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War - A Christian Outlook

By Br Sajith Parappallil


Thus came the most awaited day 26th March, 2003. With a pretentious confidence but anxiety within, I made myself at the disposal of a panel of professors for my comprehensive exam of After having spoken well for some time on the non-violence of M.K. Gandhi at their demand, there came a simple yet arduous question from one of the professors, "How will you react to the America-Iraq war?" Of course I gave a logical and spontaneous answer. But the question lingered in me even after the exam. Probably one could look at this question on war in different perspectives like philosophical, political, anthropological, religious etc. But as a Christian what should our standpoint be to the recent America-Iraq war?

Wars are fought on the battlefields of the globe, but they are waged first in the human heart. It is in this light that Christian philosopher Arthur Holmes wrote,"To call war anything less than evil would be self-deception. The Christian conscience has throughout history recognized the tragic character of war. The issue that tears the Christian conscience is not whether war is good, but whether it is in all cases avoidable."

Christian conscientious objectors to war maintain that the Bible teaches that a Christian should not participate in war. When we honestly consider the popular question "What would Jesus do?" it is difficult to argue with the conscientious objector. I dont see Jesus participating in war in any way. Yet, strong biblical arguments can be build in support of the contention that God sometimes calls His people to battle: not just the spiritual battle against Satan and the demons, but natural wars against the enemies of the chosen people, using weapons of death and destruction. In a number of places in the Bible, we are cautioned against trusting in military might and instructed to trust in God (Psalm 20:7, 21:7, 44:6,7). However, the overall thrust of these teachings is to trust God for victory over enemies. The military victories of the children of Israel recorded in the Old Testament were recognized as Gods victories, sometimes involving military strategies that would be deemed highly ill-advised from a human standpoint (such as marching around a fortified city while blowing horns).

War, in the minds of most Christians, is in a moral category with divorce. We know that God hates it, but when faced with its seeming inevitability, we dont quite know what to do. To resolve this, when faced with war, the Church has developed the concept of the "just" war, supposedly supported by Biblical principles and developed by Ambrose, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. There are seven criteria for a just war. They are:

Just cause All aggression is condemned in just war theory. Participation in the war in question must be prompted by a just cause or defensive cause. No war of unprovoked aggression can ever be justified. Only defensive war is legitimate.

Just intention The war in question must have a just intention, that is, its intent must be to secure peace for all parties involved. Therefore, revenge, conquest, economic gain, and ideological supremacy are not legitimate motives for going to war. There must be a belief that ultimately greater good than harm will result from the war.

Last resort The war in question must be engaged in only as a last resort. Other means of resolution such as diplomacy and economic pressure must have been exhausted.

Formal declaration The war in question must be initiated with a formal declaration by properly constituted authorities. Only governments can declare war, not individuals, terrorist organizations, mercenaries, or militias.

Limited objectives The war in question must be characterized by limited objectives. This means that securing peace is the goal and purpose