I have no problem with Christians who embrace pacifism. However, I have encountered people people have argued that Christians must be pacifists. To some it is absolutely clear that the Bible teaches non-violence in all situations.
I’m not convinced.
This is the first of a series of posts on why I’m not a pacifist. But let me be clear. This is not about why you shouldn’t be a pacifist. I have no desire to change people’s minds on this topic.
The Old Testament Shows a God Who Uses Military Force
No one would ever get the idea from the Old Testament that God is against military force. I’m not just talking about the stories about the invasion of Canaan. Throughout the Old Testament, God guides the people of Israel to military victory. Such heroes of the faith as Abraham, Moses, David and a number of other kinds of Judah are led into battle by God.
Military imagery is used to describe God over and over. When he is called the Lord of Hosts, it doesn’t mean he hosts nice dinner parties. It is closer to General of the Armies.
Not only does God lead Israel into armed conflict, he even uses foreign armies for his judgement. After the exile, God uses the Persian military to escort the Jews back to Jerusalem. While they are rebuilding the walls, Nehemiah arms some of the Jews with swords for protection while the others do the work.
It seems clear that in the Old Testament, God does not oppose military force at all.
I am aware of the response of some pacifists to this. They see Christ as the full picture of God and as the hermeneutical key for the entire Bible. What they do is look at passages in the Old Testament and when they see God at work, they ask if that is something Jesus would do. If it is (such as OT commands to care for the poor), that is really God at work. If it isn’t (like commanding his people to go into Bible), it isn’t really God.
In the cases in the Old Testament where God seems to be acting in a way that Jesus wouldn’t (his character being summed up in the Sermon on the Mount), something else might be going on. Some have suggested it was just unhealthy religion or manmade plans attributed to God. For some it is written off as a mystery with the only sure thing being it was not the God revealed in Jesus.
I have a problem with this. First, it is not clear that Jesus would never use force. Second, there is no hint in the Bible that we should interpret the Old Testament this way.
My biggest problem is with how they see God. I think it comes dangerously close to modalism. Modalism is the belief that God reveals himself in different modes at different times. So during the first century, there was one God and his name was Jesus.
What about the Trinity? The Father is not the same as the Son, who is not the same as the Spirit. Each person of the Trinity has a different role. Why should we expect the way God acts in the Old Testament to be exactly the way Jesus acted during his earthly ministry?
This is just one reason why I’m not a pacifist. But it is a big one.