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How should Christians understand war?

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How should Christians understand war?
Posted on March 16, 2022  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

How should Christians understand and respond to war?

With the events unfolding in Ukraine, it is not hard to imagine that many Christians are asking a number of questions about war. In Matthew 24:6-ff, Jesus tells His hearers that there will be wars—and rumours of wars—before the end comes. We have not seen universal peace at any point in history. Many wars are fought on a small scale. Some, like what is happening now, play out on a much larger scale. 

In biblical times, war was a common part of life. This does not mean all wars are just or that God turns a blind eye to the atrocities of wartime. In some cases, God calls His people to go to war. At other times, He calls them to turn their swords into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:12; Micah 4:3). 

While the Bible is candid about the realities of war in the ancient world, it promotes peace and calls on believers to love their enemies. The Bible makes allowance for war but does not promote war as the first step to solving conflicts. 

We must now ask ourselves when it is right to go to war and when it is right to abstain. We must also ask ourselves how Christians should respond to those who are involved in war directly—soldiers, leaders, etc.—and indirectly—displaced civilians, refugees, etc.

The Bible makes allowance for war but does not promote war as the first step to solving conflicts

But before we consider war, we have to consider what it isn’t. ‘Terrorism’, for starters, is defined as targeting non-combatants with lethal or severe violence to achieve political purposes, perhaps through the creation of fear, and perhaps including the targeting of property that is related to life or security. Terrorism is often motivated by revenge and has no clear end goal. Terrorism is not war and is universally condemned.

Understanding war

Some have concluded that war is always wrong, including on religious grounds. It is said that the evils of war outweigh the good that might be produced from winning a war. This belief is called ‘Pacifism’. Others have concluded that sometimes war is justified. This is known as ‘Just War Theory’. For a war to be morally justified under this theory, it must fit the following criteria.

War is morally justified if:

  • It is declared by a legitimate authority.
  • It is fought for a just cause.
  • It is fought with the right intention—not to inflict needless injury.
  • It must be fought as a last resort.
  • There must be real and certain danger that cannot be avoided apart from war.
  • There must be a reasonable probability of success.
  • The end must be proportional to the probable harm—that is, the end should not cause more evil than good, and the good resulting in the end of the war must be better than the state of things prior to fighting the war.
  • The methods of warfare must be proportional to the end being achieved—a resolution that more deaths than necessary will not be brought about to achieve the end.
  • It is wrong to intentionally kill any noncombatants—children, the elderly, civilians). The fighters must be able to discriminate between the combatants and the non-combatants.

Russia and Ukraine

In the current situation in Ukraine, we have seen Russia as an aggressor who does not seem to have a just cause. Needless injury has been inflicted on soldiers and civilians. There was no danger apart from war, and more evil is being caused than good through this invasion. As a result, we can conclude that the war is not just—and that Russia has no right to be doing what they are doing. 

On the other hand, Ukrainian citizens are trying to protect their land, their resources, their lives and their country. They have been forced into a fight that should have never been started. They are just in protecting their country and other countries are just in providing them aid. Other countries must be wise in how they go about doing this to avoid making the situation worse for the rest of the world as well.

Responding to war

God walks with His people during their suffering, and He has not forgotten about the people in Ukraine

With this situation, Christians must ask: 

  • What are we to do about what is happening there?
  • What can we do?
  • How does Christianity play into the events surrounding this invasion?
  • Why is God allowing such evil?

Below I would like to suggest seven things in response to the events that are taking place in Ukraine.

  1. We need to pray for the peace talks to move forward and for God to direct those with connections into the affair to guide things to a swift resolution.
  2. We need to pray for the safety of those who have fled the country and for those in surrounding countries. We especially need to pray for the safety of those leaving the country as bombings have occurred in ceasefire zones.
  3. We need to get involved however we can by raising awareness, contacting government officials, and looking for ways to send aid or support groups already sending aid to the civilians in Ukraine and Russia.
  4. We need to pray for God to convict Vladimir Putin about his unjust actions. Pray that God will place people in his path that will encourage him to rethink his actions and bring an end to this conflict.
  5. We need to remember that in a fallen world where people have free choice, some will choose to do things that are morally evil. God allows this, but that does not mean He is pleased with it. God does not desire for any to suffer the ill-effects of war. God walks with His people during their suffering, and He has not forgotten about the people in Ukraine.
  6. We cannot idly stand by as people are being annihilated. All human life is intrinsically valuable, and our hearts must break for soldiers and civilians alike as they are embroiled in the conflict. The world must come to the aid of Ukraine and to the aid of the Russian soldiers being forced to attack those they do not desire to attack.
  7. Finally, we must encourage proper resolutions and punishments for all those involved in starting and promoting this conflict. We must ask for world leaders to ensure that justice is served on behalf of the people of Ukraine.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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