Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What conservatives do get right: A theology of war

Many of my fellow “lefties” tend toward pacifism and, it seems to me, seek peace at any price. They often declare war inherently immoral and try to avoid it wherever possible — even the language of war they see as contributing to the culture of militancy. Some have even tried to have the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” which I sang as a child, removed from hymnals.

On this one, however, I do agree with my conservative brothers and sisters, who subscribe to what might be considered a “theology of war.”

Reason? It should be obvious: We do have an unseen Enemy who, in the words of the classic hymn, “doth seek to work us woe,” ought to be accounted for and, like God, never quits. And one way he works is by trying to deny his own existence because if he were discovered for what he is he’d be out of luck.

And in many cases, that war is internal — that is, against sin, pride or anything that would turn one’s focus away from God. (Note: This is the original context of “jihad,” which in Arabic literally means “struggle” though in common usage today means “holy war.”)

Anyway, we’re instructed to resist the devil, to stand firm against his schemes — and let’s recall that the Apostle Paul occasionally uses military imagery (“Put on the full armor of God”). What do you need armor for if you’re not going into a place where your very life is in danger?

I’m well aware of the passages in Scripture about turning swords into plowshares, “nor shall they train for war anymore.” That’s in the future — but, sadly, not today.

I will admit that sometimes the conservative bent toward warfare can go, and often has gone, too far, particularly when it comes to people who disagree. I didn’t quite understand the 1970s “Battle for the Bible” because I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and the culture war I saw reheating in the 1980s I refused to participate in. Too often that comes as the result as what I call “playing both ends against the middle,” both sides fighting each other but inspired by the devil.

As for me, I want to keep my eyes on God — and, in the process, fight the real enemy.

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