Thursday, January 21, 2010

Christians and War


Across the pages of the Apocalypse comes the thundering sound of hoof beats. From the serene songs of heaven, the focus of Revelation shifts to earth to show four riders galloping across the landscape. (Revelation 6:1-8) They are not difficult to recognize. They are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are War. Jesus said that there will be "wars and rumors of wars" until the end.

Last month we witnessed the bizarre scene of an American commander-in-chief, fighting two wars, being handed the Nobel Peace prize. In his acceptance speech, Barak Obama gave a justification for the war in Iraq and expanding the war in Afghanistan. Peace activists protested in Oslo. Obama was clearly embarrassed. He did not attend most of the events in his honor, including lunch with the King of Norway and dinner with the Norwegian Nobel committee. He said that this was not an award he would have given himself.

It is interesting to note the relation of religion and war. The Buddha was born of the warrior (kshatriya) caste in India. So was Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. Both rejected war to embrace peace. The most famous sacred text of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita, is a dialogue that takes place on a battlefield, where Arjuna (another prince of the warrior caste) is talking to his charioteer (Krishna in disguise.) The whole dialogue is God trying to convince Arjuna to do his duty and fight. The Gita is part of a larger sacred work, the Mahabharata, the greatest war epic in history.

Muhammad was a merchant who took up the sword to spread Islam by jihad. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with holy war, beginning with Israelites under Joshua exterminating the native peoples of Canaan in the name of Yahweh. Jesus was named after the warrior Joshua (both bore the Hebrew name Yeshua), but Jesus fought a spiritual battle instead of an earthly one. Even though Jesus was a pacifist, a thousand years later Christian horsemen of the Crusades rode across the Holy Land in war.

As a young man of 19 years old, I was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. In the first Selective Service draft lottery in 1969, I was unlucky enough to get Number One. I would be the first to go. I confronted the issue. I struggled within my conscience with only the help of an underdeveloped religious upbringing in the liberal Protestantism of the 1950's and early 60's. Would I say Yes or No to Uncle Sam's invitation to take a trip to Southeast Asia? I read Jesus and Schweitzer, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Then I said No, and for many years considered myself a pacifist.

The years have tempered my pacifism, but not my opposition to war and my compassion for the victims of war. Whether it is Barak or Bush, Osama or Hussein riding the warhorses, the result is the same. The Four Housemen of the Apocalypse ride today. The rest of the book is about how God's people will respond.

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