Why does God permit and even command war?

Back on Sunday I preached on the question “Will war ever cease?” Now a reasonable follow up question is “Why is there war in the first place?”  So on Sunday and in the earlier post, we focused on the “When” question and then onto the “What” and the “How” of living in a world of war. However, we didn’t really touch on the why?

So here are a couple of quick comments. These are not the full answer. That’s partly because the question of “Why War?” is really a subset of “Why suffering, why injustice, why evil?” This means I will keep picking up on those sorts of questions on faithroots and so there will be some links here to other articles too.

But here are three key thoughts

First, it is right to long for peace and to see this as something God desires even though God allows and even in a few cases commands war. This links to the point in our article on God’s will and decrees that sometimes God’s precepts show us that he loves and delights in something good but forgoes that to fulfil another purpose. This links to my point in the sermon notes about Churchill and Chamberlain. The latter was openly announcing peace, the former warning of war.  To prefer Churchill was not to love peace over war but to recognise that standing up to the evil of Hitler might require war even for those who loved peace and wished there was another way.[1]

Second, war is a consequence of the fall. In fact, we best understand war as quarrelling, fighting and killing on a magnified scale. It’s for this reason that the solution to war is the Gospel and why we must wait until Christ’s Second Coming to see it fully dealt with.  We live in a broken, hurting, messed up world and the reason it is broken and hurting is sin. We should see presence of war as an aspect of the judgement of death on sin.

Thirdly, there are some occasions where God in the Bible specifically ordered the people of Israel to go into battle. Why did God explicitly command war?  Now first of all, I want point out that those occasions were actually extremely limited and rare. We should not be looking for “Holy Wars” around every corner. So when someone announces that a war is God’s will in the sense that he is explicitly commanding a nation to take up arms (his decree) rather than using the war for his greater good then I’d give that person a wide berth. Secondly we need to put those events in the context of Biblical Theology.

What I mean by that is that we sometimes talk about the Bible revealing three themes.

  1. God’s Rule
  2. God’s Land
  3. God’s People

In the Old Testament we see those three things pictured through the story of Israel.  They were God’s people, living under God’s rule (through the law of Moses  and the chosen King) in God’s land (Canaan).

The physical land with a physical temple, and an earthly priesthood and king provided a picture in miniature of God’s big plan for what he would do for and with the whole of Creation in Jesus.

Today, God’s people are those who belong to Christ, living under his reign means that we sub,mit to Christ’s Lordship. The land is not the physical land, rather, it is about enjoying allt he spiritual blessings available in Christ. We look forward to the day when Christ will return, the dead will be raised so his people will be all together under his reign and there will be a new heaven and earth so that the land will extend to all creation.

Now, that future hope also makes us aware of future judgement. There will be those who will continue to resist and rebel against God right until the final day.  The bible does warn about judgement and Hell. So, when God commands Israel into battle, in effect, he was carrying out a small judgement against his enemies as a foretaste and warning of the day to come.

Another aspect of this is that the image of war is taken up in the New Testament not to encourage physical fighting against human opponents but to call God’s people to spiritual warfare. This is about putting to death sinful thoughts, ambitions and habits. It’s about resisting the temptation of the devil. It’s about speaking to the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel wherever we have an opportunity.

[1] Please note, I’m not denying here value of the pacifist choice taken by many even from within our own church tradition who could not in good conscience take up arms.  Nor is the decision always an easy and straightforward one. There are a number of cases in recent history where we people may argue  with good reason that going to war was the wrong decision and made the suffering greater.