Rational Christianity

A place for rational Christians who think that reason should not be at odds with faith.

Friday, November 12, 2004

What Would Jesus Do about Saddam Hussein?

Intriguing title, isn’t it? I wanted to write something on this very idea so started looking for information regarding “Just War Theory” and opinions about how Christ would view the war. I came across the following article and decided, I wouldn’t have said it any better myself. The following was written by Betty Street, who is a MSSW (Social Worker). The article can be found at http://christianity.about.com/library/weekly/aa030503.htm

It caught my eye because, to many people, I am a bit of an enigma. I believe that the war in Iraq was not the appropriate action and I very much believe Saddam was a really bad guy and that Iraq would be a better place if he wasn’t in power. To lots of Christians I talk with, it seems apparent that since Saddam was a bad guy, it was obviously the right thing to do to overthrow his regime. Since we were led to war on the premise that Iraq belonged to “the axis of evil” by a professed born again Christian President who has implied this action is just because “freedom is a gift from the almighty”, I think it deserves a little scrutiny.

In case you are tempted to write a response that explains the plethora of times God used war in the Old Testament, please do not because I do not desire the debate. God waged war and often used his people as an instrument of justice. If you want to follow up on this topic, please consider reading http://campus.kcc.edu/faculty/gpickens/war.html

I will just say, America is not “God’s chosen” instrument, President Bush is not a Prophet taking direction from God to lead us into war and the Old Testament days are not times most of us would like to return to. Instead, I will use Christ himself as my example because he set a new standard for us to follow. Where the old system used war, Christ said “blessed are the peacemakers”.

What Would Jesus Do about Saddam Hussein?

Nice, well-intended, young people often wear bracelets and otherwise display the presently popular W.W.J.D. motto. Some older, more mature people find the slogan, while sweet, too simplistic. The world, they would say, is more complicated than that. How would one judge what Jesus would do? He lived 2,000 years ago, when the world was quite a different place. The moral challenges were different, so the moral solutions must also be different.

More fundamental believers trust Biblical answers. They, like Solomon, say there is nothing really new under the sun, and we can look to the Bible to show us how to behave today. But here, also, even “good” Christians disagree. Historically, well-intentioned Christians have strongly, even violently disagreed over how to interpret the Bible, disagreed about what they thought Jesus would do. Many well-intentioned Christians believe they find sound Biblical evidence that God blesses war and executions by the state in order to preserve itself and to punish wrongdoers, whether the evildoers are heads of state murderers or in the street murderers. Other, equally well intentioned Christians believe they find sound Biblical evidence for pacifism and no death penalty. In fact, agreement will probably always be impossible, since each individual and group brings a unique point of view to the question.

Actually, looking at what Jesus did in his place in time may be informative. Behavioral science tells us you can predict human behavior based on past behavior. Christ was fully human and sinless, so we can reasonably assume he would do what he did given similar circumstances. We can take a realistic look at what Jesus actually did, see if there are correlations today, and from that extrapolate what Jesus would do now.

To begin, lets look at Israel at the time of Jesus. It was overrun, occupied, and governed by the foreign power of Rome. And it’s possible that there has never, ever been a more horrible, terrible, occupation and dictatorship. At the time of Christ, the Roman Empire was controlled by a madman named Tiberius. In order not to make readers too ill, only a few of Tiberius’ acts will be enumerated. The historian Suetonius, in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, offers these samples of Tiberius’ barbarity: Not a day passed without an execution, not even holy days. Every crime was considered capital, even the utterance of a few words. No informer’s word was doubted, and rewards were given to accusers and witnesses. As many as 20 souls a day, including women and children, were executed, thrown on the Stairs of Mourning and dragged to the Tiber with hooks. Since it was considered impious to strangle virgins, young girls were first violated by the executioner and then strangled. And this was just in Rome; these were his own people. The atrocities he committed outside Rome were even worse!

Christ looked into the future and saw that Rome would utterly destroy Israel, killing every man, woman and child they could find, and pulling the temple to the ground, so that not one stone remained standing on another. Jesus was not naïve; he knew exactly what Rome was, what Caesar was. He knew Rome, with its emperor, was an awful, evil, cruel, corrupt oppressor who would completely destroy Jerusalem and do its best to stamp out Judaism.
So, under these circumstances, what did Jesus do? For one thing, he never, ever, either implicitly or explicitly suggested that the Roman occupation should be overthrown, even though he clearly saw the final outcome. There were Israelis all around him who were willing, eager, to do so. Some even thought this was Jesus’ mission, to lead the insurrection. But he never, ever even hinted that was the right action, and never made any motion at all in that direction.

At this point, some might say, well, the rag, tag bunch who wanted to overthrow Rome was really powerless to do so, and Jesus was a pragmatist, knowing that was an impossible dream. Those who say this are forgetting who Jesus was. He could have called down legions of angels to fight on the side of Israel and overthrow Rome with no trouble at all. Some others might say he didn’t resist Rome’s oppression and despotism because that wasn’t his mission, his role was to die for our sins, and he needed Rome to stay in power to bring about his death. This is true. But while he was alive, he never, ever encouraged anyone else to overthrow Rome after his death, and he never, ever even suggested that it should be done. He never said anything like, “It’s God’s will that I die on a Roman cross, but once I’m dead, arm yourselves and revolt!”

After his death and resurrection, Christ could certainly have returned and overthrown Rome (remember who we are talking about when we say Rome, a regime much crueler and more evil than that of Saddam Hussein, who would completely destroy the nation of Israel). He never, ever mentioned it. He didn’t come back and instruct his disciples to stir up the insurrection, telling them they would have the help of heaven to overthrow the oppressors. Not a word. Not a whisper. He never mentioned Rome at all! Even though Tiberius makes Saddam Hussein look tame in comparison.

Obviously, he didn’t think it was that important. That one of the cruelest tyrants who ever lived was going to utterly decimate his country and scatter his religion wasn’t that important. What was important was that people repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand!

To Christ, the Kingdom was so much more important, people knowing and experiencing the love of God was so much more important, that he didn’t even to think to mention Rome. He knew that only good ever overcomes evil, so he told us to be good to those who spitefully use us. He knew only love is able to heal hate, so he told us to love our enemies. He knew the only power that matters is the power of God to forgive and cleanse and reconcile us to himself and to each other. And he knew that in the end that was all that mattered.

He knew Rome would fall of its own evil, just as all evil regimes and people do; evil always destroys itself. And he knew that the eternal is so much more important than the temporal that the temporal is hardly worth mentioning. He knew that only three things abide; faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. And he was interested in the eternal, in the Kingdom, in love.

Well, was he a dreamer, or was he right? The Roman Empire is no more. Israel is once more a state. And the Kingdom of God, the knowledge of the love of God, is spreading through time and space. God sent out the Word, and it doesn’t come back empty; no one who chooses love can be snatched out of God's hand, in this life or in the life to come. In the end Tiberius and Saddam do not win, and love abides.

If Christians are committed to following Jesus, his way is clear. It’s the way of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And the power that counts isn’t the power of horses or chariots or soldiers or bombs or guns, it’s the power of the knowledge of the love of God.

Don’t agree with Betty’s viewpoint? Spend some time studying Rome at the time of Christ, re-read your gospels and see how Christ responded to a brutal dictator. Come up with your own viewpoint about WWJD. When you do so, keep the following passage in mind. It is a very hard concept to grasp but he did ask us to be transformed by a renewing of our minds.

Matt 5 (vs. 9) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (vs. 38-48) "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also..."You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


Blogger Scribe said...

Although this article as well as the article it referenced will be summarily dismissed by blind Bush disciples, it raises a fundamental issue that ALL Christians must consider carefully and prayerfully meditate upon. It seems difficult to justify the Iraq conflict using Christ's New Testament teachings and principles.

The Iraq conflict seems eerily similar to the Great Crusades of centuries past that yielded far fewer converts than casualties.

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