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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4 thoughts on “To Fight”

  1. An interesting perspective on civil authority proposes that the highest civil authority in the US is the Constitution, and that the intent of the US founding fathers was to identify any elected official who defies the Constitution is a domestic enemy.

    All military personnel and elected officials take an oath to defend the US Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

    And the sole purpose of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution is to ensure that US citizens are capable of defending themselves against tyranny, even if it manages to arise in any of the US states or federal government.

    So it appears to be the moral duty of anyone who has ever taken a public office or served in the military to take up arms against any government official who openly rejects or undermines the US Constitution.

    This is very interesting in the sense that the highest civil authority in the US form of government is not an actual person but a document, and US citizens swear with oaths to protect and defend the intent and purpose of this key document. So, in this case, taking up arms against certain government officials appears to be commanded by a higher civil authority.

    How and when to carry this type of patriotic resistance out must then be derived from a consensus of the people, organizing themselves into private militias and preparing for war with the federal government, or with some state or local government, not a small minority of anarchists plotting to overthrow the government or attack an elected official.

    That said, even if a large number of US citizens agreed that it was time for armed conflict, it is difficult to imagine how such a conflict would play out if the US Military were loyal to the offending federal or state governments (in which case they would all be violating their oaths, and likely intentionally). It seems that a patriotic insurgency of this sort designed to protect the Constitution would need the support of the US military, or the country would eventually be destroyed.

    The problem with any such conflict, however, even with the support of the military, is that it will not help to achieve a stable, free society so long as a significant number of US Citizens continue to elect officials which despise the Constitution; in this case, resistance is pointless since the US form of government is not viable under such conditions — unless the patriots are willing to kill so many of their fellow citizens that the anti-Constitution mindset is reduced to an insignificant minority of the population. This approach is untenable and entirely repulsive, indistinguishable from any other form of tyranny.

    The only solution to a widespread anti-constitutional mindset in the US, electing officials which despise the Constitution, is open dialogue and debate among US citizens, and the hopeful, eventual re-training of a new generation in the principles of freedom, moral duty and limited government.

    As John Adams, one of the US founding fathers, noted, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

  2. Tim,

    Your comment:

    So, when we find malice lingering in our hearts, harboring a desire to inflict harm or see evil punished

    resonates well with the politics of the day in the US. That we not have a desire to inflict harm or see evil punished, rather as JESUS addressed Judas in the garden, friend.

    stephen

  3. Here is a link to a message claiming: “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God”. I agree with almost everything he says, and find it edifying, except his primary thesis, if by “resist” he means “to fight against” (which I think he does; he contends the American Revolution was godly, inspired by the pamphlet A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, which he enthusiastically endorses).

    He provides as godly examples: [1] Ex 1 where Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s genocidal order, [2] Da 3 where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship an idol, and [3] Da 6 where Daniel defies the king’s order to cease from prayer to God. However, notice in each of these examples there is no active resistance to authority, only disobedience – there is still a subjection to the authority in a willingness to be punished rather than disobey God. In no case do we find a godly actor actively fighting against (“resisting”) civil authority.

    He will have a hard time explaining David’s refusal to kill Saul: David “resisted” Saul by evading him and protecting himself, but he would not raise a hand against him or any of his officers.

    He also claims that God’s command to submit to authority in Ro 13 is “descriptive not prescriptive.” He skirts this by saying the context is simply explaining government’s proper role; when government steps out of line, he believes we need not obey. This effectively makes obedience to civil authority irrelevant, since no government is perfect, and he places us as judges over government to decide this; we then just do as we please if we fancy ourselves servants of the Heavenly King.

    I think he is ignoring the context: God is telling us we ought to obey civil authority as His representatives, implying we may only disobey when explicitly commanded to disobey God, in which case we obey God rather than men (Ac 5:29) – while submitting to their punishments/persecutions if they apprehend us. If we memorize and meditate on the entire context of this chapter, I think this view is inescapable.

  4. Andy asks: “Was Jesus’ act of driving out the money changers contrary to what was being allowed by both the temple and civil authority and therefore taking the law into His own hands? If so, perhaps that is OK since He did that as God?”

    Since we are to follow His steps (1Pe 2:21), I am thinking Christ might have been well within His human boundaries here.

    Rome was the official civil authority in the region, and cared nothing for Jewish tradition or enforcing ceremonial regulations. They would have been concerned if Christ had incited an open disturbance in the streets where there was violence and chaos, but would have cared little for a minor disruption within the temple grounds. Christ evidently harmed no one directly, just made it impossible for them to continue their market activities.

    And since Torah does not forbid causing disturbances in love outside the temple, given that this disturbance was not within the temple itself where only the priests were allowed, but in an exterior court area, the priests and temple authorities had no valid complaint against Christ; His actions were perfectly aligned with God’s general purpose for the temple.

    What Christ did was violate the customary market culture which had arisen to capitalize on the needs of temple attendees, one which was contrary to its fundamental, original intent.

    This seems like similar behavior could very well be appropriate for us at times.

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