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A Christian at War

Wisdom in obeying God in peace and in battle

Proverbs 6:16-17

16 These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

17 A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,

Proverbs 8:15-16

15 By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.

16 By me princes rule, and nobles,
All the judges of the earth.


Five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor stunned the American people and galvanized them to battle, the United States was a nation that wanted to avoid war. For nearly two years, the Nazi war machine had rolled across Europe, crushing free countries under the heel of the Axis Powers. Japan had expanded her empire over millions of square miles of Asia and the pacific. Britain now stood alone in the face of defeat–and America wanted no part of any of it.

Then, on July 2, 1941, the movie Sergeant York was released into American theaters and it swept the country by storm. The movie featured Gary Cooper as Alvin C. York, a Tennessee farmer who had been drafted into WWI and who rose to fame as one of the most decorated American soldiers in history. 

The film was “a phenomenon of staggering proportions,” according to Todd McCarthy, biographer of the the movie’s director, Howard Hawks. It fast rose to become the most successful movie of 1941 and one of the highest grossing films of all time. The movie was so influential, that acting legend Clint Eastwood recalls it as the first film he ever saw, and at that age convinced him to become an actor.

The movie features Gary Cooper in his best aw-shucks-all-American appeal as Sergeant York, himself a humble figure. In 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of WWI, York and members of his platoon captured an astounding 132 German prisoners. For this feat, York is awarded the Medal of Honor, and becomes an American hero. 

One of the most fascinating things about this is that Alvin York was not only a reluctant warrior, he was a devout Christian and opposed to going to war. He belonged to a pacifist church and had officially filed as a “conscientious objector” when drafted into the Army.

The movie makes much of this, with Gary Cooper’s sincere, firm but fair, attitude toward his military duty:

Alvin: Yes, sir, that's it. You see, I believe in the Bible, and I'm a believin’ that this here life we're living is something the Lord done give us, and we got to be a-living it as best we can — and I'm figuring that killing other folks is no part of what he was intending us to be a-doing here.

Cooper lays York’s Tennessee backwoods accent on thick as he gives his biblical defense for not wanting to fight. The movie, as in real life, depicts York’s conversion from pacifist to taking up arms in battle. When asked after the battle, what had moved him to fight, York replies:

Alvin: Well I'm as much agin' killin' as ever, sir. But it was this way, Colonel. When I started out, I felt just like you said, but when I hear them machine guns a-goin', and all them fellas are droppin' around me... I figured them guns was killin' hundreds, maybe thousands, and there weren't nothin’ anybody could do, but to stop them guns. And that's what I done.

The comments of Alvin York/Gary Cooper encapsulate the sentiment of many soldiers who have been to war, and lived to tell the tale. When questioned, many veterans often reply with a similar thought, like former Delta Force operator Norm Hooten, of Black Hawk Down fame: 

It’s not about politics or anything else when you’re in combat. You may sign up for that, but when you’re in that critical moment the only thing you’re thinking about is taking care of the people around you.–MSG Norm Hooten, US Army Ret.

The noble warrior is the reluctant warrior–one who is not eager for war, but is not afraid to answer the call to arms when innocent lives are threatened. This poses an interesting question for believers, and one which more than Alvin York of Tennessee has struggled with. 

Solomon’s treatment of the “seven deadly sins” gives you pause as a believer in many ways. Solomon makes no bones about what God hates: 

16 These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

17 A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,–Proverbs 6:16-17

When you consider the Lord’s attitude toward the sins mentioned and in particular, the shedding of innocent blood, you may have wondered or even struggled over the attitude a christian should have towards war and defense of your country. What are you to believe as a Christian? Is it right to go to war, or to join the patriotic throng in calling for it? 

As with most things, the answer is not always clear, but the principles are. 

The Bible is replete with examples of God calling His people to war. Many of His chosen leaders are warrior-kings, such as David, a “man after God’s own heart.” God sets up Abraham as a local warlord of sorts, as he arms over 300 of his men to rescue Lot (Genesis 14). Joshua enters Canaan behind a drawn sword and Gideon leads a night raid on the Midianites in the Valley of the Jezreel (Judges 6). 

But is not that old Old Testament stuff? Does not Jesus call for us to love all people and be at peace? Well, yes and no. Jesus issues some seemingly conflicting instructions when it comes to weapons and warfare:

36 Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.–Luke 22:36

Here, Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords. So they, being the dutiful followers that they are, rummage through their gear and show Him their weapons:

38 So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”–Like 22:38

Jesus’ response here is interesting, he seems to be affirming them, but in reality, His reply appears to be more one of exasperation. John Calvin explains:

It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron.–John Calvin

This reveals why, when Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest, Jesus rebukes him for his rashness. 

How do you reconcile this? Jesus is prophet, priest, and king (Hebrews 7), and indeed is a “warrior king” in the truest sense. He comes to confront you in your sins, and to conquer you to his side–once a rebel, now a brother in arms. Jesus also comes to slay the dragon (Revelation 12), the deceiving serpent from the garden.  

There are psalms that reflect this warrior spirit of your savior. Often referred to as the “imprecatory psalms,” they seem to be a call to brutal action by God against His enemies–and the enemies of His people.  Examples of these are Psalm 5, 6, 36, and 55. In these, God is called upon to destroy His enemies. This seems very “Old Testament,” but then you remember that Jesus knew and sang all the Psalms–including these. 

Perhaps this is why, when He sees the money changers in the temple, Jesus reacts violently, when "zeal for His father’s house consumes Him” (John 2, Psalm 69).

So God is a God of war, and His son is your warrior king. What are you to do where war is concerned? Well, for one thing, you do know that God abhors shedding innocent blood, and war often results in this. So one thing is to only see war as a last resort, or to call reluctantly for it. St. Columcille was quick to go to war over the copyright infringement of a book, and was punished as a result. As a believer, war must be a last resort. 

It is easy to get carried away by mob mentality, or at the very least, patriotic fervor. Know that all earthly allegiances are below that of your devotion to Christ.  Solomon reminds you, as does Paul and Peter in later years, that all earthly kings and countries are under God’s authority and rule at His pleasure:

15 By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.

16 By me princes rule, and nobles,
All the judges of the earth.–Proverbs 8:15-16

As a believer, you may be faced with the call to arms and the need for earthly war. You must know that the king, president or general that you follow us but a sinful man. Nevertheless, he (or she) is raised up by God’s will and is part of His plan. This is seen in Romans 13 and in I Peter:

13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.–I Peter 2:15-16 

Commentator Tremper Longman explains what Solomon is teaching you about earthly rulers. God, who establishes true justice and morality, gives every ruler an example to follow: 

The most powerful humans on earth are generally rulers, so it makes sense that Wisdom continues by describing her relationship to this group. In a word, those who rule well do so by virtue of their relationship with wisdom. A successful ruler is an ethical ruler, one who is characterized by justice and righteousness.–Tremper Longman, “Book of Proverbs”

As a christian, you are permitted to go to war, but you are cautioned to participate only if the war is just. What’s more, you must conduct yourself with honor and righteousness. As St. Augustine wrote, and later Thomas Aquinas developed:

We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.–St. Augustine 

For protestant-types, the Westminster Confession spells out permission to go to war:

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called thereunto; in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth, so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasions.–WCF - Chapter 23; Section II.

So where does that leave you and I? Like Sergeant York, you may not wish to go to war or to see it happen, but at times it is necessary to protect the innocent or to fulfill God’s plan. You must be conscience of the motivations of your nation’s leaders and to ensure that war is conducted jus ad bellum, or as a just war. 

War, even for the believer, scars people, nations, and the land. If you are a veteran, or know someone who is, chances are you, or they, have suffered from guilt or other emotional stress of service in combat, or in dealing with its consequences. Indeed, veteran suicides are astronomically high, as much as 57% higher than the normal population ( 

God does not hate you or others who have served. You may have had horrendous experiences, but there is nothing that the blood of Christ does not cover. If you have or are calling for war in some way, remember the cost in blood and sorrow–but do not hesitate to obey the will of your Father, when the freedom and lives of innocents are on the line.  

Like Augustine and like Sergeant York, a believer may be called upon to serve God in battle, but never lose sight of why you do so. Like Faramir in “Lord of the Rings” you must love that for which you fight, more than the fight itself:

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.–J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Two Towers”

Can you defend the lives of the innocent, even if war is necessary? 


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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