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Friday, July 27, 2007

on spiritual warfare

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

- 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

What struck me as I was reading this passage was not the "spritual warfare" language; after all, this is not the only NT passage that uses that metaphor. What struck me is the explicit contrast between physical warfare ("war according to human standards") and spiritual warfare.

In one sense, this contrast is nothing special: the same physical/spiritual contrast is used in other contexts, e.g. "letters of recommendation" vs. "letters written on our hearts" in 2 Corinthians 3:1-2, or physical circumcision vs. circumcision "of the heart" in Romans 2:26-29. In each case, Paul uses scenes from everyday life to draw analogies about spiritual life.

But underlying Paul's arguments is the (sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit) acknowledgement: Spritual life is not quite like that. In this example, Paul makes it explicit: "We do not wage war according to human standards." [emphasis mine]

The book of Revelation provides a striking image of this contrast:

and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

- Revelation 1:13-16

"From his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword" -- the language is reminiscent of Hebrews 4:12, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." In both places, the two-edged sword is associated not with physical might but with spoken words.

And yet so many Christians throughout the ages have gotten it wrong. From Constantine, through the Crusades, to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, Christians have for centuries tried to justify military aggression in the name of God.

Will Christians ever learn to be peacemakers and earn the title, "children of God" (Matthew 5:9)? Or don't we have any good news to offer a violent world?

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At 7/29/2007 12:33 PM, Blogger John said...

to George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, Christians have for centuries tried to justify military aggression in the name of God.

When did Bush do this? Gotta quote?

At 7/29/2007 1:30 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Let's see...

On making the decision whether or not to send troops to Iraq:

"Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will."

On whether he asked George Bush Sr. for advice about the war:

"You know he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to."

On his sense of mission:
"I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did."

Bush has denied that he is justifying war in the name of God, but these statements make his denials hard to believe, IMO.

These quotes can be found here and/or here.

At 7/31/2007 11:54 AM, Blogger Art said...

"Will Christians ever learn to be peacemakers and earn the title..." Incresingly, I think not and I am saddened beyond words by it.

At 8/01/2007 5:20 PM, Anonymous Tom Gilson said...

But have you not heard of just war theory? Perhaps you have--but it seems it would behoove you to at least address its points in a post like this one. I'm not necessarily saying that Constantine's fighting was just, or the Crusades or the war in Iraq. I'm saying that the question calls for the whole counsel of God, and is far more complex than this passage in Ephesians would seem to suggest.

At 8/02/2007 8:36 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

I'll probably tackle just war theory in another post sometime. Despite the tone of my numerous posts about peace, and my membership in the Christian Peace Bloggers, I'm not a complete pacifist.

Still, wars of aggression have never advanced the cause of Christ, no matter how well-intentioned they may have been. That's the (limited) point I was trying to make in this post.

At 8/07/2007 2:00 AM, Blogger Steve Hayes said...

Just War theory?

Even if you do accept it (which many Christians don't), the recent US wars of aggression on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq don't meet the "just war" criteria.


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