Pastor David B. Curtis


A Time For War

Ecclesiastes 3:8

Delivered 04/06/2003

Our nation and the world have been polarized by the war in Iraq. Demonstrators are marching all over the globe. Our world is truly divided on this war. In our own nation we see this division everywhere. In the Country music scene views over this war have caused quite a fervor. One of the singers from the group "The Dixie Chicks" recently said that she was embarrassed to say that George Bush came from her state. This statement has cost them deeply. Our local country station has taken them off the air until the war ends.

On the other hand, many have written songs supporting our nation's stand. Clint Black sings a song called, "I RAQ AND ROLL". The first stanza says:


Many people have used the Bible to give validity to their understandings of war. Those who are war-mongers have used the Jewish and Christian scriptures to give credence to their tyranny. Those who are pacifists have quoted scriptures to support their stance against war of any kind. So, who do we believe? What does the Bible say about war?

I want you to understand that the Bible does not glorify war. War in the Bible is always a last resort for any nation. Psalm 68 teaches that we are to never take pleasure in or desire war:

Psalms 68:30 (NKJV) Rebuke the beasts of the reeds, The herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples, Till everyone submits himself with pieces of silver. Scatter the peoples who delight in war.

Although war may bring about a desirable outcome, and although war in some cases may be morally justified, war is not in itself something to be desired. It causes suffering and death; not only to those who bring it upon themselves, and who perhaps deserve it, but also to innocent civilians, and to the soldiers who are only doing their duty. It causes great suffering. War fractures the thin veneer of civilization; it loosens the restraints of civil society, creating an environment for all kinds of crimes and atrocities to be committed. War destroys, ruins, and kills. There is nothing inherently good about it.

Some Christians hold the view of PACIFISM. Pacifism is the belief that the use of force is always evil, even in times of self defense. The pacifist believes that evil is not controlled through punishment, but rather through the sterling example of genuine goodness that radiates from people. Pacifism is peace at any price. Pacifism is absolute non-resistance. Pacifism is the view held by most liberal denominations; the Mennonite church and the Quakers. The pacifist's goals are noble, and there is an extent to which all Christians are called to forms of pacifism.

The pacifist uses Jesus' example in Matthew 5:39 of turning the other check as the proof text for his or her views. Their contention is that Jesus never condoned defending yourself. While it might seem that Jesus is calling for pacifism at first glance, our study of this text revealed that this is a situation involving individuals and does not apply to governmental affairs. The Bible makes a distinction between the actions of government and the actions of individuals.

In fact, in that very passage in Matthew 5 Jesus instructs us to settle matters with our enemy or we may be forced to go to a judge of the state who will enforce justice. Jesus makes the distinction between how the individual is to react and how the government is to react.

Jesus was not a pacifist. In fact, in Matthew 8 Jesus meets a Roman centurion - an army officer who most likely achieved his rank because he was skilled at battle. After talking with this soldier for a few minutes, Jesus did not tell him to put down his sword, nor did he tell him to retire from the military. Instead, He praised the man's faith, saying that he had more faith than anyone He had met (Matthew 8:5-13).

Many of the judges are held in high regard in Hebrews for their faith demonstrated in battle:

Hebrews 11:33-34 (NKJV) who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

Pacifism, in my opinion, is not a biblical view.

Working for peace is certainly a noble, godly pursuit (Matthew 5:9; 1 Peter 3:11). No sane person likes war. However, this does not mean that the Bible endorses pacifism.

Many Christians today are saying that there are no circumstances under which we should go to war. This is in direct contradiction to the Bible:

Ecclesiastes 3:8 (NKJV) A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace.

Even though war is to be a last resort for a nation, Ecclesiastes states that there is a time for war. There comes an occasion when it is a must that a nation go to war. In Exodus 22 we read that it is appropriate for a person or a group of people to take necessary action to defend themselves; even if that means having to kill someone in self defense.

Psalms 144:1 (NKJV) Blessed be the LORD my Rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle;

The question looming in our nation today is whether the war in Iraq is a just war or if the United States and Britain are overstepping their bounds. Or is "Operation Iraqi Freedom" a just war?

What is a just war? Well, in the fifth century, Augustine, a theologian, developed a criteria for a just war. Augustine said, "Peace is not sought in order to provide war, but war is waged in order to attain peace." And with that, Augustine began laying the foundation for what we know today as the principles for Just War, which state:

1. JUST WAR can only be waged by legitimate authorities.
2. JUST WAR must exhaust all non-violent options first.
3. JUST WAR must have a reasonable chance to succeed.
4. JUST WAR must be fought with right intentions.
5. JUST WAR must discriminate between combative enemies and non-combative civilians (Death of civilians is considered justifiable only if unavoidable).
6. JUST WAR's ultimate goal should be to re-establish peace.

Let's examine these principles in light of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and see if this war is a just war.

1. JUST WAR can only be waged by legitimate authorities.

The Bible states that the government must be an agent of wrath and justice and protect its citizens from other nations and leaders who threaten her:

Romans 13:1-4 (NKJV) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

Here we are told that "government" is ordained by God for a purpose. The primary duty of civil government is indicated here. It is not welfare. It is not the reallocation of wealth. It is not merely to maintain roads and oversee other public works. It is not to educate our children. The primary duty of civil government is law enforcement. It is to punish evildoers so they can't harm other people; and to deter would-be evil-doers by firm and swift punishment for all. Government exists to restrain evil.

I would say that the President of the United States is a legitimate authority according to God's Word. He is our Commander and Chief and he deems this war necessary.

2. JUST WAR must exhaust all non-violent options first.

I think that President Bush did this. We really gave them 12 years to comply to the UN resolutions.

3. JUST WAR must have a reasonable chance to succeed.

I would have to say that the United States has more than a reasonable chance to succeed.

4. JUST WAR must be fought with right intentions.

This one could be debated on into eternity, but I believe that our overall intentions are right.

For us to sit back and allow Saddam Hussein to continue developing weapons of mass destruction and continue the sort of violence he has wrought since he murdered his way into power in 1979 would be wrong. In the book "The War over Iraq", the authors write: "(Saddam) has imprisoned, tortured, gassed, shot and bombed thousands upon thousands of his own subjects. He has launched wars of aggression against his neighbors and still seeks to dominate the Middle East. He has expended vast resources on the development of weapons of mass destruction. He is at once a tyrant, an aggressor and, in his own avowed objectives, a threat to civilization." They write about the murder of children, the raping of women in front of their husbands and children, torture, dismemberment and inhuman prison conditions. They profile the crazy dictator in ways that any sane person would say qualifies him as a blot on the human race. He has truly earned the title: "Butcher of Baghdad".

Former citizens of Iraq, now living in the United States, report that as members of the Iraqi Olympic team, they were often beaten and imprisoned by Saddam's son if they missed a goal or lost a game.

5. JUST WAR must discriminate between combative enemies and non-combative civilians (Death of civilians is considered justifiable only if unavoidable).

I talked to David last week via satellite phone from Iraqi, and he told me that Americans are risking their own lives in the effort not to hurt civilians.

6. JUST WAR's ultimate goal should be to re-establish peace.

This is America's stated goal, to set up a peaceful government for the Iraqi people.

War is sometimes needed to ensure justice in a sinful world. Justice is something that God is very concerned about, and sometimes war is needed to maintain justice. As Christians, we are called to:

Psalms 82:3-4 (NKJV) Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. 4 Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.

In thinking, discussing, and praying about this war the primary thing we must remember is that God is in control. Period! That may seem obvious; it may even seem irrelevant. But an understanding of God's sovereignty, and a firm confidence in God's sovereignty, is essential for us as Christians. Without it, we may be tempted to fear and anxiety; we may give in to the overriding impulse toward self-protection and self-preservation. We may trust in the wrong things, and hope in the wrong things. We may look to our duck tape and plastic sheeting to protect us. We may place our trust in America's superior military power, rather than trusting in God. Failing to embrace the absolute and complete sovereignty of God may produce apathy, despair, and hopelessness. Or it may produce just the opposite: an ungodly activism and self-reliance; a sense that "I'm on my own, so I have to do whatever it takes to protect myself, regardless of what the Bible says." That response tends to pride and self-reliance.

Let me give you some examples of what I'm talking about. If our trust in God's sovereignty is weak, we may be tempted to trust in our superior military. And it would be easy to do that, because by all accounts, the Iraqi army is no match for ours. It is ill-equipped, poorly trained, technologically backward, and low in morale. We have stealth bombers, GPS-guided smart bombs, night vision capability, and advanced weaponry, the likes of which the world has never seen. Our power and might seem overwhelming. On the home front, we're being assured that the FBI and CIA are winning the war against terrorism. Tom Ridge, director of the Department of Homeland Security, tells us that we are safe. And yet, the Scriptures caution us that to rely on any of those things would be foolish:

Isaiah 31:1 (NKJV) Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, Who trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong, But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, Nor seek the LORD!
Psalms 33:17-21 (NKJV) A horse is a vain hope for safety; Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy, 19 To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine. 20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name.

These passages all say the same thing. First, that no amount of superior firepower or weaponry, and no number of armored divisions is sufficient to guarantee victory. We cannot rely on our tanks, or troops, or munitions. Against all odds, America could be defeated in Iraq. But second, these verses tell us that victory is in the Lord's hands. He has the sovereign power to direct the outcome however he pleases, regardless of what we may bring to the battle. The Old Testament is full of examples of this; instances in which the superior fighting force was defeated. Sometimes it was Israel overcoming a far greater foreign power, as when Gideon defeated the Midianites. At other times it was Israel's turn to be routed by a smaller force. But in every case, what made the difference was the plan and purpose of God. Why? Because He is absolutely sovereign. Victory, or defeat, rests with the Lord.

An inadequate view of God's sovereignty may produce fear, worry, and anxiety. It may tempt us into an unhealthy self-reliance; or incline us toward self-protection and self-preservation. After all, if God doesn't have the power to provide for our needs, and to protect our interests, and to keep us safe from harm, then we have to rely on ourselves. But Jesus warns us against this attitude:

Matthew 6:25-26 (NKJV) "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:28-30 (NKJV) "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 "and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

This passage reveals that worry or anxiety can often be traced back to a lack of confidence in God's sovereignty. Jesus urges us to place our confidence in God, rather than in ourselves, and we can do that only because he is sovereign. We can trust in his provision and protection only because he has unlimited resources to provide whatever we need, and unlimited power to care for us in every situation. He is completely trustworthy, not only because he loves us, but also because all things are in his hands. His perfect wisdom and infinite love are joined together with his absolute power to act.

As we apply this principle of God's sovereignty to something like war or terrorism, we encounter a problem. Because although many people will agree in principle with the idea of God being in control, they resist the application of that truth to situations involving evil or calamity. They are willing to acknowledge that God is responsible for the good things that happen; things like victory in battle, provision, and protection. But they are reluctant to acknowledge his control over the bad things; such as the Twin Towers being destroyed on September 11th. And that's important, because if God were not in control over those things as well, we would have no firm basis for trusting in him. When we were threatened with evil, or when we fell victim to some injustice, it would mean that we had fallen outside the realm of God's power to protect us. All we could say is, "That wasn't God's fault; that there was nothing he could do about it." In that view, all God can do is come along after the fact and help us pick up the pieces; He has no power to protect us from harm in the first place. And I can understand the appeal of that position; the desire to protect God's holiness and justice; the desire to avoid saying anything that might suggest He is responsible for sin and evil. But denying Him a part of His sovereignty isn't the way to do it. That isn't a recipe for a rock-solid trust in God. It's not a recipe for peace and joy in the midst of suffering. Rather, it's a recipe for fear and anxiety. And so, what I'd like to do is give some Biblical evidence for the truth that God is sovereign over all things, including even the sinful acts of sinful men, so that we can place our trust in Him, even when danger threatens.

In order to establish the principle, the best place to start is with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. No one can argue that this was anything but a wicked, sinful act; in fact, the most wicked and sinful act ever committed; to murder the Holy One, the Son of God, a man completely without sin! And yet, the Bible tells us that God not only permitted this to take place, not only managed to bring good out of evil after the fact, but that the crucifixion itself, as sinful and evil as it was, happened according to His plan and purpose. In Peter's sermon to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, we read:

Acts 2:23 (NKJV) "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

Later in Acts, Peter and John pray to God:

Acts 4:27-28 (NKJV) "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

Jesus was killed "by God's set purpose and foreknowledge." It was what God's "hand and purpose determined before to be done." And just in case there's any doubt in your mind that God ordained this, listen to the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 53:10 (NKJV) Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

Was this an evil act? Yes. The most evil act ever committed. Was it unjust? Yes, completely unjust. Did it cause pain and suffering? Yes, terrible suffering, both physical and spiritual. Was it the work of Satan? Yes, the Bible tells us that Satan prompted Judas to betray Christ. And did it involve the free decisions and free choices of sinful people? Yes, it did. No one compelled them to arrest Jesus, or to accuse him falsely, or to convict him - when even Pilate testified that he was innocent - or to nail him to a cross and leave him there to die. Men freely chose, of their own volition, to do all those things. And yet, the Bible tells us that it all happened according to the will of God, according to God's plan and purpose.

Keep that in mind as you're contemplating the suffering and evil the war is bringing about. Think of that the next time you're responding to some personal tragedy, or injustice, or suffering, or betrayal. Remember that the next time you're grieving over a loss; understand that it was not an accident, or a random piece of bad luck. And realize that, even if sinful human beings were involved, making sinful choices and committing sinful acts - ultimately, it was still by God's will, and God's plan, and God's purpose that it happened. They are responsible for their sin, just as Judas, and Pilate, and the Pharisees were responsible for the sin of crucifying Christ. But God is in control. According the Bible, God uses the sinful acts of sinful men to accomplish his good, and wise, and just purposes - yet without being guilty of sin himself.

Since we're talking about war, and about armies, governments, and rulers, let's look at a couple of examples in those areas. The general principle is that God is completely sovereign over the free acts of kings, presidents, and dictators like Saddam Hussein. As Proverbs tells us:

Proverbs 21:1 (NKJV) The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.

Now, someone might read that verse and respond that, although the Lord has the power to influence the decisions of rulers, he only uses this power to bring about good. He would never influence a king to commit evil. But this is contradicted by the Scriptures. For example, we see that God incited Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to attack and defeat the people of Israel:

Jeremiah 25:8-9 (NKJV) "Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Because you have not heard My words, 9 'behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' says the LORD, 'and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations.

Note that God calls Nebuchadnezzar, "My servant." Now, in what sense was this true? Was Nebuchadnezzar a worshiper of Yahweh? Did he pray to God and make sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem? No. In fact, he was an enemy of the true God. But he is God's "servant," because, whether knowingly or unknowingly, whether willingly or unwillingly, he would be doing God's will. Here's another question: Was this sin? Was it wrong for Nebuchadnezzar to do this? Yes! How do we know? Because God promises that after he is done using Babylon to punish Israel, He will then punish Babylon for having done so! God will punish Babylon for having done what he incited them to do!

Jeremiah 25:12 (NKJV) 'Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,' says the LORD; 'and I will make it a perpetual desolation.

You can find the very same thing in Isaiah, who prophecies against Assyria:

Isaiah 10:5 (NKJV) "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.

Assyria is the "rod" of God's anger against the Israelites. Assyria holds in its hands the club of God's wrath. In other words, God is using Assyria to bring calamity and judgment upon Israel. Yet in doing so, Assyria is guilty of sin. We know that because God says, "Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger." God sovereignly used them as His instrument to attack Israel, and yet they were guilty for their sin in doing so. Now, that may seem unjust to us. How could God incite a nation to do something evil and then punish them for having done it? And the answer is that they did it of their own free will. No one coerced Assyria to attack Israel. No one forced them. They did it out of the wickedness of their own hearts, and so they are guilty. And yet, at the same time, God is sovereign over their sinful actions. He says:

Jeremiah 25:9 (NKJV) 'behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,' says the LORD, 'and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations.

I'll give one more example of this, and then we'll move on. Was Pharaoh guilty of sin in refusing to release Israel from slavery? Yes. Because through Moses, God had commanded Pharaoh to let them go, and to disobey God is to sin. Yet, the Bible makes clear that this act of sinful disobedience, this act which brought unjust suffering to God's people, was according to God's sovereign plan and purpose. As God told Moses:

Exodus 4:21 (NKJV) And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

In fact, God says to Pharaoh:

Exodus 9:16 (NKJV) "But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.

The pharaoh's obstinate refusal to obey the word of God, and the deliverance that God brought about for Israel as a result, was all in God's plan from the beginning. It was what God had in mind years before when He raised this man up to be pharaoh in the first place. God sovereignly ordained that Pharaoh would do just what he did, and yet Pharaoh was guilty for his sin in doing so, because he chose freely to do it, without any force or compulsion from God.

You may ask, "How is that possible? How can God be completely sovereign, and yet man be fully responsible and accountable for his own sin?" Or, as Paul puts the question in Romans:

Romans 9:19 (NKJV) You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

But the Bible never provides an answer to that question, and so it is not up to us to try to supply one. The Bible simply affirms that both are true. God is sovereign over everything, including the sinful acts of sinful men. And yet, God is not responsible for our sin; we are. His sovereignty over sin does not make Him guilty of sin. So what's the point of all this? To get us tangled up in difficult theological questions? No. Just to remind us that God is in control over everything that comes into our lives, including both the good and the evil actions of men. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Lamentations 3:38 (NKJV) Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That woe and well-being proceed?

So where does that leave us with respect to war, terrorism, and all the other kinds of evil and calamity which may befall us? How does it help us respond in faith, confidence, and peace when we know that God is in control? Several ways:

First, it dissolves our fear, because we know that the one who loves us, the one who is absolutely committed to our welfare, is also the one who has all things in His hands. Nothing happens outside of his will, for good or evil. And no one can touch us without His express permission. Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction - none of them has any power other than what God may grant them.

Second, being convinced of the sovereignty of God stimulates us to prayer. If God is not in control; if He can't do anything about the evil and suffering in the world, then there's no reason to seek His help. But if God is truly sovereign over all things, then we can go to Him in prayer, knowing that He has the power to do anything that we may ask.

Make sure that you pray for our president and other leaders. I've read that President Bush is grateful anytime he finds that groups are praying for him. He understands his need for God. Pray that God would give him and the other leaders of our country and military wisdom and courage. Ask God to protect their lives and give them strength for these tough times.

Pray for the protection of our troops and all those in harm's way. Your prayer can make a real difference. Retired U.S. Marine Corps General Charles Krulak recounted a critical event in the Gulf War of 1991:

The prevailing winds in the Gulf area blow from northeast to southwest. If you attack from the southwest, your enemy can release biological weapons into the air, and the chemicals will blow right into your face. It was a tremendous concern for the military in the southwestern desert and a grave prayer concern for many, both overseas and back home. On February 21, 1991, American forces began an attack from the southwest at four in the morning. Only three hours before, the prevailing winds had shifted from southwest to northeast, exactly 180 degrees from the direction the prevailing winds normally blow. The winds blew in that direction for four days, the four days of the duration of the war. Within thirty minutes of the surrender, the winds shifted back. That is the unbelievable power of prayer.

Third, it helps us to be faithful and obedient even in the midst of suffering and danger. If God were not sovereign, if we were truly on our own, then we would be tempted to do whatever we thought necessary to provide for our needs and protect ourselves from harm. But if God is sovereign, then we can continue in holiness and obedience, even when we don't understand what He is doing in our lives; because we know that whatever is happening is by his express decree and permission. We don't have to understand it. We don't have to be able to see what good will come of it. We don't have to like it. All we have to do is trust that God knows what He is doing, and obey. And we can do that, because we know that He is sovereign. Whatever is going on in my life is according to his will.

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