In the beginning, God created all things, and He saw that all of them were good. Above creation, God set man as a steward. We were told to watch over creation and utilize it wisely and responsibly to further God’s purposes. The Lord wills that we be fruitful and multiply, and so we farm the fields and domesticate the beasts of the earth. The Lord wills that we multiply the talents He has given us, and so we work and exchange whatever we produce with one another. The Lord wills that we care for the least among us, and so we build homes and create medicines. In this way, all of creation is inherently ordered towards God’s will. This will itself is love, which Jesus Christ revealed to be the essence of the law and the prophets. Love respects the dignity and liberty of every person, seeing each as made in the image of God. To that end, love demands that we honor peace, practice tolerance, and seek to protect the life of every person until God calls him or her before His throne for the final judgment.
Efforts to use creation for other purposes are sinful. When we seek to use sex for pleasure and not love, we are guilty of lust. When we seek to use money for power and not creation, we are guilty of avarice. When we seek to use creation for destruction and not life, we are guilty of militarism.
We as people are called to share in the work of God, and this includes creating and preserving that which God has made. It is God’s will that we continue to create and that we do not destroy what He has made because He has made everything for a good purpose. The plants of the earth give us nourishment and healing, both of which enable us to have relationships with one another. The rocks and minerals of the soil give us materials with which to build houses and other buildings, enabling us to live in safety and comfort. Our own flesh and blood, as the physical projections of our souls, allow us to be the very temples of God in the world. God desires for us to have comfort, well-being, and physical existence. He calls us through the prophets to pray for the prosperity of the cities in which we live and not to take more of creation than we need, in order that all may enjoy the richness of what God has made. He also calls us to treat our bodies as sacred vessels and to provide wisely for them, such that we may give Him honor through them. Partaking in the beauty and joy of God’s creation and having all that we need provided for by Him is one of the greatest ways that the Lord of heaven and earth has reached out to us in every age in love and, in the most literal sense, Providence.
Much has been written about the evil of war. Certainly, war does tremendous damage to spiritual creation. By pitting the passions of men against each other, war blinds us of our common brotherhood before God. By tearing apart families and communities, war wreaks havoc on the love and caritas (unconditional social love) for our neighbors that God has made the purpose of our lives. By turning the world into little more than “we the righteous” and “they the evil,” war hardens our hearts against the commandment of Christ to pray for our enemies. The dignity of the person is also trampled in war. These are all very real and destructive effects of war on the spiritual life.
There is also no shortage of commentary about the physical evils of war. Crops are burned, leaving children hungry. Homes are turned into piles of rubble, killing sons and daughters of God. Access to medicine, water, and clothing is imperiled, leaving people with no share in the daily bread that God has granted us from His bounty for our survival. The work of generations in building places of habitation, learning, worship, healing, and community is annihilated in an instant. The plethora of Christian relief organizations servicing war-torn communities in Iraq, Gaza, Afghanistan, Somalia, and many other countries shows how much attention has been paid by Christians to the damages wrought by war.
What has been overlooked by many Christians, though, is how much of a perversion of creation war is. Even before the first bullet is fired and the first bomb dropped, and preceding the first torched field and shattered roof, militarism itself is a perversion of God’s creation. Militarism, especially once it hits the stage known popularly as “preparedness,” takes God’s creation and appropriates it for the sake of destruction. Take, for example, what goes into the creation of a single lead bullet.
Obviously, a lead bullet is made of lead. This lead could well be used to make a fishing sinker, allowing someone to partake in eating one of the few foods we know for a fact that Jesus ate and fed people with, or it could be used to help build a car battery, enabling a young woman to visit an ill relative in only a fraction of the time it took for Mary to visit Elizabeth during her pregnancy. Instead, our little chunk of lead is destined to be crafted into a projectile designed to break the flesh God gave a man and tear into the very heart Christ desires to win over.
Before it gets there, though, the lead must be processed. It needs to go to a factory full of machines. Manufacturing machines can be utilized for many purposes. They can, for example, help to shape steel beams to build orphanages. They can also be used to manufacture parts for wheelchairs like the one that lets me go to class and church. The particular set of manufacturing machines we are talking about here, though, are used to turn lead into little balls able to kill young men decades before they will ever have the chance see their grandchildren. Some of these young men will die before they can even imagine themselves stepping into a church. Others will be plucked from the world before having the opportunity to share the life of Christ with their brothers.
After many hours of labor that could be otherwise spent making clothing, growing food, printing books, building homes, or doing any other manner of work for God’s sake, our little ball of lead will finally be recognizable as a bullet. Should the need ever arise in the mind of a powerful man, that bullet will find its way into the hands of a young soldier clutching a rifle. That rifle will be made of wood and steel, or possibly plastic. We could spend several pages more detailing how any one of these things could have become a desk fit to hold the Bible, or a stethoscope, or a toy to bring joy to a child. For now, though, suffice to say that this rifle, too, has been made out of things never destined by God to destroy.
Neither was the young man’s body. It was meant to beget life and to serve as God’s temple.
Neither was the young man’s heart. It was meant to praise the Lord and love other hearts.
Neither was the young man’s mind. It was meant to contemplate the Word made flesh.
Neither was the young man’s life. It was meant to bring mercy into a world full of cruelty.
Neither was the young man’s death. It was meant to bear final witness of to love and faith.
War is a perversion of creation. There are times when it is justifiable, largely because someone else has already perverted creation. The God of Israel did not abandon His people in Biblical times when they faced dangerous foes; rather, He defended them against nations that practiced horrifying measures such as infanticide and expelled those nations from the land He had promised His people, so long as Israel trusted Him alone and not the strength of their arms. Though the creation of God was used to make weapons in Israel as it is today, the Israelites recognized their complete and total dependence on God for their defense. They were also a people living in a land promised to them by the Lord Himself and thus had a clear mandate from God to protect Israel. Every country has the right to defend itself. The great problem is when creation is appropriated for destruction and not the protection of other countries. For the purposes of this article, I use militarism as a term for the production and maintenance of military equipment and forces above and beyond what is necessary for defense.
Much like the ancient pagans, Americans have embraced militarism. When our own generals state that a military base to house machines of destruction is no longer needed, we ought to cheer and obey the Lord by turning our swords into plowshares. Rather than deconstructing our old battleships and turning submarine pens into marinas, though, we demand that our politicians set aside their political differences and “save” our bases. Rather than commending statesmen for cutting military budgets and streamlining processes such that excesses like 10,000 nuclear weapons no longer exist in our hands, we accuse them of being weak on national security and soundly reject them for reelection. When we should be praising God for creating a drastically more peaceful and less fearsome world since the end of the Cold War, we have been busy clinging to our guns, bombs, and tanks. Ancient Israel excelled in war because, as the Bible affirms at every turn, it trusted in the Lord and not the strength of its arms. God preserves the goodness in humanity found in His people against all who would turn against it. If we embrace Him in humility and a genuine desire for peace, He will extend this same protection to us. To contrast Biblical Israel’s faith with America’s attitude of militarizing to the point of no end while we refuse to take Christianity seriously as a public moral force is nothing short of damning our country according to the standards of Biblical kings and generals.
We continue to beat our plowshares into swords by spending over a trillion dollars annually on our military at a time when there are simply not enough resources to provide for the basic needs of every person. It is unconscionable to maintain forces and armaments capable of destroying all life on the face of the Earth several times over. If we ever get to the point where we actually need a military that is currently worth almost as much as the rest of the world’s militaries combined, we will have suffered a far greater defeat than any opposing commander can deal us. We will have entirely lost our capacity to engage in diplomacy and meaningful communication with other countries, including our enemies. We will have traded our faith in the Lord for our faith in our capacity to demolish every fear and demon in the world by the sheer strength of our will. As in the spiritual life, this attitude of controlling every threat and refusing to turn to Christ for strength greater than any we could imagine will only result in even greater fear and, ultimately, we as a country learning what it means to be in the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Not all of our military aims are foolish and unjust by human standards. Having the power to annihilate our enemies in North Korea and Iran with the press of a button certainly makes sense according to the world. So does maintaining a military presence in 130 countries such that we will always be near enough to strike any target on Earth within a moment’s notice. Like any country, America has very real enemies, some of whom are quite threatening and spiteful.
God, however, does not look kindly on those who rely on their own strength and judgment, their false “pragmatism,” in lieu of His commandments. We may preach a gospel of preventive conflict until the day the trumpet sounds, but God’s command that we pray for our enemies remains. We may preach a gospel of revenge against all who slight us, but God’s command that we turn the other cheek when struck and offer our coat to the man who robs us remains. We may preach that men must die that we may live, but God’s command that we be harmless as doves remains.
The Lord says that vengeance is His alone and that man need lift no finger if the Lord is with him. America has an attitude, though, that she must be the protector of her own liberty and must rely on her power and pride alone for her safety. Rather than letting God use whatever means He sees fit to secure for us a just and peaceful world, we co-opt His creation and use it for destruction. The Lord does not accept this faithless militarism and this idolatrous worship of weapons. God condemns any country that chooses to rely on its own will and His resources for its power without obeying His laws and commandments.
God has ordered His creation towards His will, which is love and, by extension, peace. There are times when God wills that we utilize creation to procure defenses, always seeking His protection and justification before Him as our only guarantees of safety. God does not, however, accept our theories that militarism is a just use of His creation. Militarism takes good creation that produces and sustains life to give glory to the Lord and usurps it for the sake of destroying our every threat and fear. Rather than seeking peace with all peoples, forgiving offenses, and trusting the Lord as our rock and sanctuary, America has chosen to let fear force it into a state of permanent militarism and armament.
This attitude has meant that God’s creation, which has the power to provide for all that we need and save the least among us from total destitution, is being used in order to sow the most abject poverty and strife the world has ever known. It is essential that, as we call attention to the spiritual and physical destruction of war, Christians make clear that “preparedness” and militarism themselves pervert creation and transform instruments of Providence into tools of destruction. By protesting the celebration of militarism prevalent in America and by criticizing the false gospels of revenge and fear that compel armament, Christians can play a pivotal role in reducing our spending of resources and lives on destruction and liberating creation for God’s purposes.
We can play an essential role in turning people’s hearts away from fear and towards faith in God’s power and in caring for the poor by beating America’s swords into plowshares. We can also do much to further respect for the dignity of human life by treating bodies as temples, hearts as witnesses, and minds as worshippers, rather than as tools of destruction and conquest. We can put down the sword and, in doing so, refuse to perish by it.
The Maccabees and zealots were ready to lay down their lives for Israel when faith in the God of love, peace, and creation was replaced by idols demanding human blood and costly sacrifices. We make these sacrifices with every dollar devoted to unneeded weapons. We offer oblations to Mars with every speech proclaiming the necessity of bringing instantaneous death to people who have no capacity to strike us. We drink blood against God every time we speak of conscripting young men to fight in the wars of other people.
Are we ready to smash these idols and break these cults with the ferocity of Judas Maccabeus in America today? If not, we are doomed to the condemnation of the Lord. If so, then the Lord will bless us beyond all measure and ensure that never again do we have to raise a finger against our enemies. Verily, He alone shall be our rock, our fortress, our deliverer.
Matt Cavedon ‘ll is a Comparative Study of Religion concentrator living in Quincy House.