Ever since 9/11 — and with each new terrorist bombing — the “religion of peace” question arises. Is Islam a religion of peace? Our recent presidential Islamic scholars — George Bush and Barack Obama — say that it is. Jihadists beg to differ. Christians scurry from the Crusades and Wars of Religion while claiming that those Christians chronicled in, say, Fox’s Book of Martyrs more accurately portray the true faith. Jews elide over the Canaanite conquest, and Buddhists proudly trade on their American reputation for calm, and peacefulness — helped immeasurably by the Dalai Lama.
It’s as if all the religions of the world must answer to the true god, the god of peace. The most peaceful religion is, what? True? Is peacefulness the measure of truth?
I follow Christ because I believe He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” not because he’s the most opposed to war of any leading religious figure. Indeed, Christ is not categorically opposed to war.
This is the Christ that many are familiar with:
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father,forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Meet the Lamb that was slain, God’s holy Son — subject to the monstrous injustice of crucifixion — obedient to God’s purpose for His life on Earth.
This is also Christ:
Meet the Heavenly Warrior, the Conquering Lord, obedient to God’s purpose in imposing justice and judgment.
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.
In reading and reconciling both of these accounts of Christ, I’m reminded of the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes: there is “a time for war and a time for peace.”
It is the challenge of the Christian — using the guidance of God’s word — to discern the times.
For the German Christian, as Hitler gained power and beat the drums of war, it was a time for peace — a time to call their fellow citizens to choose a different path. Then, as Hitler tightened his grip on power and launched a the most terrible conflict the world has ever seen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew it was a time for war, and he plotted to kill the great tyrant.
For the American Christian, June 6, 1944, was the very essence of a time for war, when the efforts and prayers of a generation of American believers focused on names that will live in history — Omaha Beach, Dog Red Sector — and Christian kids fought with ferocity against a great evil.
Martin Luther King had the discernment to know that the 1950s and 1960s were a time for peace, for nonviolent resistance that would turn the heart of a nation. Joshua Chamberlain, by contrast, commanding the 20th Maine on July 2, 1863, on a hill called Little Round Top, knew the time for war had come and famously ordered his exhausted and bloody men to fix bayonets and recklessly charge into the teeth of the Confederate advance.
A commitment to peace — regardless of circumstance — can empower monstrous evil. A commitment of war — regardless of circumstance — can impose monstrous evil.
While we eagerly await the ultimate peace of the Kingdom of Heaven, we live in the fallen, broken world. And I thank God that He has called and empowered men — in the right times and right places — to draw the sword to fight back against the worst and most vicious wrongdoers — to impose a measure of justice and, yes, peace on Earth.