A MESSAGE WAR BRINGS
Wasn’t it the American president F. D. Roosevelt who said something like, "I hate war! My wife hates war! My dog hates war!"? How can you not hate it? Even if you think you should engage in it, how could you not hate it, with all its awful consequences that go far beyond the obvious? There are profoundly serious questions to be asked about the morality of any war but in certain situations people don’t want endless debates and lectures because they feel morally obliged to "get on with it."
Whatever else the horrors of war should make clear they should tell us this: the "nice" God who is all "sweetness and light" isn’t robust enough to redeem us from our great evils. The God of the prophets and Golgotha hasn’t been seen or heard of a lot since Deism made a "Protestant gentleman" out of him. And Western evangelicalism has made a "chum" or a "pal" out of him with its pervasive saccharin sweetness and an atonement doctrine of forgiveness without transformation. A doctrine that doesn’t take the cross seriously enough in all that it says. We've been sinking over our heads not in quicksand but in quick-sugar, lolling in the lap of a sweet God who keeps himself busy getting some of us hairdressers that please us or parking places when we’re not in the mood to walk a few yards.
War reminds us what the human family is capable of, what we provoke one another to and what we are willing to do in response to provocation. It brings into focus for a while the terrible mess we’re in. Come down on whatever side of any crisis you like but when the bombs begin to fly and people begin to disintegrate and nations are shaped by the horror of it all we get a glimpse of the sinister reality that’s behind all war and mutual destruction. Wars are another bad ulcer that breaks out on the body of a humanity that is sick with a horrifying virus. Wars, with all their complexities remind us that it isn’t fine-tuning we need but redemption! Maybe that’s part of what the psalmist meant when he said to God, "When your judgments are on the earth the nations learn righteousness." And it’s easy to read Ezekiel 14:12-23 that makes war one of God’s "four sore judgments" and pay little attention to it until we’re in the middle of a war.
War is part of our sin but it’s also part of the armoury of God to reveal his judgment against sin and to redeem us from that sin (see Habakkuk 1 and 3 and Amos 4 and so many other places in the prophets—"Behold I send"). To see it as our sin is right! To see it as God’s strange work of revelation and redemption is also right. It isn’t only right, it’s imperative that we see his will being done in and through our evil just as surely as we see it in the brutal murder of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23).
War exposes us for what we are and highlights the kind of Saviour we need. "For such a high priest meets our need" (Hebrews 7:26). War says to us in the clearest possible fashion, "Don’t look for a Saviour in humanity at large." That’s dredging the graveyard looking for a live one. Coming to the close of the 19th century everything was optimism. Every day and in every way, we told ourselves, we’re getting better and better. And that Bible talk about judgment and sin and the wrath of God—we outgrew it. Who needed it? All we needed was more education and economic progress and the brilliant scientists and medical men and inventors among us were doing for us all that we needed. Well, true, we could use the kind, good-natured Jesus Christ as an inspiration as we moved toward the inevitable moral excellence toward which we were evolving. And since Christ was the image of God we knew that God was a good-natured being and we were good-natured beings along with him. But as P.T. Forsyth said, two world wars rescued us from that religious pap and showed us that we needed a redemption and a vaster salvation than we imagined. You just can’t keep saying, "It’s onward and upward" in the light of Stalin, Hitler, Japanese warlords, Papa Doc, Pol Pot, the Hutu/Tutsi conflicts and our history of civil wars in all the Western nations.
Don’t allow unanswered questions to keep you from embracing the whole truth about what’s going on in the world. The one thing believers can be sure of is that the God who is sovereign over the world is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ so his purposes are holy, loving and redemptive. Believe that truth and chew hard on and swallow down other truth however difficult that is. That war is a servant and instrument of God doesn’t deny the evil of it and it’s certainly no excuse for us to engage in war with a completely clear conscience and a bright spirit. It's as true of nations as of competent individuals: "There is none righteous, no, not one!"
But to miss the message it carries about humanity’s relationship to God is to make less of war instead of taking it with the profound seriousness it warrants. In God’s hands even horrific wars have a profound message to give us about ourselves and the kind of Saviour we need. A member of my family some years ago said somewhat impatiently, "Jim, we all know war isn't the answer!"