Friday, March 18, 2011


The following is a guest editorial on the subject of God and War.  This is the second blog ("Where to Next" was the first)  in regards to this subject.  We currently have invitations extended to a number of other experts on the subject.  The opinions shared are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of "My Father's Voice".

My tension with what I would consider to be the "first assumption" of this discussion:  that the canonized books of the "Holy Bible" are authoritative as "God's divine and infallible Word ", and trump out all other sources of authority and reason on the subject, and that God is through speaking on the subject for all time.  This is problematic.

People of faith are called into just and compassionate living.  In all faith belief systems there is an underlying reverence for human life and all that is within it.  Social systems that have arisen throughout the history of humankind have all had to live with defined borders and boundaries, either geographic or abstract, delineated by choice or force, between themselves and others.  This is evident in the text of the Hebrew Bible as well as it being the background for the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah for delivery from Roman occupation of Israel in Jesus' time.

The descendents of Abram were at first nomadic, then foreign captives, and then "landed" residents of Canaan.  In their perceived relationship with God, they were God's chosen to inherit and inhabit a geographic location which was settled and possessed by others.   As the nation-state of "Israel" emerged (12th-10th centuries BCE) there were obvious battles for territory which resulted.  Physical might was the way of the world; those with the latest technological advantage to win physical battle, or with ways of creating perceived domination in whatever manner became those who possessed land, people, values systems and resource.  The allegories and histories of the Hebrew people logged battle after battle in the year of the conquest. 

The Hebrew texts speak of a society in which religion and statehood co-exist, with the Hebrew understanding of God as divine source of ethic, vision, resource and future.  War as a means of instituting,  maintaining, or establishing justice ("just war") is evident throughout the history of Judaism as it was also with other cultures.  In their demand for kingdoms, contrary to the Mosaic prototype of Jewish culture with God as their "king", the Israelites bought into the social mores and practices of the world around them, living as people with borders to be defended rather than values to be shared throughout the world.   War resulted in search of and defense of  physical territory and property.

War Has Some Unsual Characteristics....

If we use only The Holy Bible as our source for what God says about War, we can make assumptions:

--God appears to allow War to achieve the mission of God's work among humankind as perceived by the religious and political leaders who lead "God's chosen people".

--God deplores aggression which is unjustified or evil.

--Godly authority (by anointing or assumption) is used as the means by which people have been led into War by religious and political leaders in many instances in The Holy Bible, introducing the "human factor" into the whole War thing.

--War in The Holy Bible appears to be a commonly understood means of the exertion of power and control throughout the history of humankind with references to its presence with us in current times and in the future.  The Holy Bible appears to accept "War" as an ongoing fact of life among humans. 

Now let's conjugate this.  My tradition approaches faith life through Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.  Although The Holy Bible is used as a source of authority, it is not the only resource available to us when talking about God and War.  We try to make things so complicated and absolute, and indeed life is complicated and very nebulous.  But most of life can be condensed to basic assumptions and presumptions.  For instance, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten", by Robert Fulghum, really does include everything that applies to this discussion about War (  Children of God know War is a regrettable act of aggression for whatever reason, but also a fact of human life on the face of this earth.  Should we strive for it?  Absolutely not.  Can we defend our values, properties and boundaries without it?  I'd like to think we can, but after eons and ages of human history, we haven't found a way yet.  Each generation produces a mix of kind, compassionate folk, some crazies and some plain old bullies.  So in that tension, we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, love our enemies, love kindness and walk humbly with God.  Will that eradicate the need for War? 

We haven't done it yet, so we don't know.  I don't think the human understanding of divine logic is complete yet.  That means we get to be a part of it.  ---Rev. Gary Van Wert, of Trinity United Methodist Church, Charles City, Iowa  




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