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Why does God allow war?
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Why does God allow war” published in 1939 with the present impression in 2003.
That God allows war is a fact. Why does He allow it? What is the positive treatment of this question in the Bible? Here it is not so much a question of specific statements, as of applying certain fundamental principles, clearly taught, to this particular issue.
(1) We must consider, first, what we may call the Biblical view of war. It is not that war as such is sin, but that war is a consequence of sin; or, if you prefer it, that war is one of the expressions of sin. Actually from the point of view of a theodicy that distinction really does not matter, as the argument still remains the same. The Bible traces war back to its final and ultimate cause. It is true that it does not altogether ignore the various political and social and economic and psychological factors of which so much has been made. But according to its teaching, these things are no more than the immediate causes, the actual agencies employed. The thing itself is much deeper. As James reminds us, the ultimate cause of war is lust and desire; this restlessness that is a part of us as the result of sin; this craving for that which is illicit and for that which we cannot obtain. It shows itself in many ways, both in personal, individual life, and also in the life of nations. It is the root cause of theft and robbery, jealousy and envy, pride and hate, infidelity and divorce. And in precisely the same way it leads to personal quarrels and strife, and also to wars between nations. The Bible does not isolate war, as if it were something separate and unique and quite apart, as we tend to do in our thinking. It is but one of the manifestations of sin, one of the consequences of sin. On a larger scale, perhaps, and in a more terrible form for that reason, but still, in its essence, precisely the same as all the other effects and consequences of sin. But someone may argue that there must be an essential difference because of the fact that loss of life is involved in war. The reply is, that while the Bible regards life as sacred, and prohibits us to take life merely to gratify a spirit of lust or of revenge, it at the same time teaches that, from God's side, the soul is of infinitely greater importance than the life of the body. God's concern is not that our lives should be perpetuated and prolonged here on earth for a certain number of additional years, but rather that we should come into the right relationship with Him, and live lives that will glorify His holy name. We attach such significance to time, and to length of years, that we tend to forget that what ultimately matters and counts is the quality of the life. War, then, is a consequence and an effect of sin of precisely the same kind as all the other effects and consequences of sin. Sin always leads to suffering, misery and shame, whether in a quiet or in a spectacular manner. We tend to become concerned when the principle manifests itself in bulk or on a large scale. We ignore it or fail to see it in its real essence, which is what really matters. To ask God to prohibit war or to prevent war, therefore, is to ask Him to prohibit one of the particular consequences of sin. Or, if we take the view that war itself is actual sin, it is to ask God to prohibit one particular sin. Here again we see both the selfishness that is involved in the request and also the insult to God. Because this particular form of sin, or consequence of sin, is especially painful and difficult for us, we ask God to prohibit it. We are not at all concerned about the holiness of God, or sin as such. Were we so concerned, we would ask Him to prohibit all sin and to restrain all iniquity. We would ask Him to prohibit drunkenness, gambling, immorality and vice, the breaking of the Sabbath, and all the various other sins which men enjoy so thoroughly. But if anyone ventured to suggest that, a protest loud and strong would be registered immediately in the name of freedom. We boast of our free will and resent any suggestion or teaching that God should in any way interfere with it. And yet, when, as the result of the exercise of that very freedom, we find ourselves faced with the horrors and troubles and sufferings of a war, like peevish children we cry out our protests and complain bitterly against God because He has not used His almighty power and forcibly prevented it! God, in His infinite and everlasting wisdom, has decided not to prohibit sin and not to restrain altogether the consequence of sin. War is not an isolated and separate spiritual and religious problem. It is just a part and an expression of the one great central problem of sin.
(2) But the Biblical teaching advances beyond that point, and gives reasons which are still more positive in explanation of the fact that God allows war. We shall merely tabulate them.
(a) It is clear that God permits war in order that men may bear the consequences of their sins as punishment. This is a fundamental law which expresses itself in such words as "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." Punishment is not altogether postponed to the next world. Here, in this world, we bear some of the punishment for our sins. How clearly is this shown time and time again in the story of the Children of Israel! They disobeyed God and flouted His holy laws. For a while all was well. But then they began to suffer. God withdrew His protecting care from them, and they were at the mercy of their enemies, who attacked them and robbed them. Indeed, at the very beginning, and as the result of the first sin and transgression, we find that God ordained and decreed punishment. God said, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." Every painful consequence of sin is a part of the punishment meted out for sin. But someone may raise the objection, and ask: "But why do the innocent suffer?" The answer cannot be given fully here, but in its essence it is twofold. First, there is no such person as the innocent, as we have seen already. We are all sinful. But furthermore, we clearly have to reap the consequences not only of our own personal sins, but also of the sins of the entire race; and, on a smaller scale, the sins of our particular country or group. We are, at one and the same time, individuals, and members of the state and of the entire race. The Gospel saves us as individuals; but that does not mean that we cease to be members of the state and part and parcel of the entire human race. We share the same sun and rain as other people, and we are exposed to the same illnesses and diseases. We are subject to the same trials by way of industrial depression and other causes oŁ unhappiness, including war. Thus it comes to pass that the innocent may have to bear part of the punishment for sins for which they are not directly responsible.
(b) Again, it seems clear that God permits war in order that men may see through it, more clearly than they have ever done before, what sin really is. In times of peace we tend to think lightly of sin, and to hold optimistic views of human nature. War reveals man and the possibilities within man's nature. The First World War shattered that optimistic view of man which had held sway for so many ears, and revealed something of the essential sinfulness of human nature. A time of crisis and of war is no time for superficial generalizations and for rosy, optimistic idealisms. It forces us to examine the very foundations of life. It makes us face the direct questions as to what it is in human nature that leads to such calamities. The explanation cannot be found in the actions of certain men only. It is something deep down in the heart of man, in the heart of all men. It is the selfishness, hatred, jealousy, envy, bitterness and malice that are in the human heart and which show themselves in the personal and social relationships of life, manifesting themselves on a national and international scale. In the personal sphere we tend to excuse them and to explain them away. But on the larger scale they become more evident. Man in his pride and his folly refuses to listen to the positive teaching of the Gospel about sin. He refuses to attend a place of worship, and refuses instruction from the Word of God. He rejects the gracious, loving offer of the Gospel. He believes that he knows himself, and thinks that he is capable of making a perfect world altogether without God. What he refuses to recognize and to learn by the preaching of the Gospel in a time of peace, God reveals to him by permitting war, and thereby shows him his true nature and the result of his sin. What man refuses and rejects when offered by the hand of love, he often takes when delivered to him through the medium of affliction.
(c) And all this, in turn, leads to the final purpose, which is to lead us back to God. Like the Prodigal Son, when we have lost all and are suffering acutely and in a state of wretchedness and misery, seeing our folly and our stupidity, we think of God, even as he thought of his father and his home. No word is found more frequently in the Old Testament as a description of the Children of Israel than the words, "in their trouble and distresses they cried unto the Lord." They were blind to the goodness and kindness of God; they turned a deaf ear to the appeals of His love and His grace; but in their agony they remembered Him, and turned to Him. And we are still the same. It is only as we suffer and see our folly, and the utter bankruptcy and helplessness of men, that we shall turn to God and rely upon Him. Indeed, as I contemplate human nature and human life, what astonishes me is not that God allows and permits war, but the patience and the long-suffering of God. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust" He suffered the evil, perverse ways of the children of Israel for centuries; and now for nearly two thousand years He has patiently borne with a world which in the main rejects and refuses His loving offer, even in the Person of His only-begotten Son. The question that needs to be asked is not "Why does God allow war?" but rather, "Why does God not allow the world to destroy itself entirely in its iniquity and its sin? Why does He in His restraining grace set a limit to evil and to sin, and a bound beyond which they cannot pass?” Oh, the amazing patience of God with this sinful world: How wondrous is His love! He has sent the Son of His love to our world to die for us and to save us; and because men cannot and will not see this, He permits and allows such things as war to chastise and to punish us, to teach us, and to convict us of our sins; and, above all, to call us to repentance and acceptance of His gracious offer. The vital question for us therefore is not to ask, "Why does God allow war?" The question for us is to make sure that we are learning the lesson, and repenting before God for the sin in our own hearts, and in the entire human race, which leads to such results. May God grant us understanding and the true spirit of repentance, for His Name's sake. (94-101)
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