Jesus and Just War

David Silverman / Getty Images

Before reading scripture non-sacrificially, that is, before coming to the place of reading all of scripture through the lens of the gospel, I was a "just war" advocate. In a way, reading the Bible through the Gospels instead of the other way around is the only way to read it against yourself, instead of for yourself, an admonition, I believe, of Karl Barth.

Anyway, before this kind of slow organic existential realization, I reckoned the best a Christian can do in the face of conflicting biblical messages about violence and about God, and in the face of practical realities of human rivalry, is to accept Augustine’s "just war" theory.

The criteria for Just War is:

the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

there must be serious prospects of success;

the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

Hattem Mousa / AP

Now, if there is an attractive aspect of "just war" it’s this: If administrations agreed upon these criteria, almost all of the wars over the centuries could not have been justly waged.

But then, it makes one wonder if there has ever been a "just war" and wonder, even, if there can ever be one…especially considering the last condition. So even as a pacifist, "just war" in this strict sense, seems somewhat attractive.

Of course WWII and the Nazi Holocaust is always used as the lynch-pin to support "just war" and to dismiss pacifism out of hand. However, while entry into WWII might pass the "just war" test, the argument would be on much better footing without the two nuclear strikes upon Japan. But that’s what happens in war; that is the ’spirit’ of war. Restraint becomes impossible. Violence blinds us and war becomes it’s own reason. (This is one of the lessons in Chris Hedges’ book, "War is a Force that gives us Meaning.")

Jamal Saidi / Reuters

As well, there’s also the historical scholarship that says that if Germany wasn’t so demoralized by the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler would never have risen to power in the first place. That we help create Stalin’s Hitler’s, Hussein’s, Khomeini’s, and Bin Laden’s, through our exploitive policies and scapegoating violence, not to mention our inability to "wage just war," is evident enough. The Middle East is too clear an example.

I may be wrong but I don’t see Jesus endorsing "just war." I see Jesus as peace-giver. But I also see Jesus as angry at injustice, and as actively putting himself in the way of oppression, but always in a non-violent way. Jesus was a pacifist, but he was never passive.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Two successive posts, one topic. This is unusual.
    Picking up the cause effect logic of Hitler’s opportunity and legacy, I think this can reasonably be applied in reverse chronological order to sequentially link detestable actions far further back that the previous 20th century. Ultimately, does this lead back to a single bitten apple? If so, are some portions of war/violence simply ‘ways of being in this world’ outside the garden of Eden? Other non-ideal human behaviors have been classified in this manner.
    Still, history shows matching violent act with opposing violent act does not snuff out violence. Perhaps for a while it may quell an area, but like plugging a gopher hole, the gopher itself will pop up again somewhere else.
    This leaves us, I think, with the example of Christ and others who successfully employed non-violent tactics in a violent world. Unfortunately there is not a textbook of failsafe, repeatable steps for manifesting this behavior as an individual.

  2. The bitten apple is one way of telling the story of our inherent violence. Eve scapegoated Adam, Adam scapegoated the snake etc…on down to our own day. But with the intervening and profound opening of a possibility of the cessation of scapegoating violence in Jesus Christ. With this, enters possibility. A new model, a new way. And when emulated, as with King and Gandhi, the possibility is realized. No textbook, only models.

  3. Pingback: Nightthink
  4. Christ did cause violent acts to happen. The acts were focused on his followers and himself. Though I would say that this was because of his message, thus if you had a message that did not stir up the waters (aka: a message that does not need to be said) being non-violent will cause non-violence.

    I have a longer response to this post on my blog, please check it out and reply. (I hope the commenter does not call you a spammer)


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *