Faith: Onward, Christian soldiers

We are in the time of the year when we honour our veterans and those who gave their lives in the service of their country.

Yet the King James version of the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s the sixth commandment of the 10 given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

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Some Christian groups over the centuries have taken this commandment literally and refused to participate in any kind of

military service.

One of my ancestors was a Quaker, and adamantly refused to take up arms in the American Revolutionary War.

He was recruited anyway and forced into service for two years on an American warship against his will. He felt he could not disobey his conscience by using deadly force against anyone.

Obviously, serving as a soldier sometimes requires killing the enemy. Is it possible for a God-fearing Christian to serve in the military?

Many of my relatives served in the military. All of them were Christians as far as I know.

My grandfather, a very committed Christian, wrote in his diary of the Battle of Somme in August, 1916, “Took my first shot at

Fritzie today.” He didn’t say if he hit anyone. It is very likely that those “Fritzies” shooting back at him were Christians as well.

My grandmother’s brother was a lieutenant who was wounded at Vimy Ridge, and later died in combat at the Battle of Iwuy, Belgium, on October 11, 1918. I’m fairly certain he was actively involved in killing the enemy.

How does one reconcile the firm commandment not to kill, with military service?

First of all, it is important to distinguish between murder and killing in the course of military or judicial action. Murder is considered morally wrong in all cultures on Earth.

At the same time, almost every culture authorizes deadly force, by police, by soldiers in wartime and by those tasked by judicial authorities with carrying out executions in jurisdictions which allow for capital

punishment.

Recently, police in Paris shot dead a terrorist who murdered and beheaded a teacher. They were congratulated for doing their duty.

The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:13 is ratzach — murder.

As in English, there is a different word for killing in Hebrew — harag. The correct translation, and the one used for the sixth commandment in every newer translation I looked at for this column, is, “You shall not murder.”

King David makes the distinction clearly in his deathbed charge to his son Solomon.

He is advising his son on how to deal with Joab, one of David’s main generals.

Joab had killed two other generals of Israel’s army unlawfully — Abner and Amasa.

David says, “He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.”

David is directing Solomon to mete out justice to someone who had “shed blood in peacetime”— he “murdered” rather than “killed” in the course of authorized combat.

In the time of Jesus, many new believers responded to his message of good news and spiritual healing through repentance.

Some of them were soldiers, members of the Roman military force occupying Israel. They were conflicted about their role and asked Jesus’ advice on whether they should continue serving as soldiers.

He told them, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.” Notice that he didn’t tell them to quit the army, only refrain from acting dishonestly and giving in to greed.

Jesus implied that soldiers could still be faithful believers as long as they conducted themselves with honour in the course of their duties. There are multiple references in scripture about God being a warrior.

After God destroys the pursuing Egyptian army, Moses and Miriam sing, “The Lord is a Warrior, the Lord is his name.”

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet writes, “The Lord will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal.”

In multiple places God is referred to as “the Lord of Hosts”— hosts being a military reference to angelic armies under his command.

Where would our world be today if we had allowed Hitler to do whatever he wanted?

Military service is a worthy career for Christians. Sometimes, confronting evil requires the righteous use of force.

KTW welcomes submissions to its Faith page. Columns should be between 600 and 800 words in length and include a headshot of the author, and a short bio. Send it to editor@kamloopsthisweek.com.

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