Do we have enemies (part 2)

In the first part, I noted that as Christians, or simply as people living in the world, we can have enemies.

My original statement, though, said this:

None of the people around us — whether Christian, Muslim, or atheist, whether Democrat or Republican – are the enemy.

Notice I didn’t say none of the people around us is an enemy, I said none of them is the enemy.  I said the enemy because I was referring to the battle, the one mentioned in Ephesians 6:12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

In this particular struggle, human beings are not the enemy; Satan is.

So instead of asking, Do we have enemies, let me ask:

Do we have battles?

Answer: As before, the answer is that of course we do. Ephesians 6:12 mentions the spiritual battle to which we are all called. But just as there can be a) enemies for the sake of the gospel and b) personal enemies, so we can be involved a) in the battle against Satan and b) in other more physical battles.

If you are a Christian in the US military in Afghanistan, then as an American soldier, you have battles to fight. Literal, physical, human battles, against, literal, physical, human enemies.

Can one fight in these battles, trying to kill other people, and still live a life of obedience to Christ?

In the Old Testament, God called various leaders in Israel to take military action. In the New Testament, John the Baptist, asked by a soldier what repentance consisted of, told him how to be a more honest soldier, rather than telling him to quit his job. Romans 13 says that God gives governments the right to use the sword, which can perhaps be taken to include war against other governments.

At the same time, Jesus said that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). And when David wanted to build a temple for God, here is what he was told:

You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me.
2 Chronicles 22:8

There’s a kind of paradox here. God condoned and even blessed David’s warfare. Yet when it came to building the temple, God didn’t want His name associated with war.  It seems to me that God condones war and bloodshed as being at times the necessary human response to our enemies (for instance, in World War II, to stop Hitler). At the same time, He wants to make it clear that such bloodshed is a product of the fall, not a reflection of the heart and character of God Himself.

So I think it’s complicated. Still, even though there are lots of thoughtful Christians who believe that the teachings of Jesus require that we be pacifist, I am not convinced. As far as I can see, it is possible to be a committed follower of Jesus, even at the same time that you are trying your hardest to kill someone on the field of battle.

In the meantime, what is clear is that we need to keep our battles straight.

I’ll leave that to part 3.

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