By Ray McAllister, PhD –
Your church group has been asked to have a special prayer for a member who will be going away to serve in the military overseas. How should your church respond to this request? Even if your denomination supports military service, it isn’t always easy to know how to handle these situations on a case-by-case basis. In the next few paragraphs, I will explore this issue and apply Biblical principles.
In considering Biblical principles concerning faith and military service, the many wars the ancient Israelites fought must come to mind. There is even 1 Samuel 15 when King Saul loses the kingdom over his failure to completely follow through with God’s command to annihilate all the Amalekites. It would seem, here, that God can be in favor of some military activity, at least in some instances.
There are many factors that one must also consider. First, Israel, then, was a theocracy. This meant that God would directly give commands, and the nation, which indeed was “under God,” would obey those commands. It is difficult to make a case that any nation, today, is a theocracy as ancient Israel was, then. Secondly, when Jesus came, we don’t find Him going and healing all the wounded Roman soldiers. He tended to stay away from politics, suggesting that He had a broader dream that God’s true followers would change the world by other means.
To understand why this issue could have such a wide range of answers in the same Bible, it is important to look at the first two battles faced by the nation of Israel, seen in Exodus 14 and 17. In Exodus 14, the Egyptians are ready to conquer the Israelites who are waiting at the Red Sea. As most of us know, God causes the waters to part, and the Israelites walk across on dry land. The Egyptians follow them into the water. Once the Israelites are across, Moses stretches out his rod and the waters return to their original behavior, thus, drowning the entire Egyptian army. The point of note in this story is that the Israelites did not need to take up arms. God fought the entire battle for them. God did all the killing.
In Exodus 17, the Amalekites attack Israel in the wilderness. Moses answers by arranging a military response. What is interesting is that the text does not say Moses first inquires of the Lord concerning this. He did inquire of the Lord about a problem in Exodus 15:25. Instead, Moses gathers the people together, and they fight. God does appear to give a victory to the people when Moses intercedes before God on their behalf. One must wonder, though, if God truly intended the people to take up arms and kill. Previously, God fought for them. The people, in Exodus 17, simply determine what should be done and do it. The precedent God set was that the people were to rely on Him and not kill. Once the people started fighting, themselves, God did acknowledge that and seemed to work within that reality, even commanding some wars, as noted above. His dream, though, as described in Deuteronomy 7:19, 20, would be to keep Israel from having to do violence as He would “send the hornet” ahead of them to remove enemies. Then, Isaiah 2:1-4 describes a time when weapons would be converted into elements of peace, and the people would not learn war anymore. Could it be that war was something like divorce that was given as an option because of the “hardness” of the people’s hearts? (Matthew 19:8)
Two other Biblical passages shed light on how one should see conflict. In Joshua 5:13, 14, a Heavenly being appears to Joshua. When asked which side the being is on, the being said, “neither.” This being did direct the battle of Jericho, but the point of note here is that God, truly, is not on any “side” when we fight. He simply wants His will accomplished in the end.
Then there is Proverbs 26:17. Here it is said that one who meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who seizes a dog by the ears. Conflicts can be very complicated. In my country I might be praying for a soldier to be given victory in a battle half-way around the world. In that country, though, there may be Christians praying that their soldiers will be given victory against us. It may, truly, be difficult to know which side is right, if any side is right.
This may be analogous to a situation I faced a few years ago when a couple that my wife and I knew closely went through a divorce. We were friends with both people. There was one time when the woman complained that I seemed to be taking sides with the man during the divorce, based on how I was responding to them. At that point, I actually had to ask for a few days of space from both people so I could redefine my boundaries with them. I also apologized for the miscommunication. I was able to determine new boundaries, and friendships were able to continue. We could stand beside the two people, loving our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18) without causing harm to either side. We must be very careful not to allow ourselves to become entangled in confusing conflicts where both sides may be right, and both sides may be wrong.
The above texts and discussion lead to a very simple conclusion. We should always support the people who do military service without necessarily supporting the war. The Bible does not out-right condemn war, so we should stand by someone whose conscience says he/she should serve in the military. Nonetheless, we should support peace, ultimately, and work for God’s original goal of victory by faith alone. We should not though take sides as a denomination in the actual war itself. We may denounce evils that happen around the world as prophets as Amos and Jonah did. We should be careful, though, when considering, as a church, taking action to support direct military involvement, realizing that many individual members will.
We can support people concerning whatever they believe. We can honor passivists and soldiers as following conscience. We can pray that those who serve in the military be kept from harm. We can pray that the goals of those who work for peace be honored also. In so doing, we will show God’s love to everyone in this troubled world and lead people to a deeper understanding of the true peace of Heaven.
Dr. Ray McAllister is passionate about his relationship with God. He enjoys spending time in prayer and Bible study, writing poetry, and serving others. Dr. McAllister is totally blind, and in 2010 was the first blind person to earn a Ph.D. from the seminary at Andrews University and the first totally blind person in the world to earn a doctorate in Hebrew Scriptures. He teaches distance education religion classes for Andrews University and works as a licensed massage therapist in Michigan. In July 2016, Dr. McAllister and two other visually impaired Biblical scholars received the National Federation of the Blind’s Jacob Bolotin Award for their work making Biblical language materials accessible to the blind. Dr. McAllister sees his blindness as an opportunity to more deeply see the beauty of God’s love and guide others to do the same.
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