August 7, 2014
When it comes to war the human record is not pretty. The history books remind us that for as long as people have walked the earth they have treated each other with great cruelty.
2014 is no exception. War is everywhere. Not only do we have memories of the First World War fresh in our minds, but as we read the papers and watch the TV we see the horror of war in the Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, Syria, Nigeria, the list goes on.
As people observe these events and understand something of the tragedy of war they are often led to ask: ‘How could God allow this to take place?’
This is a big question and it demands a big answer…
Wrong thinking about God. First of all we have to get our thinking right. Most of us absorb ideas rather than work through them to see whether they are true or not. Many have singled out the love of God from everything else that makes Him God. And the idea of God’s love has become slushy and sentimental. People imagine that God is only interested in our happiness and that people should be happy whatever the cost. So how can God possibly allow war with all its cruelty and suffering?
This thinking about God has not come from the Bible but from people’s own ideas. Having painted a picture of God from our own ideas, we are then surprised and annoyed when the facts around us demonstrate that the painting is wrong. When we read the Bible we shouldn’t be confused about the problem of God and war because the Bible clearly shows that God never promises that there shall be no war on this earth. In fact, Jesus prophesied there would be wars. Matthew 24:6-7
“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”
The idea that the world will get better is never taught in the Bible. Yet belief in a Utopia—a heaven on earth – is a popular teaching.
So a common way of thinking is that if humans desire peace then God must want it even more. If educated men and women hate war then God must hate it more. If there is a God he must be working with all his might to prevent war.
This false, imaginary idea of God only confuses us when the reality is seen. God has never promised us such a world. He has actually shown us that we will have the very kind of world we live in today.
So the first reply to “Why does God allow war?” is to ask another question — “Has God ever promised to prevent or stop war?” The answer is “No!”
The real reason why we expect God to prevent war is that we want peace. Peace is better so surely we have a right to peace. But what right do we have to peace? In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we read,
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Here we are told that it is not enough to desire peace only so that we may avoid the horror of war and suffering. Our real desire for peace should be that we will have the time and energy to live in godliness and holiness. Now IS that the reason people want peace? No! Most want peace for purely selfish reasons — just to avoid danger so that they can carry on living as they please without seeking God. So, have we a right to peace? Do we deserve it?
In fact, we have no right to expect God to stop wars and bring peace only to allow men and women to continue a life that is an insult to his laws.
War is not a sin as such but rather a consequence of sin. War is an expression of sin. The Bible traces war back to its primary cause. Look at James 4:1-3:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
The primary cause of war is selfishness and greed. That is the root of jealousy, envy, pride, hate and it is the same thing that leads to wars. So war is the consequence of sin. and sin always leads to suffering.
To ask God to stop war is to ask him to stop one particular consequence of sin. We want our sin but we don’t want the consequences of it. Sin is like a a food hamper – there are some things in it that you love and others that you hate, but when you buy the package you take the lot. What about divorce, sex outside of marriage, greed, lust, selfishness, violent films? If anyone suggests getting rid of these there is a loud protest “We want our freedom!” God should not stop our fun! But when, as a result of our freedom, we find ourselves faced with the horrors of war we complain.
Punishment is not always postponed to the next life. Imagine if God changed the laws of nature and intervened to stop war. A bullet in war could turn into a feather—a mortar could become a banana before it hit its target. But we would never learn that there are consequences to pay for sin. Where would that get us? God has made us responsible individuals with the ability to make choices. The trouble is that war demonstrates a bias in us to evil and so God allows war to be a sermon to us. War reveals us for what we are. He allows it as the Father in the story of the Prodigal/Lost Son allowed his son to go away—to show us we need God. So that we will come to our senses. The question ought to be not “Why does God allow war?” but “Why does God not allow us to destroy ourselves completely in sin?”
(a) He could wipe us all out and start again.
(b) He could simply re-programme our brains. An instant lobotomy which would remove all our aggressive instincts. This would produce a very neat orderly planet—but not real humans, only robots.
(c) He could punish warfare as soon as it happened. Every tank would burst into flames. But that would not produce real peace.
(d) He could find a way to transform our lives so that our inward natures start to love him and his laws. That is why Jesus came and suffered on the cross – to rescue us from our sin and from the final judgement on that sin, which will fall when he decides to wrap up the world on the last day.