Making Sense Of War (Part 1)
By bro Justin Kwan
The news that has dominated the headlines these past few weeks has been the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia; an unprovoked and unjustified invasion that has been condemned by many countries around the world. The invasion—the worst conflict since WWII—has unsettled peace in Europe and sparked a humanitarian crisis that has caused great distress and disruption to Ukrainians. While millions of people continue to flee war-torn Ukraine to seek refuge and safety, many have lost their lives due to indiscriminate shelling and the targeting of civilian sites and non-combatants. Hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings have been destroyed by bombardment that shows no signs of letting up. As the death toll continues to rise with every passing day, how do Christians make sense of this ongoing conflict? How do we come to terms with the senseless killings and evil that have manifested? How should we respond to it?
The Roots of Murder and War
To understand the origins of human conflict, one would have to go back to the origin of human civilisation. In Genesis 4, we read of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, while his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, but God favoured Abel's sacrifice instead of Cain's. Cain then murdered Abel out of jealousy, and God punished Cain by banishing him to a life of wandering. This was the first of many documented murders in the Bible, and it was an act that God condemned throughout history.
What then is the root cause of murder? The Bible shows us that the source of murder comes from the heart, where hate and anger fester. If we have these evil traits in our hearts, we are fostering the spirit of murder. Thought precedes action, and hatred precedes murder. Cain’s sin manifested itself in jealousy, which fermented into hatred and ended up in murder. Like all other sins, murder is generated in a person's inner being. As the evil thoughts germinate and grow, they begin a process that ultimately produces murder. Jesus shows us that the character of our thoughts becomes the character of our conduct.
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” (Matt 15:18-20)
When God gave Moses and the Israelites the Old Testament law, it was explicitly stated in the Ten Commandments that "Thou shalt not kill" (KJV) which is more accurately translated as "You shall not murder". Likewise, in the New Testament, God has been explicit in His condemnation of murder.
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8)
A Lack of Love
While murder is condemned, can one be in danger of hell if one harbours feelings of ill-will and hostility towards another even if he does not commit murder? In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that just as the Old Testament commands that one should not murder, in the New Testament it is equally important that one does not harbour feelings of hate and resentment against another. Jesus is teaching that the punishment for murder is the same as when one displays a lack of love for others—spiritual death.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matt 5:21-22)
In the Old Testament, the act of murder was condemned; but now Jesus is saying that not only are one's outward actions under judgment; one’s innermost thoughts are also under the scrutiny and judgment of God. The man who is a slave to anger, the man who speaks contemptuously, the man who destroys another's good name, may never have committed a murder in action, but he is a murderer at heart. Cain murdered his brother Abel because he did not love his brother. He was consumed by jealousy and hatred, which blinded him from thinking and acting rationally, thus resulting in sin.
For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous. (1 Jn 3:11-12)
Just as murder stems from a lack of love, so too does war stem from a lack of love. The following excerpts of the lyrics from the popular song by the Black Eyed Peas neatly sums it up:
But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate
Whatever happened to the values of humanity?
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality?
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity
Where is the love? Where is the love? Where is the love, the love, the love?