the war we’re in, the Christian and violence

There is the “culture war.” And we know of actual wars, right now honoring the last of the veterans of World War II. What about the Christian? What warfare can or even should we be part of?

Jesus taught the way of the cross, that we’re to love our enemies and pray for them, that we’re to bless those who curse us, and when struck, turn the other cheek, as well as go the extra mile. There’s no question that Jesus resolutely refused all physical warfare. The Messianic way fulfilled in him would not become embroiled either in the world’s wars, or in physical warfare at all.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20 are the two passages which come to mind when speaking of spiritual warfare. One also thinks of Daniel’s praying, and the angelic and spiritual forces behind the scenes as he did. For the Christian the gospel meaning good news in Jesus is the armor and weapon we’re to use  in God’s mighty power to resist the enemy. And particularly for those called to proclaim, but for all of us as witnesses, we do indeed have authority in Christ to share the life changing word, above all in how we live, in word and deed. And this must be a part of what we’re about as Christians, regardless of anything else, certainly including all who serve in the state.

I know devout Christians have served in the military and police force. Of course that in itself does not prove the legitimacy of such. I was raised in a denomination that teaches Christians should not participate in such. And I am empathetic to that position, and to this day read a portion of the Sermon on the Mount (or the Sermon on the Plain) as part of my daily Bible reading.

One needs to step back and consider war in general, the just war theory proposed by Christians, actually derived from another thinker. And the evil in the world. It is said that peaceful efforts which refuse any violence actually change the tide, whereas using physical force only keeps the chain going of retaliation going, essentially taking vengeance when God tells us that we’re to leave that in his hands. And directly contradicting our Lord’s words when he said that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not what we’re to live by, but rather, love for our enemies.

There’s no question that we should love our enemies, and that we should be willing to give up our lives for Christ and the gospel. And that should be our heart and soul, that we love in the way of Jesus, even doing so in a way that might cost us our lives.

That said, my own position now is that as a last resort when there’s simply no other alternative, Christians can use weapons within the role of the state. I say this sadly, remembering the worthy witness and position of Martin Luther King, Jr. and believing that such a witness is not only needed, but indeed called for in the way of Christ and against evil. There’s no question that he faced death both as a threat to himself and his family. And of course in the end was assassinated.

For me it’s an open question with no answer which completely satisfies. But I have to side with Miroslav Volf, insofar as I actually understand his position, that given the brutal, incorrigible evil present in the world, which as a matter of course kills and rapes and brutalizes, that there is a place for force. And that such measures lie with the state (Romans 13), not that there’s a given outline of what the form of government is to be in Scripture. There isn’t.

For me there’s no easy answer to either defend Christians ever using violence as part of the state, or never using such under any circumstances. I just don’t know.

My position now is that we’re to take the way of the cross in following Jesus. That just like the Amish have received protection with thankfulness, we too can receive such from the state. And that we can serve in such positions in the state. But always with the hope to resolve all matters and conflicts peacefully, or with as minimal force as possible. And that where need be, we can and should conscientiously object when what the government is ordering us to do is unjust.

Above all, and always, we need to be those who are marked as belonging to Jesus, taking the way of the cross. That even if we do participate in the force of the state, that we do so with the same gentleness and meekness, that of the Lamb. Realizing that we’re in a broken existence within the already/not yet continuum when peace won’t occur until the Prince of Peace returns. In and through Jesus.

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the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

God’s promise of anxiety-overcoming peace

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Like so many things in the Christian life, the directive here is radical and goes beyond our understanding of things, or what we might do left to ourselves. Off and on I’ve struggled with anxiety. Oftentimes I’ve more or less given up, and just learned to live with it.

It could be translated that we’re not to worry or be anxious, either one. There are few things more debilitating than anxiety. It seems to eat at the core of our being, and take the heart out of life, so that what we do is a mechanical grind. When we’re anxious, we’re failing to trust and rest in God’s provision for us in Christ.

This Scripture probably is helping us both to avoid anxiety or worry, or know how to deal with it when it strikes us. We’re told in every situation what to do. The same thing: with thanksgiving, pray. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. Specific requests to God with thanksgiving.

I know that in the past I’ve done this even in a poor way, and found the promise to be true. It’s an act of faith. And God does come through.

Sometimes it can be particularly difficult. I’ve gone through days into weeks in the past, basically not realizing this peace, surely because I failed to follow this directive. Likely a part of the spiritual warfare all believers experience (Ephesians 6:10-20). The enemy knows that anxiety is one way to trip us humans and strip us of God’s peace. And they know our weak, vulnerable places, as well.

The answer in the passage quoted above is simple. We’re to do it. God will help us through whatever we’re facing. But he wants to do so while we have his peace. The peace of God which goes beyond any understanding we have. That is our call and privilege in and through Jesus.

one thing we can do and not quit doing

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Given the world’s scene, and the mess right here in the United States, and just considering our own worlds, what we’re up against, there’s one thing we can do, something we should not let up on. You could say the parable hints, until our Lord returns. That is prayer, prayer, and more prayer. Simply praying.

As we can surmise from Jesus’s words, need should prompt us to pray. And don’t we experience that, and see it everywhere? Prayer should be something we’re getting used to, a part of who we are. But since we’re so used to the old way of the flesh which includes taking care of things ourselves, or just plain giving up, not factoring God into the picture, the new way takes practice and time. Not to mention the spiritual warfare we’re up against. The spiritual enemy will do what they can to keep us from praying, since that exacts a toll on the evil they’re doing or intend to do. We’re told to stand strong in the strength God provides, even in God’s strength, and put on the armor of Christ and the gospel, standing firm against the spiritual enemy. And continue in prayers (Ephesians 6:10-20).

We might scratch our heads at our Lord’s saying that God will bring about justice quickly. But the point is that our prayers matter and make a difference now. In the tough slog of life with all our questions and difficulties we’re to persist in prayer. With praise and thanksgiving, confession of sin, and requests. Simply crying out for God’s goodness and righteousness (justice) to prevail. In and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against people

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

If there’s anyone who struggled with people besides our Lord, it was surely the Apostle Paul. When you read the account in Scripture, it’s remarkable what all he went through especially from his own people, but sometimes from others as well. His life, like our Lord had previously indicated, was marked with suffering. And Paul did warn people about certain characters who were resisting the gospel and its messengers.

But in Ephesians we read something that is remarkable in itself and yet given the message of Scripture and what is more and more revealed along the way is arguably not all that surprising. There are underlying spiritual entities at work both to resist us and resist our witness. They are active and at work in usually the most subtle ways, though sometimes not so subtle. C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a remarkable read that lifts the veil off what they’ve been doing the past few centuries right through to the present day, even with anticipation of what’s beyond. Without getting into that, which I’m not prepared to do anyhow, I want to insist that what Paul calls us to here is nothing short than living in the truth of the gospel, as we share that gospel as a witness to others.

What do we tend to do instead? We fall right into the enemy’s trap by doing something different. We might fight fire with fire. We might enter into the struggle as if it’s against other humans, perhaps a political or philosophical battle rather than a spiritual one. That doesn’t mean that something of philosophy or politics might not find its way into what is going on, though the gospel should always be front and center. The point is that we’re no less than in a spiritual battle, with the Holy Spirit at our side to help us through prayer and our attempt to do in the Lord’s strength, what God calls us to do here.

With these things in mind, we want to beware entering into the enemy’s turf by stooping to something less than what we’re called to do. Yes, there’s always grace for us in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing what’s best or most pleasing to the Lord. So we want to avoid insofar as possible partisan politics, like siding either against or for some particular politician or government official. This seems to be a major way in which the enemy is either tripping us up, or our witness. That said, we also need to be willing to take some controversial stands which will be considered political. The gospel is not just about one’s personal relationship with God and their salvation. It includes so much more, at the very least in its impact on all of life. If we fail to take that into account, then we’re not following Paul’s example or heeding what Scripture says. But we want to do so as those who are “as wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.”

This really all begins with our own walk. We should not imagine that God has something “great” for us to do day after day. The great God wants done is that we see to ourselves, as the text above says, and pray. God will let us in on other things along the way, but it must always be first things first, the basics in place. We must seek to live in the strength and provision from God, realizing that we are in a battle, a spiritual one. In and through Jesus.

finding peace (and holding on to that)

Peace in Scripture means a number of things. First in the Old Testament it is about human well being and flourishing and that in community. That involves justice and righteousness and mercy. In passages in the New Testament it is more in terms of one’s position through faith in Christ. Christ himself is called our peace in that in his Person and by the cross, his death, he has broken down the walls which separate people into warring parties, instead uniting them together in him. And then there’s the peace which surpasses or goes beyond all understanding. That’s the peace I’m referring to in this post. But the other aspects of “peace” found in English Bible translations are in play here.

You find this sense of peace by being willing to live at times without it. If you make living in peace the end all, then you might well miss out in it altogether. We can’t bring it about ourselves. It’s the peace of God, therefore from God, including what Jesus called his peace that he gives to his disciples which is referred to here.

For myself, I’ve lived much of my life in the absence of peace. Usually I’ve went from one anxiety or worry to the next one. And as a Christian, that is decidedly the weakest point I think, where therefore the spiritual enemy attacks. I’ll be fine, and out of the blue, or sooner than later I’m not fine anymore. I’m so used to it, yet it’s something you never get really used to, because it’s too unsettling.

But the opportunity out of that is that no matter what, and I mean no matter what, we can pray and find God’s peace. But that takes a commitment and refusal to lapse into the way we’re used to dealing with problems. It requires prayer. And the realization that we are indeed in a spiritual battle. I don’t think I can emphasize enough that it’s important in the midst of all of this to accept one’s lack of peace. That’s hard, but a part of faith. Only God can give us what we need. Yes, we can try to find answers in the realms of wisdom and knowledge. But in the end it is God alone who grants us peace. Something I’m always reaching out toward, and seeking to live in. In and through Jesus.

what we’re responsible for

…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

So often we can either get caught up in the past or the future. Downcast because of past mistakes and sins. Apprehensive because of possible future consequences or fear of the unknown.

That is part of the ploy of the enemy (spiritual, of course). But what we’re called to do is what Jesus tells us here (click reference for context). We’re not to worry about tomorrow, and we’re not to be frozen or even defined by past mistakes. What we’re responsible for is the present, right now.

We repent over past sins, and try to learn from past mistakes so that we can do better, gathering wisdom from Scripture. Of course we can’t undo the past, as much as we would like. But hopefully it can serve as a help for us, so that we can help others. Nor do we wring our hands in apprehension over the future. Jesus’s words address that directly in Matthew 6 (click link above). Our Father knows all we need, and will take care of our needs as we trust in him, and seek first his righteousness and kingdom in our lives, and in life in general.

It is so vitally important to have hope for today, right now. Not to be down because of the past, or be worrying about the future. It’s the present we’re responsible for. We don’t want to let the devil get us down and out because of what is out of our control.

It’s the present in which we live, where God meets us, and helps us to receive from him so that we in turn might give to others. In and through Jesus.