12/21/2005

Christmas and American Christianity’s War in Iraq

Christmas is the time of year when we are reminded of why Christ came into the world in the first place. We sing songs like Ed­mund H. Sears’ “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” with lyrics as wonderful as these:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

Did you catch those important lyrics? On that original Christmas, the angels sing a song, a song that dates back to the Prophets. It is the song of Peace. After two thousand years of wrong, the song is sang. And yet, sadly, man at war with man does not hear this love song. The Christmas Carol pleads with us, "Hush the noise of war, you men of strife, so you can hear the angels’ song!!"

In this Christmas season, many American Christians are unquestioningly backing their country’s war in Iraq. I know that this is a very complicated issue, and that the implications of “pulling out too early” are grave. That’s not my point here. My point is simply this: Christmas is the celebration of the arrival of the Prince of Peace, and we Christians need to begin there in our discussions about this war instead of beginning with blind patriotism, partisan politics, and manipulative rhetoric that we must “support our troops.”

Look again at that wonderful Christmas passage in Isaiah:

“In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned. For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!” (Isaiah 9:5-7, NLT)

I’m not sure that many American Christians have read that passage in its fuller context. We love the titles of Jesus found in verse 6, but we fail to read the verses surrounding it, which highlight that “battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned… His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end.”

Some will say that these are verses reserved for the future, that those are “eschatological verses.” I say look again at the words of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (-Jesus, quoted in Matthew 5:9, NIV)

He tells us that if we are truly his followers that we are to do as He would do. I contend that the eschaton began with that first Christmas; we Christians are an eschatological people, cooperating with God in redeeming the world "in the here and now." Peacemaking is not some future endeavor. It is God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

I wonder if many American Christians have meditated on the implications of Mathew 5:9. If I want to be called a “Child of God,” then I had better be a Christian who seeks to make peace. With this as our starting point in discussions about the war in Iraq, we can move toward doing what God wants us to do.

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3 comments:

Ted Gossard said...

Amen Bob.

I was kind of expressing a Christian pacifist point of view this morning in a discussion with a good brother in the Lord. It was good overall, I think. Though not an easy subject to come to a consensus on.

But one thing we should be able to agree on is what you're saying here: Jesus' words about the peacemakers being blessed now, showing themselves to be God's children. Would that we would better live out that saying!

Marcguyver said...

"Blessed be the Lord, my rock; who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle..."

"He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze."

"Don't drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil. They say 'Peace' to their neighbors, but evil is in their hearts. Pay them back for what they have done, for their evil deeds. Pay them back for what they have done; give them their reward."

"Lord, battle with those who battle with me. Fight against those who fight against me. Make them like chaff blown by the wind...So let ruin strike them suddenly. Let them be caught in their own nets; let them fall into the pit and die."

Bob Robinson said...

marcguyver,

Great passages from the Old Covenant! Anything from the New Covenant? Anything from the lips of Jesus or the letters of Paul?

The questions that all who use the war language of the Old Testament to justify modern warfare is this:
Is the church a nation in physical war against other nations? Do OT passages like these suggest that Christians need to take up arms against literal human military forces?
How do we determine when it is righteous to do so? How do we discern whether or not we are the aggressor and that our motive is righteous and not just seeking revenge?

My answer that I understand from Scripture is this:
While the New Testament affirms the right of nations to fight other nations (Rom 13:1-7), Christians must read Old Testament passages (like the ones marcguyver quotes) in light of the instructions of the New Covenant. We are not fighting a physical war but a spiritual war (Eph 6:10-20), "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph 6:11).

We do not to take revenge on our enemies; instead, we are to love them: "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:19-21)

I have recently heard many of the hawks in the conservative side of American media say that people who advocate such a stance are unpatriotic or even treasonous. Inflammatory words like "Aiding and Abetting the Enemy" are thrown at those who seek to understand and love our enemies.

Again, the words of Jesus are missed by these folks: “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”

Well, I think I'd rather follow my Lord and act as a true child of God (even to the point of receiving persecution from both the American secular Right and the Christian Right for doing so) than to blindly follow my nation's foreign policy.