Pacifism is the belief that war and violence are unjustifiable, period.
I am not a pacifist. I just want to get that out of the way at the start.
I attended a Quaker university for my undergraduate education, and as a biblical studies major (and someone with a personal interest in the theology of pacifism) I studied it rather rigorously. And I always ran into the same problem: the Bible just isn’t pacifist enough for pacifists. In fact during the many conversations I had with my theology professors regarding the topic of pacifism and the Bible, they all admitted that Scripture doesn’t actually support a cut and dry pacifist theology, but they held to it anyway.
I’ve written plenty of scholarly papers during my undergraduate experience to defend my perspective regarding pacifism and I don’t wish to turn this post into another exegetical research paper, if I wanted to do that, I’d just copy and paste one of them.
I will say, Jesus demands a personal sacrifice that requires Christians lay down their rights for the sake of others. We are called to die to ourselves, and we forfeit any claim on personal rights when we follow Jesus, and this certainly can play out in a way that in personal life sometimes looks like pacifism; like the priest in Les Miserables who lavishes grace on Jean ValJean, giving him more silver on top of what ValJean had stolen from him, we are to return good for evil, turn the other cheek when struck, bless those who persecute us, and we wait on God instead of exacting our own vengeance. All of these commands are challenging, and personal.
But I don’t believe Jesus was speaking on a national or global level. Nor did he nullify taking up arms as a means of protecting the weak. The Old Testament is its own set of problems for the pacifist, but the New Testament doesn’t provide much in the way of helping that ideology either.
When John the Baptist encounters a soldier who asks (in reference to repentance and living for the coming Christ) “And what should we do?”, John doesn’t tell him to step down from military service, but tells him to act justly within his career as a soldier. (Luke 3:14)
When the Centurion approaches Jesus and requests he heal his servant, Jesus’ only remark about the man is praise for his great faith. (Luke 7:1-10)
And much of the language Paul uses in explaining the life of a Christian disciple is war language.
I am not a pacifist, because I don’t believe God is.
We will never have peace this side of heaven. We will not see evil eradicated until Jesus returns with finality and justice, and as C.S. Lewis says,
I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than the all the proposals of universal peace that have ever been made. (Why I am Not a Pacifist)
And I see far more tangible pictures of the Gospel by those who serve faithfully and with integrity within the military and law enforcement than in most areas of our lives, especially in our nation that values comfort above all else.
All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst, and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love. Like the tallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil–every evil except dishonor and final perdition, and those who bear it like it no better than you would like it. (C.S. Lewis, Why I am Not a Pacifist)
While most of us fear losing our comfort, men and women are serving us by willingly giving up their comfort, bidding farewell to those whom they love and boldly facing the fear of losing their lives. And many of them died in wars fought on our behalf; often terrifying and excruciating deaths. They willingly entered the horrors of a battle and it cost them their lives. Yes, some may have done so without justice or integrity or honor; but I don’t think that’s the norm. Many men and women who enter the service really do enter to serve, as a sacrifice for justice, for keeping peace, and for protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
And on Memorial Day we remember those who, in a way, reflected the love of Christ by doing as he did,
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)
So, as we comfortably enjoy our day off, let’s remember with gratefulness those brothers and sisters who gave an example of sacrifice, and let it turn our hearts to the God who willingly allowed his blood to spill onto the dirt of Golgotha, that we who hated him would be given life. May we be willing to spurn mere comfort and give all for the God who lavishes upon us grace after grace.