I meet people from time to time who tell me, “I don’t believe in a God who tells people to go to war.” I get this is a tough idea to grasp. A God who loves people and died to save them is hard to pair with a God who commands military action.
Throughout history, Jesus followers have not helped. The Crusades were fought in the name of God, but with special attention to plunder. They forgot about “Thou shalt not steal.” People have gone to war in God’s name without ever checking it out with him. This is not surprising. People in my world do all kinds of things in God’s name and I am pretty sure God turns up his nose at what they do. Just because God’s name is attached doesn’t mean God approves.
But what about all those bloody commands God gives in the Old Testament, like when he told the people of Israel to wipe out whole cities and regions?
This is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Imagine history being different. Imagine our leaders thinking, “We’d like to attack Hitler, but some civilians might die in the process. We’d like to invade France, but young men on both sides, who had nothing to do with the real issues of this war, will die. We’ve heard rumors of the wholesale slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, and “undesirables,” but do we really want to have our sons die to save people we don’t know?”
It is dangerous to mix wishes and realities. We all wish evil would die and wither, but it doesn’t. Evil is only eliminated by power. That’s it. Evil will twist truth into lies, it will manipulate, it will dominate. Evil is always cruel and selfish. Evil has a sense of entitlement, believing it deserves a special status. Only power can confront evil with reality and defeat it.
Hitler’s Third Reich was evil. Period. He was not the first national leader to be possessed by evil, and he will not be the last. You can add to that list Herod the Great, Nero, Saddam Hussein, Robespierre, Genghis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Attila the Hun, Pol Pot, Stalin and more. When a nation gives control to someone who is evil, there is a consequence. Sometimes the consequence is war, when power must be exerted to crush evil that has flowered in a nation.
When God told his people to conquer cities and regions, these were not cities of nice people. The worship of Molech, the god of war, was rampant among these nations. Molech required a sacrifice of first-born sons as payment to keep war away. In these nations, sex was defied. You went to a temple shrine to have sex with a temple prostitute to ensure the fertility of your crops and your livestock. Society was ruthless and violent, favoring the powerful. These cultures had reached a stage where God said, “No more.” He chose his people as his instrument of punishment.
Did God do this during D-Day, during World War II? Evidence suggests he did. Instead of finishing off England, Hitler turned to invade Russia in 1941, which led to his eventual defeat. In 1942, at the Battle of Midway, three American aircraft carriers, one barely operational, defeated four Japanese carriers. The D-Day soldiers who landed at Normandy were out-numbered three to four by the dug-in Germans. When you read the history of World War II, see if you can trace the hand of God. You’ll be surprised.
Do nations go to war thinking God is on their side when he isn’t? Absolutely. During the American Civil War, both sides believed God was fighting for their cause. Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his masterful Second Inaugural Address that both north and south read the same Bible and prayed to the same God for victory. Lincoln aptly observed, however, that “The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Does God lead nations to fight wars against evil? Yes. But before a nation goes to war, it needs to ask God for clarity and assurance that it is doing his will. This is part of the reason Paul tells us to pray for our leaders. Heavy is their responsibility. They will be judged – Republican and Democrat – for decisions made about conflict and war, lives sacrificed and lost.
We should pray for those who protect our country. They will be asked to risk their lives and make split-second decisions that will result in life and death. Pray for grace, for no human being will get this right one-hundred percent of the time.
Remember that evil has ultimately met its match in Jesus Christ. We do not often think of his death on a cross as a battle, but it was the greatest divine encounter with evil in history. Satan, as evil always does, thought he had Jesus right where he wanted him – on a cross, dying. Jesus, with the power of his purity and love, absorbed all the evil the world produced and produces, and conquered it.
We live in the backwash of evil’s defeat. There’s still plenty out there. But Jesus fought the battle. The war is won. Jesus is the ultimate victor.