong.
6) Noncombatant immunity. Individuals not actively involved in the conflict, including POWs and casualties, should be immune from attack.
So, what about the war against the terrorists in Iraq? We believe that it is a just war insofar as the United States and its allies are protecting its citizens and following the six guidelines, above. May we be faithful to pray for our country’s leaders and for true wisdom in these dangerous times (1 Timothy 2:1-2). And may the Lord quickly fulfill His promise to bring to an end all war forever (Isaiah 2:1-4).