cide, terror and torture are not the
way it is supposed to be.
Any attempt to bring about peace
on earth must be shaped by at least
three conclusions related to the fallen
or evil condition of human beings:
The biblical pre-Fall vision of
peace (“shalom”) will only be fully
realized after Christ’s return. Visions
of utopia based on conquest, scientific progress or a new social order
must be dismissed. “They will beat
their swords into ploughshares ”
(Isaiah 2: 4) and the Kingdom of
Christ will be fully realized, but that
lasting peace will only come when
Jesus returns and destroys Satan and
his minions (Revelation 19).
What do depravity and dignity
have to do with it?
As British theologian John Stott
noted, humans are marked by both
depravity and dignity. Human depravity is clearly taught in Scripture.
Ample examples are available in any
history book or by watching CNN
or CBC. Humans do horrible things
to humans. Cries that we are basically “good” ignore a basic and dangerous reality of our post-Fall world.
Yet, post-Fall humans have a dignity because they are still in the
“image of God” (Genesis 1: 27), and
as a result should never be dehumanized. Wartime propaganda takes
What exactly were
A medieval conflict initiated by
the European Church, waged for
God and to gain spiritual merit.
great pains to dehumanize the
enemy so the cause is justified and
soldiers kill freely. The Christmas
Truce of 1914 (when soldiers on
both sides shared gifts and sang
carols in No Man’s Land) is one example of when soldiers spontaneously recognized a shared humanity – something their officers tried
to ensure never happened again.
Any response to violence must
hold these two convictions in ten-
sion. We need to avoid being
duped by naive assumptions about
people’s goodness, but also avoid
justifying atrocities against a de-
humanized enemy. The State is to
suppress sin and resist evil, but not
to do evil by denying the inherent
dignity of its enemies.
What does all this mean for us
today as we read of violence, behead-
ings, conflict in Ukraine and even
terrorism in our own capital city?
First, Christian reflection and re-
sponse to these circumstances should
be marked by a healthy measure of
seriousness, for there is no easy an-
The key text: Romans 13:1-7 (“…rulers do not bear
the sword for no reason….”)
The key idea: Since the authorities that exist
have been established by God, qualified
participation in the affairs of civil government
is acceptable. Christians are members of the
Kingdom of God, but also citizens in earthly
kingdoms – and have responsibilities in both.
Just war criteria: Over time various criteria
were developed to guide Christians in their
decision-making process regarding war.
Jus ad bellum – just cause: the war must be
fought to correct a grave injustice (invasion of
homeland), declared by a legitimate authority
(government) and considered a last resort.
Jus in bello – just means: there must be no
targeting of civilians, no harming of prisoners
and no damage greater than if the war had
not been declared.
Thinkers to consider – just war
Augustine (5th century)
Martin Luther (16th century)
Reinhold Niebuhr (20th century)
The key text: Sermon on the Mount
The key idea: Jesus’ Kingdom ethic of “turning
the other cheek” and “loving your enemy”
is understood to rule out any violence. His
example of going to the cross – without using
violence to defend himself – is also seen to be a
model for Christians when they face injustice.
Historic peace churches: The historic peace
churches – Mennonites, Quakers and Brethren
– are Christian communions which from their
beginnings believed Christians could not
participate in the State’s use of the sword.
A leading Christian activist organization
that draws on the pacifist tradition and
these peace churches in Canada is Project
Ploughshares ( www.ploughshares.ca).
Thinkers to consider – pacifism
Tertullian (3rd century)
Menno Simons (16th century)
John Howard Yoder (20th century)
Getting it on film
• The Mission (1986): A just war advocate and pacifist
respond to violence – who was right?
• Tears of the Sun (2003): The role of a soldier is to protect,
but what happens if there are no good soldiers?
• Machine Gun Preacher (2011): What does a Christian do
when there is no government that protects?