Tough Choices in a Nuclear Age

Deuteronomy 7:2 - When the Lord your God has delivered them [the enemy] over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

Matthew 5:39 - But I tell you, do not resist him who is evil. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Luke 6:27 - But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.

Romans 13:4 - But if you do wrong, be afraid; for it [the governing authority] does not bear the sword for nothing. It is God's servant, an angel of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

The present state of this world in reference to nuclear weapons is both critical and confusing for the Christian. It should be quite obvious why it's critical. Never before in history has so much destructive power been held in the hands of sinful man. Not only is this devastating power now stockpiled, but much of it is already aimed and targeted, and could literally be released at a moment's notice. All the firepower of World War II was the equivalent of 3 megatons of TNT. At the present time there are at least 18,000 megatons available in nuclear arsenals on this planet. 300 megatons alone would be enough firepower to destroy all the large and medium size cities on earth! How awesome! How critical!

The issue of nuclear war and weapons is also very confusing. What position should the Christian take? Should the Christian opt for an all-out nuclear arms race in order to have bigger and better and more missiles than "the other side"? Although the "peace through power" concept is logical and reasonable in many respects, grave questions concerning this position are obvious. Where do we stop? How many missiles do we really need? Why "pressure" the other side to further build-up? On the other hand, should the Christian choose to be totally against nuclear power and for the complete destruction of all nuclear weapons?

At first, this latter choice sounds like a great position, but it is much too simplistic. Although every Christian in his right mind would prefer the total elimination of nuclear weapons from this earth, we cannot turn time and history backwards. Nuclear know-how is here to stay. Even if it were possible to get everyone to agree to destroy all their nuclear weapons and technological documents, we know that it wouldn't be long before the missiles would be showing up again--even in third world countries as well as in terrorist groups.

No, until the Lord's return it will likely be impossible to clear this planet of nuclear weapons and technology. Moreover, we know that nuclear technology can be used for good purposes. Just as man's research and development has always resulted in proper use as well as abuse (consider fire or the wheel, for example!), so is this true in the application of nuclear technology.

In view of the problems associated with the two positions just mentioned, maybe the Christian should choose some kind of limited nuclear capability--for good purposes and defensive war only. Considering the other options, this position sounds the most reasonable, but it, too, is certainly not without serious questions. Who defines and controls "good purposes"? Suppose the other side has an outstanding record of not playing fair? Can a so-called build-down disarmament program be realistically monitored? Is there even such a thing as defensive warfare in a nuclear age?

When we turn to the Bible for help in sorting through and answering these complicated questions, we are at once struck with what appears to be contradictory principles. (Just take a glance at our selected texts!) In light of Scriptures such as these, how can the growing Christian come to a firm position in reference to nuclear weapons? It is because of these apparent inconsistencies of Scriptural principles that four different Christian views of war have been held throughout the history of the Christian Church.

The Christian pacifist places the emphasis on the "turn the other cheek" and "love your enemy" group of Scriptures and is therefore against individual participation in war. Some Christian pacifists would go so far as to say that even a nationshould not involve itself in military activities. We should depend on God to handle the aggressor in His own way--regardless of the enemy's nuclear arsenal and evil record.

A second Christian view of war is that of Biblical nonresistance. Holders of this view not only believe that God has given human governments the right to govern themselves (Genesis 9:1-17), and that nations must therefore defend themselves, but also that individual Christians have an obligation to their country in this area. However, the commitment can only be as non-combatants.

While unbelievers may bear arms, Christians may not because the law of Christ calls them to a higher standard. In contrast to the Christian pacifist who will have nothing to do with the military establishment, the Christian nonresistor is willing to get involved in the so-called "good" areas of the military enterprise such as the chaplaincy or medical corps. Some nonresistors are actually willing to work in civilian companies with military contracts as long as they can maintain a "make the bullet but not fire it" status.

A third view of Christian war is the preventive war idea or the crusade concept which is quite the opposite of either the Christian pacifist or nonresistance stance. The crusader places an emphasis on those Scriptures condoning the destruction of the enemy such as Deuteronomy 7:2. The crusade spirit is that the "good side" should engage in war to correct unrestrained injustices and reclaim territory which is in the hands of the evil side. Most Christians holding this view would gladly fight in what they perceive to be a "holy war".

The fourth Christian view holds to the just war theory. In this view, Christian citizens may participate in their nation'sdefensive wars. As long as these wars are deemed "justified" (usually not easy determinations without hindsight), a Christian may be involved in military service--even to the point of bearing arms and, if need be, shooting to kill. Under the "just war" concept, a nation must not "throw the first punch" and must not "twist the knife" in subduing the aggressor. Only military targets are to be selected and strategy must not include plans for aggrandizement, conquest or revenge. Looting and indiscriminate destruction are all theoretically foreign to a just war.

In the "just war" concept, actual warfare is only used as a last resort--when all other efforts to restrain the aggressor have failed. However, because present-day weapons have the capability of being used in such sudden and devastating attacks, many just war advocates today consider that preventative actions are compatible with just war theory. That is, when there is overwhelming evidence of the enemy's evil intentions, a pre-emptive strike of some sort is not only justified, but actually considered defensive in nature. Since the time of Augustine (about 400 A.D.), the majority of Christians have held more or less to the "just war" theory.

How do holders of the "just war" theory deal with those Scriptures that seem to be against war? The apparent inconsistencies in these Scriptures are resolved by seeing them in their proper context. In the context, the "turn the other cheek" group of Scriptures is not speaking of national defense. Romans 13 is more to the point when it comes to Scripture dealing with a government's defense policy. The governing authorities (13:1) do have the right to bear the sword (13:4) in order to protect the life and welfare of the citizens they govern. Such police action would logically include action against external as well as internal evil-doers. However, this biblical authority does not mean that sovereign nations today have the "sword rights" that Israel had in the Old Testament.

It would be pulling Scripture out of context to use commands such as Deuteronomy 7:2 as a basis for a no-truce policy or justification for foreign conquest. These commands were given to ancient Israel as direct orders to remove the pagan Canaanites from the land God had given His people. As a theocracy (direct rule by God), Old Testament Israel had no division between Church and state and were guided directly by God's Word through His prophets.

So while Romans 13 does not give nations today the right to wage a war of conquest, it does give them the right and responsibility to have "swords" and use them to keep law and order. The fact that nations abuse this authority (the Roman Empire, for example, was certainly a notorious abuser at the very time Romans 13 was being written), does not take away this basic right and responsibility of sovereign nations. The size and number of the "swords" could be argued, but the just war advocates would say that it stands to reason that the Scripture OK's a "sword" in order to properly keep the peace.

Admittedly our summary of the various Christian positions and problems concerning modern warfare has been brief but we hope not over-simplified. We see that making choices in this nuclear age is not easy for the growing Christian. Nuclear weapons have forced many Christians to rethink their positions on war. The potential of nuclear capability for the ever-increasing numbers of terrorist groups has caused many Christian pacifists to modify their former positions. The ominous threat of a nuclear holocaust has caused many Christians who once held to the just war position to adopt a "nuclear pacifism" stance. Continuous technological advances in large scale ABC (atomic, bacterial, chemical) weapons further complicate choices confronting the Christian.

We conclude by reemphasizing that the Bible seems to definitely give a sovereign nation the right and responsibility to protect the life and welfare of its citizens and thus defend itself against aggression. However, beyond this basic presupposition, we cannot be dogmatic as to the details of a Christian position based on Scripture. The size of a country's nuclear arsenal, the "star wars" defense concept, the question of pre-emptive strikes, the value of arms-reduction talks and treaties, the extent of Christian participation and the legitimacy of conscientious objection are all areas where Christians will make different choices depending on convictions and conscience.

Further studies of our selected texts and other related Scriptures will certainly have a bearing on those convictions. Study in context Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 17:16; 1 Chronicles 21:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:9-15; Matthew 26:52; Luke 3:14; Luke 22:36-38; John 18:36; Romans 12:14-21; 1 Peter 2:18-20, for example.

Remember that Christians should not judge or despise one another because of differing convictions (Romans 14:10-12). Rather let us unitedly pray for peace (1 Timothy 2:1-8). We all long for that day when the Prince of Peace will return and bring the threats and horrors of the nuclear age to an end.
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