Is it wrong for a Christian to serve in the military? Today’s question will take more than just one Little Lesson to answer because of some of the complexities of the issue. Of course, Christians wonder about this sometimes. Is it right for a Christian to be in the military, because we know that we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and going to war against your neighbor hardly seems like an expression of love towards him. That is a valid point, but I think that we need to go a little bit deeper and think about this.
Here’s one point that we ought to consider. It’s not just under the New Covenant that God’s people are commanded to love their neighbors as themselves, but that was also true under the Old Covenant. That’s an Old Covenant law. And Jesus said under the Old Covenant that it’s the second greatest commandment. It was the second greatest commandment under the Old Covenant as well as the New Covenant.
Now, under that Old Covenant where God’s people were commanded to love their neighbors as themselves, God, at some times, commanded them to go to war. Numerous times God initiated, ordained and orchestrated wars. The Old Testament could almost be called a book of war because there are so many wars that we could read about! And God is totally involved. And so, right off the bat, I think we better be careful in saying that all war is always wrong because if we say that, then we say that God is sometimes wrong. So, let’s be careful in making those kinds of blanket statements.
There is such a thing as a just war. If it’s a war initiated by God, well, then, of course, it’s just. It has to be just, because God is just, and we can read about Him, for example, commissioning the children of Israel—the armies of Israel—to invade the land of Canaan and destroy all those people. And that was his commissioned war. That was obviously a just war.
If you dig a little bit deeper, you find out how deserving the people of Canaan were of being destroyed. God waited hundreds of years, giving those people time to repent of their depravity and their gross perversions. They just proved themselves to be irredeemable, and so He used Israel as a tool of His judgment upon them. They were doing things like throwing their living babies into fires to prove their devotion to their pagan gods, and having sexual relationships with animals, and things you just don’t want to even mention. But God, Himself, said to the people of Israel, “As you go into the land of Canaan, don’t imitate what those people are doing, because that’s the reason that I’m destroying them.”
Okay. So we’ve kind of introduced the concept of a just war. Maybe we ought to go back a little bit and just discuss the taking of a human life, and the ethics and the morality of that whole concept. We know that God is a God who is opposed to murder. One of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not murder”. But, think about this. You keep reading after the Ten Commandments and God says, “The person who takes a life, he shall forfeit his life.” So that’s the institution of capital punishment, where a murderer has to give up his own life as just payment, as it were, for the life that he took. And that is just.
And so you can see that all taking of a human life is not all the same. There’s murder, and then there’s also capital punishment. Two different things altogether. One is unjust, one is just.
Now, war, obviously, as we’ve already talked about, can fall into that category. I’m not saying all wars are just, no. A lot of wars are unjust, but oftentimes in wars, there is a ‘good guy’ and there is a ‘bad guy’. There are the good guys and the bad guys. Back during World War II, Hitler was a bad guy, and the good guys went against the bad guys, and the good guys won, thankfully. War is a shame, of course. This is what we regret in all war, when innocent people are harmed. Even the soldiers could be considered innocent in a sense because they’re just following orders. Again, nobody on either side of this debate is for war.
In fact, when you think about it, the people who are against war more than anybody else are members of the military, because—unless there’s something wrong with their brains—the last thing they want to do is go to war. In fact, when they join the military, probably most of them are hoping they won’t go to war, because they could forfeit their lives. They could suffer great harm as a result of it.
So, joining the military doesn’t mean you’re pro killing other people. There’s a good chance that it means you’re really against killing other people and that, in fact, you are against evil. At least that’s true if you’re a part of an army that has basically some kind of a moral basis to it. That is, “We’re here for defense. We’re here to fight the bad guys. We’re not an army of conquest, trying to take land that doesn’t belong to us, and invade other countries. We’re trying to be on the good side.” When you think about that, there’s no greater deterrent to an invading army, or an invading nation, than a prepared and equipped army that’s ready to stand against them. Right? Right.
Remember, Jesus mentioned this in one of His examples of counting the cost of being His disciple:
“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace” (Luke 14:31-32).
In other words, “Think about the king, who’s got 10,000 men and he’s got to go to war against a king with 20,000 men. He’s going to count the cost, and he might just sue for terms of peace because he realizes he’s outnumbered two to one.” And so, can you see that an army—a prepared, equipped, ready army—is a huge deterrent to war? And Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
So the person who enters the military in order to defend the helpless, and to do what’s right, and to stop evil and wickedness, and to defeat the bad guys, and to preserve peace and so forth, well, that’s an honorable reason to join the military, isn’t it?
Okay. Now, there is the possibility of some other moral implications coming into play with this question. We’ll talk about that in our next Little Lesson, and then we’ll stop on this subject.