As we look at reasons for not participating in any nation’s military, it’s obvious that we need to look at what Jesus taught, as well as the rest of the New Testament. I read a piece by Patrick Mead where he claimed that the only way to support pacifism was to cut certain portions out of the New Testament. While I understand his feeling (I feel the same toward military involvement), such an attitude is counterproductive to biblical discussions. I won’t claim that those who choose to participate ignore Scripture. I disagree with them on how to interpret certain passages. And I think their interpretation is more reflective of our culture and society than it is of biblical teaching.
At some point, we have to take the Sermon on the Mount (and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke) seriously. The sayings are hard. As I’ve written about before, some want to explain them away through various creative strategies. But we can’t get away from the fact that Jesus taught that it’s better to let an evil man have his way than to retaliate. Turning the other cheek, letting people rob us and take advantage of us, loving enemies… none of these things are easy nor come naturally. Jesus was saying that what is natural isn’t right, that we have to overcome our human impulses and replace them with spiritual ones.
“Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” These words were spoken as a rebuke, not merely as a commentary on life. Jesus wasn’t just saying that his disciples weren’t to defend him at that moment. He was saying that there are those who live by the sword… and they aren’t us! We aren’t them. Jesus’ followers are not to live by the sword.
What about the New Testament passages that talk about Jesus coming to execute judgment on his enemies? Aren’t those violent passages? Of course they are. Which is why Paul reminds us that vengeance belongs to God. He will do it. Just as we aren’t to judge because there is only one judge, we aren’t to avenge because there is only one avenger. Passages that show God doing violence argue against our doing the same.
We live in a militarized society. That colors the way we read Scripture. It leads us to look for every exception and every loophole to allow us to follow the current of our culture. We need to recapture the countercultural spirit. We need to seek to be a holy people. Jesus called us to a higher standard. I think we need to stop trying to talk our way around that and merely seek to live it.