Big Questions: Is God a Pacifist?

Yesterday at Gateway Church in Austin, we began a series called “Big Questions” which is a continuation of our Q&A Sunday. Rick Shurtz shared at the McNeil campus, and I shared at the South campus. Here are some of the thoughts we shared:

“What do we make of war? What do we do with it? What do we think of it?

On the one hand, we’re taught God is a God of love. We glance at the 10 Commandments and read, ‘Do not kill.’ We read Jesus’ teachings, and we hear, ‘turn the other cheek.’ We know these things, we sense these things, but we also hear other teachings as well. There’s a great deal of war in Scripture. The Old Testament has story after story of the Israelites doing battle with their enemies.

Thoughtful positions have emerged over the years:

1. Pacifists would say that Jesus ushered in a new era, where the ways of retaliation and war are no longer acceptable because of Christ’s sacrifice. They point to Jesus’ teaching: “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:38-39, 44-45

Plato recognized that the Evil of Greed was most often the basis for war. Scripture affirms this.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?…You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.” – James 4:1-2

On top of that, the effective examples of non-violent protest. There have been pacifists that have been highly effective in bringing about change such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Both influenced by the words of Jesus.

2. Activists, in it’s most extreme forms, would say that a Christian should always back his or her government in fighting war because government is given by God, and we are told to follow and obey those who govern us. No matter what the war, whether you think it’s being fought out of noble intentions to bring about justice, or whether you think it’s the result of egotistical imperialism, we must back our government. And the scriptures do teach us to obey government and that government is ultimately from God.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted… For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer….” – Romans 13:1-4

Socrates said that to go to war for an unjust cause is better than revolution and anarchy—which throw a society into utter confusion.

Something in between?
On the one hand, the pacifists make point. Powerful things happen when we love our enemies. Much can be accomplished through non-violent means.

The Activist gets our attention as well. There’s something about the strict pacifist that feels naïve. Even Gandhi himself was confronted with an ethical dilemma near the end of his life, as he saw Hitler rise to power and slaughter millions of innocent people, largely unopposed. While non-violence and turning the other cheek in matters of personal attack is clearly advocated by Christ, is non-violence always the most just and loving path to take for governments?

The Scripture seems to say different things in different places on this topic. If this were a simple issue a simple verse would suffice, but it’s not a simple issue. It’s a complex issue, and it needs not competing thoughts, but complimentary thoughts that give us the depth of insight we need to know, so we know how to live.

The charge is made that Scripture is a violent book, at times too violent, especially in the Old Testament. The Israelites are told to take the Promised Land which sounds like conquest. A careful look at Scripture reveals more to the story.

God was giving them a land of their own, but that wasn’t the only purpose being accomplished. Their enemy engaged in the worship of Baal. Now to some, that may sound benign. Let people worship who they want to worship, but hear carefully what this entailed…

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” – Jeremiah 19:5

God was not just giving the Israelites a land of their own. He was sanctioning the use of force to stamp out extreme forms of evil.

The word ‘wrath’ from Rom. 13:4 might feel strong, but if a group of people are throwing their babies into the fire, it’s a good word describing exactly the way we would feel. That act, the extreme injustice, needs to be stopped and brought to justice.

It’s thoughts like these, and passages like this in Romans, that have influenced theologians and philosophers down through the ages toward defining what they believe is a Just War, a war with justice in mind. Commonly, they identify four factors for a just war.

1. A war in defense of the innocent can be just.
2. A war to end injustice can be just.
3. A just war must be waged by a government.
4. The war must be fought justly. Most importantly, for a war to be fought justly, there must be a limited objective, namely, restoring peace.

All of that to say, it seems clear that Scripture teaches that there are times when force is both needed and just. Scripture does not revel in war, it does not take it lightly, but it gives us examples and teachings that show it is at times both needed and effective.

The government, and the use of force, is intended to stop wrongdoing, to stop evil, to stop injustices. So my question… Is it working? Yes (and no) From a certain vantage point, yes, Hitler was stopped. The problem of Hitler was solved, but then we had the problem of Stalin. Address one evil and another evil arises.

Insight is gained by a critical comment Jesus makes when questioned by Pilate. Pilate says this: “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35

To which Jesus responds: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world.” – John 18:36

In our world, kingdoms fight against kingdoms. Evil is checked, problems are momentarily solved, but in short order, evil rears it’s ugly head again and we’re right back where we started.

Wars, fighting, politics…they’re not solving the problem.

Jesus steps into this and says, “I’ve got a different way of doing this. I’m bringing about a new reality.” (See also 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 and Ephesians 6:11-18) The kingdom Christ came to establish is not yet fully established, and those who follow Jesus can be part of the solution. Ask yourself: “What am I doing about evil in this world?”

Who do we need to serve, to love, to protect? What injustice do we need to end?”

To listen or watch this message or the others in this series, go to

    pingbacks / trackbacks
    Free Consultation

    If you're interested in a free 30-min consultation with me, simply fill out this form and I'll contact you!