Welcome back to Part 3 of my discussion on War and Pacifism. Sorry it has been a while but I have been devoting my spare time to writing my next book and I am trying to keep the momentum going. I did today though feel that I needed to finish up this series as well and so I will quickly be returning to it once again. For those who don’t know, I am using one of David Servant’s blogs which was critical of those who embrace non-violence as a resource and I encourage you to read part one and two of my response to get up to speed with us over here.
Today, I want to focus on Jesus’ commands to love ones enemies and to love ones neighbors. Let’s use the two portions of scripture below to frame the conversation.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. – Matthew 5:43-45
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40
David’s post, which I think represents well those who support just war theory, has essentially argued that Jesus’ commands to love ones neighbors and to love ones enemies cannot be taken as umbrella statements for all peoples. In his post he argues that because these principles can be found in the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18) alongside other commands to kill ones neighbors and enemies, that they cannot possibly be all-encompassing statements made by Jesus pertaining to ALL peoples.
Accordingly, loving ones neighbors and enemies does not apply to people who are not among you or are aggressive toward you. Amazingly, David uses the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 to define ones neighbor as those whom we are in contact with. By this definition though, we side with the Priest and the Levite who passed on the other side of the road and essentially buried their heads in the sand to the suffering of their fellow man. The whole point of Jesus’ parable was that the one who was different, reviled and separate from their own tribe fulfilled the law by being a neighbor to the man who was left for dead.
When Jesus said that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, He did not have in mind your neighbor who plays his music to loud or the guys at work who takes credit for your ideas. His listeners would have had their Roman oppressors in mind as the Greek word used for enemies (echthroi) would include religious and political enemies. Not only that, but the word Jesus used for ‘love’ was agape, He is not saying love your enemies like you love pizza but love your enemies like God loves us with a self-sacrificial kind of love. When Jesus follows up by saying that if your enemy causes you to walk one mile with him go two miles, He is referring to an old right that Roman soldiers had over the Jews where they were legally permitted to force a civilian to carry their loads for them for up to one mile.
The only enemy that a Christ follower has a right to war against is the principalities, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil, our enemy is never ever flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) and both Christ and the early church demonstrated this through their own deaths when they prayed that their executioners would be forgiven rather than fight back to save themselves. Peter encouraged us to suffer for doing good rather than retaliate (1 Peter 2:18-23). Jesus said that the peacemakers will be called the children of God, to be called a child of God or a son of God means that we are reflecting His image. He even went as far as to say that because His kingdom was not of this world or one defined by lines drawn in the sand that His followers would NOT fight. Here is the bottom line, at the end of the day we either trust in the power of the sword or we trust in the power of the cross. We can only choose to carry one as they are mutually exclusive and represent two different kingdoms.
This surely still leaves a lot of questions about all of that divinely sanctioned violence in the Old Testament though. In my last post, I will suggest an alternate approach to scripture than the one David has promoted which I believe waters down the teachings of Jesus in an attempt to harmonize them with some of the darker parts of the Bible.