To Fight

When is it appropriate to engage in combat, to take up arms, to inflict harm? Is there a time to fight? to the death if necessary? Does God require us to be passive in the face of evil and malevolence?

Marine Sgt. Michael Strank

If God ever taught anyone to fight, and He did (Ps 144:1), then there’s a time for fighting, a time for engaging in warfare. (Ec 3:8) When is that, and who should we be willing to fight?

It’s a soldier’s job to fight to the death, and we find many godly soldiers in scripture. (Ac 10:22) What’s unique about soldiers is that they’re under a governor or a king; their combat is subject to civil authority. (Jn 18:36)

In a private context, fighting to defend yourself and loved ones is generally permitted by civil authority; this is common moral understanding and it’s grounded in Torah. (Ex 22:2) Under such conditions it’s right to fight in self-defense, when physical safety is at risk.

But taking up arms to avenge a death (De 19:12), or to put down rioters, looters and anarchists, depends on the attitude of civil authority. Does local government want your assistance? Or at least not disapprove of it? If so, then cooperate as you’re able. If not, stand down, love your enemies and pray for them, seeking their welfare (Mt 5:44), looking to God to intervene with justice in His time. (Ps 119:84)

Herein lies a key difference between Christianity and Islam: Jehovah forbids taking the law — even the divine law — into our own hands (Ro 12:19), and deciding for ourselves when and how to put away evil (Ex 22:3); this is the duty of civil government (Ro 13:4), not the individual. (Ex 20:13) On the other hand, according to Islam, Allah commends killing infidels apart from civil authority, which is what makes Islam so dangerous.

God forbids avenging ourselves and others, righting perceived wrongs on our own, because when we’re offended our judgement is clouded and it’s virtually impossible for us to dispense justice. We can’t know exactly what another person deserves for what they’ve done; this requires knowing their heart and motives, and that’s entirely beyond our reach.

And even if we did know someone’s exact motivation, God has given us little indication how to precisely measure the degree of immorality of any given behavior, or to determine an appropriate ultimate punishment. In fact, God expressly forbids individuals from doing this. (Mt 7:1) His Law only gives civil authority the right to formally assess guilt, and to impose prescribed consequences for specific types of crimes, but even then He’s generally more concerned about cleansing society of willful evil doers (De 17:12) and discouraging rebellion (13) than actually administering justice.

The job of formally righting all wrongs belongs to God Himself, and not to Man (Ro 2:2), and God isn’t doing that just yet (Ec 8:11); He’s prepared a Day in which He’ll begin administring full justice (Ro 2:5-6), and His timing will be perfect.

Meanwhile, when it’s time to defend ourselves, we must do so benevolently, in love (1Co 16:14) — using only minimal necessary force to protect ourselves and others from malevolence, all the while esteeming others better than ourselves and praying for those who would abuse us. (Php 2:3) All other forms of strife, wrath and anger are forbidden. (Ep 4:31-32) So, when we find malice lingering in our hearts, harboring a desire to inflict harm or see evil punished (Pr 24:17-18), it’s time to step back and examine ourselves; our wrath does not work God’s righteousness. (Ja 1:20)

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The Wrath of Man

I’ve been considering what I’d do if faced with a BLM mob harassing a vulnerable person, an old man or a pregnant mother.

Honestly, my first instinct is to fly into a rage and tear into them, doing as much damage as humanly possible. Yet, clearly, something doesn’t feel right about this; it’s not what Father’s doing in me. There’s something ugly, intrinsically unholy about judgmental rage, especially when it’s hasty. (Ec 7:9)

The Word affirms the same: “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (Ja 1:20) We’re to put away all wrath and malice; it should find no place in us (Eph 4:31) since it’s triggered by a lie. (2Ti 2:25)

For me, the lie appears to be pride-related: when I esteem others better (Php 2:3), and recall that all bullies will be dealt with justly (Ro 2:5-6), the rage dissipates in my avatar immediately, telling me the intensity is rooted both in self-righteous indignation, and in unbelief in the justice of God: not good. This is my old man. (Ro 7:25)

The proper emotion in cases of injustice appears to be sorrow, for both victim and offenders (Ps 119:136); perhaps more for the offenders (53); they’ll be trodden down of God. (18) Knowing no one ever gets away with anything is at the root of this (Ro 2:2), and that I’d likely deserve worse if left to myself. (1Ti 1:15)

And what does my instinctive, judgmental rage reveal? That I’m guilty of the same thing (Ro 2:1): if I were deceived about white, capitalist America being racist enemy no. 1, I’d be on the front lines of BLM, doubtless among the worst of them. I’m reacting this way to cover for myself; the carnal mind loves to project its own sin onto others.

So, rage is out – but the law of love forbids hiding from injustice and doing nothing; if my well-being were threatened by such a mob I’d certainly want others to intervene. Passivity here is cowardly weakness and fear. This isn’t Christ (Php 1:21); we’re to be strong (1Co 16:13), bold as a lion. (Pr 28:1) Minimal necessary force to protect myself and others is required as I have opportunity.

The challenge here is that Marxist activists are intent on goading others into aggression so they can both play the victim and counter-attack with public justification. They’re trained in provocation, almost as an art form, knowing precisely where their legal boundaries are and how to violate them with minimal risk to themselves. (Pr 25:8) Over-reacting is a mistake, especially in such a trap (Ps 119:110), and I’m evidently as likely as any to fall into it, unless God gives me repentance here. (2Ti 2:26)

We can be angry without sinning (Ep 4:26) if we love our enemies. (Mt 5:44) The servant of God has compassion both on the ignorant and deceived as well as on the rebellious, knowing he himself is also prone to sin. (He 5:2) It takes wisdom and grace to attack someone in love, in self-defense or in defense of another. We’re called to this at times, (Lk 22:36), but disarming and deescalating is always preferred. God help us prepare, as we train ourselves in holiness, and be up to the task as and when it falls to us.

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