When is War Just?

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The topic of war should not be treated lightly. It is a sobering subject and unfortunately sometimes necessary. There are solid biblical reasons to support the idea of a just war.  After all, the Bible teaches us that life is precious, we should protect it, and the government was instituted by God “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 peter 2:14)”. Regrettably, evil people can seek to harm others and destroy life. Therefore, God has provided biblical reasons for using force to protect the innocent and prevent the loss of further life by using justifiable force.  Some passages that help shape a theology of a just war include: Romans 13:1-7  Genesis 1:26–27; Genesis 9:6; Psalm 8:4–6James 3:8–10Matthew 10:29–31Genesis 9:5–61 Peter 2:13–14. From the above passages (and other related passages), theologians commonly refer to seven reasons for a just war. Those are as follows:

  1. The purpose for the war must have a just cause. All aggression is condemned; only defensive war is legitimate.
  2. The reason for war must have just intentions. For example, to secure a just peace for all involved. Neither revenge, conquest, economic, or ideological supremacy are justified.
  3. War is the last resort. War may only be entered upon after all negotiations and compromise have been tried and failed.
  4. A formal declaration of war must be made from proper authority. Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments, not of private individuals, a state of war must be officially declared by the highest authorities.
  5. The purpose of war has limited objectives. If the purpose is peace, then un­conditional surrender or the destruction of a nation’s eco­nomic or political institutions is an unwarranted objective.
  6. The war is conducted with proportionate means. The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks and secure a just peace. Unlimited war is ruled out.
  7. The war must involve noncombatant immunity. Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict including POW’s, the injured, as well as civilian non-participants should be immune from attack.

As we consider a biblical basis for war “let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)

This post was referenced in the sermon from the Genesis series on 11.5.23. Listen to the sermon here.