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Read the Bible

Jesus isn't the Prince of War

December 29, 2007

To the editor:

As an occasional substitute teacher, I have encountered on several assignments a rather interesting phenomena in the classroom. After telling rowdy students to stop talking, they immediately say they were not talking. This reply is not delivered in the sheepish fashion of someone ashamed of being caught in a lie, but rather with complete self-assurance. Their total and brazen disregard of the truth goes beyond merely lying; it serves as a declaration of their willingness to dismiss reality to best suit their interests.

Unfortunately, this characteristic doesn't disappear when children become adults, although the practice certainly becomes more refined and subtle. When politicians participate, it's euphemistically called "spin," as when Bill Clinton said he did not have "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky, basing his statement on a very narrow legal definition of sexual relations. The idea here is that even if there is only a suggestion of truth, it might be enough to convince others that it's the overwhelming truth, particularly if stated in a convincing fashion.

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Examples of "spin" can also be found in an ongoing debate here in "Opinion" as to whether or not it is Christian-like to support war. How can Jesus be any clearer on his position than in this statement in St. Mark: "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you"? Or in his choosing, as his second greatest commandment, that we "love thy neighbor as thyself"?

And his actions spoke as loudly as his words: Even when faced with death he did not choose violence as a way out, even though he could have summoned "more than twelve legions of angels"

Yet Christians will search the Bible for passages that, however weak, offer some support to the notion that Jesus in fact supports war. Matthew 10:34, wherein Jesus states "I came not to send peace, but a sword" is usually offered as an example. Continued reading of this passage reveals that Jesus is talking of "household" matters and speaks of setting "man at variance against his father" - not exactly fighting words as there is no mention of actually wielding this "sword," which suggests that Jesus is speaking metaphorically.

But even if these passages are taken literally, Christ is not stating that his followers take up the sword, only that he will do so. In fact, later in Matthew 26:52 he directly warns against such a course of action for men: "All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword."

Unfortunately, many of the faithful remain unconvinced. In his letter to the editor, Steve Hluchy notes Old Testament scripture wherein God has sent people to war in order to achieve his ends. Well, I don't know of any president who has ever stated that God told him directly to go to war, including George W. Bush.

Hluchy also notes that the apostle Paul did affirm the right of the state to bear the sword as a Christian justification of war. Perhaps Paul did recognize state-sponsored militarism and, thereby, directly contradict Jesus' pacifism.

But whose words should carry more weight to a true Christian - those of Jesus the Son of God, or those of Paul, an important figure, but a mere mortal nonetheless? Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Perhaps the more important question in this debate is why some Christians feel so compelled to find any kind of proof that warfare can be considered Christian-like. Probably because if Jesus is truly against war, then all wars, even World War II, which many Americans consider the last just war, are not sanctioned by God and therefore are wrong in His eyes.

This is understandably hard for people to swallow, particularly after all the sacrifices of our service members, particularly when fighting someone as evil as Hitler.

Certainly Christ's pacifism, which is as revolutionary today as it was in his era, is difficult for men to embrace. Generally speaking, when men are attacked by other men, the typical response is to fight back, and not to "offer" the other cheek as Jesus suggested. Moreover, we have an ongoing history of how one should "fight like a man" that is constantly being reinforced in innumerable violent TV shows, video games and movies. To not fight back is considered wimpish. All things considered, it's no wonder many people believe it's impossible, when faced with deadly violence, not to respond with more violence. But I'm reminded of the Amish people who, after their children had been murdered in their schoolhouse in October 2006, in an amazing act of mercy, sought out the murderer's family to offer them comfort. They revealed that forgiveness is possible even under the worst circumstances.

So if God, the creator of all things, through the words of His Son says that love is the best response to evil, who are we dumb mortals to argue? Certainly, at this time of year, many Christians will be praying for peace on earth. But we will never know if the power of love is great enough to thwart those who "live by the sword" until we, in perhaps the greatest test of faith, actually give peace a chance. Certainly this degree of faith isn't easy; it wasn't for Jesus on the cross and it's not easy for us when we've been attacked. But how many more tragedies like the war in Iraq will it take before Christians no longer "spin" Jesus' message of love, if not ignore it altogether, and finally believe that "things which are impossible with men are possible with God"?

Dan Wallace
Williamsport

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