Years ago it became very popular for people to wear bracelets bearing the acronym WWJD, which stands for “What would Jesus do” to remind us to consider how Jesus would respond to situations we come across in daily life. It’s a good idea, and I think it is certainly helpful to think about if our behavior is Christlike. However, sometimes the answer to that simple question is not easy.
In the last few days the US military has executed some high-profile strikes against targets in Syria and Afghanistan. These particularly strikes did not use drones, but we have use drones in countless others. And before the drones we had cruise missiles which can be launched from a ship a thousand miles away. The immense power of these weapons comes at a cost that sometimes they miss their intended targets, and sometimes innocent civilians are killed. To be fair, I am sure our military makes efforts to minimize these casualties, but it still happens. And maybe we focus too narrowly on the morality of killing civilians, while condoning using bombs and missiles to blow away our enemies. Didn’t Jesus say something about loving our enemies?
It would be easy to say “Jesus requires us to be pacifists. There is never a time to use violence.” But I think the truth is more nuanced than that. There are definitely examples from the Old Testament of God using military force through Israel to punish evildoers or bless his people by saving them from their enemies. Protection from those who would do us harm is a form of love and is reflected in much of the language used to describe the Father. There definitely people in Syria and Afghanistan who are experiencing horrible, unthinkable oppression. Assad is a monster, as are the various terrorist groups killing people in the region. So if we have the power to stop them, or at least stand up to them, do we also have the obligation to do that? The USA has, by far, the most advanced and powerful military in the world. With great power comes great responsibility. (Book of Spiderman)
I find it very difficult to navigate this sort of situation and determine the most appropriate Christian response. War-mongering does not seem very Christlike, but neither does inaction in the face of evil and tyranny. I think the primary response is to seek all possible peaceful or diplomatic solutions. We can urge our government to continue to pursue peace through diplomatic channels. But sometimes that simply will not work, or will take years while people are suffering. it is a difficult decision, but I think sometimes military intervention is necessary. We cannot stand aside and let people be slaughtered while attempting to justify our pacifism as an expression of Christ’s love.
But when do we decide to do that? Where is the line that must be cross before intervention is justified? And what do we do about the inevitable loss of innocent life on all sides? These are difficult questions, and no answer to them is perfect. We are truly damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.
Now this might seem like an odd topic to address on Good Friday, but I think there is something valuable to learn here. We live in a fallen, broken world. A world full of sin, which is messy and imperfect. There is evil in this world, and innocent people will die no matter how we choose to respond. We all do the best that we can, but there is no escaping the brokenness of this world. Except for today. Good Friday, when Jesus came to die in order to restore us from our sinful nature. He offers us hope to escape the futility of living in a world cursed by our sin.
So I have not gotten around to answering my own provocative question in the title, but I don’t think there is an easy answer. All we can do is pray for wisdom and cling to our eternal hope that we have salvation from the wickedness of the world and in ourselves.
Happy Easter, everyone.
Luke 24:5-7: Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.