O’Donovan, judgment and war

Is O’Donovan truly justified in his premise that war is ‘an extraordinary extension of ordinary acts of judgment’ in which Christians or governments are called by God to participate’?

To answer this, we have spent quite a bit of time examining the history of war throughout the Bible, and considered its role in God’s salvation plan. We concluded that all the wars that were sanctioned by God for Israel to engage in were part of the holy war to claim, inhabit and purify the Promised Land. Though this was an act of God’s judgment, it was not a licence for Israel to initiate other such acts of judgment against other nations. Quite the opposite, God continually showed his capability and intention to enact international judgment against nations for their evil actions. God frequently used war as part of his judgment on nations. However, apart from the example of Palestine, he specifically did this using forces and nations apart from his own people.

God – who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – will still use war as a form of judgment against nations. It is not wrong for him to do so, for vengeance is his. However, God’s actions do not communicate in and of themselves, for he is a God who speaks. The only way that we can see God’s judgment in the wars of the Bible is because he declared their meaning. In the same way, Christians cannot read God’s judgment into any specific war of the present. Nor can they declare an evil to be so great that they must respond to it with military force.

It is hypothetically possible that God will again ask his people to engage in a war to enact his judgment against a nation. However, that would have to be demonstrated by a clear prophetic call in the nature of that given to Israel. Putting aside the question of modern-day prophecy, this clearly shows that individual Christians – whether leaders, soldiers or civilians – are not given grounds to initiate or participate in a military judgment against a nation without explicit direction from God.

Thus I conclude that:

a) O’Donovan’s argument – that the state has an authority for judgment that can allow Christians to engage in violence – is not founded on the strongest of evidence

b) even if he is right, there is no biblical support for the concept of extending judgment outside of national boundaries as an act of war. Instead, Christians are to trust that God is iun control and enacting his judgment.


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