Dear reader…[do not be] deceived or pressured into instinctively or uncritically taking a side in this current conflict, whether emotional or political, by the blowing winds of competing propaganda….Do not get swept away into any lie that would lead your soul into danger, let alone your body. Second, the believer need not be afraid. There is a sovereign and divine hand governing each tremor that rattles either soul or city. Take comfort that “the way of the wicked He turns upside down” (Psalm 146:9).
Since October 7, 2023, the events unfolding in the Israel-Palestine region have captivated minds and dominated headlines. Similar attention was given to the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war that began in earnest in February 2022. What makes the present conflict unique is the perceived theological significance assigned to the geo-political entity known as Israel. This has only inflamed the present discourse instead of moderating it. The purpose of this article is a pastoral one as I discuss seven principles I believe Christians need to know concerning war in general and this conflict in particular. If people outside Christianity take heed to it, so much the better.
1. Christians must stand for peace.
As those bound to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Christians must be exceedingly reluctant to throw their support behind any war. Now let me be clear: Christians must not to be pacifists. The command you shall not murder requires the lawful use of force and even taking life when justice necessitates it. Nevertheless, it also requires us to exhaust every option in the effort to avoid taking life unjustly (See Westminster Larger Catechism 135 and 136). That said, the Christian instinct should be toward peace. Our Savior said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). James 3:18 says, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Therefore, our hearts should burn with longing for the nations of this war-torn world to transform their weapons of destruction into implements of the cultivation, and that they might walk in the light of the Lord (Is. 2:4-5).
Allow me to apply this more pointedly. While some war may be necessary, all war is undesirable. While some war may be just, all war is unimaginably destructive. War historian and ethicist Henrik Syse wrote, “War is dangerous because it poses a huge challenge to the soul that strives to live virtuously. A war can hardly be imagined in which cruelty and lust are not given far too free reign. Therefore, even just wars should be regretted, as the truly just man would much rather avoid the necessity of violent fighting than resort to arms.” War is not a football game where you can take sides and expect only emotional victory or defeat. War is a terrible judgment of God which all Christians should help to prevent.
2. Fallen humans inevitably drift toward violence and war.
The rulers of this world who are insufficiently instructed by Christians and the word of God will remain largely unchecked in their drift toward lawlessness, violence, and war. This is because unbelieving men and nations are at war with Jesus Christ. It follows that the violence of war is the demonstration—not the cause—of the awful capacity of the sinful heart of man. God says this about lost sinners: “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:15-18). This spiritual cross-section of the unbelieving soul is a massive reason why Christians are called to bear salt and light witness in this dark and putrefying world. Ultimately, nothing less than the love of Christ revealed in the gospel by the Holy Spirit can teach those who are “living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” to pursue lasting peace (Titus 3:3). While we bear witness to Jesus Christ to bring Him honor and to see sinners saved, it is also an act of love to neighbor to teach them the way of peace and perhaps keep nations from war.
3. Fallen humans lie, especially when they govern nations.
The Bible places violence and deception in close proximity with one another, “For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is destruction; their throat is an open tomb; they flatter with their tongue” (Ps. 5:9, cf Ps. 36:1-3, Is. 59:2-3, Rom. 3:13-14). It should come as no surprise that one of the clearest tactics used by rulers and governments at war with Jesus is deception. This is true across the political and societal spectrum, for propaganda does not discriminate. It just deceives. In the interests of obeying our Lord’s command to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, all Christians must come to grips with this.
Christians must stand for truth. In our day of competing narratives, this requires careful discernment. Related to this, what the Apostle John said theologically has political and societal application, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). In other words, consider your sources. Is what you are hearing accurate? Is what you are reading true? Be mindful of the ubiquitous nature of propaganda, which is just a fancy word for publicly and widely told lies to gain ideological advantage. This does not mean the truth is inaccessible, but it does mean that, just as digging for buried treasure requires work and patience, sifting through the noise to find the truth requires careful thought. This is all the more vital today due to the technological capacity to manipulate images and even video.
As far as possible, our responsibility is to “live not by lies.” This good counsel comes from Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
Our way must be, ‘never knowingly support lies.’ You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community to live within the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, then our response must be, ‘Let their rule hold not through me.’
The particular lie to which I desire to apply this general principle is the lie that you must take sides in the present conflict; you must support one or the other. This is both false and dangerous. I will expand on this more below.