Soldiering Justly

It was one of the most poignant pictures to come out of Iraq: a smiling young woman, holding up a finger stained with purple ink—proof that she had just voted in the first election of her life. It was evidence, as well, that America had gone to Iraq, not to conquer, but to set people free. The idea that freedom is the state in which God intends us to live is found in the Bible. The Indian apologist Vishal Mangalwadi makes this clear in his teachings. In a tape on how the Bible influenced the second millennium, Mangalwadi says the prototypical model is the Exodus. This was the first time that people were delivered from slavery and bondage, and a record made of it. This, Mangalwadi says, “is what changed the whole course of Western civilization—the notion that God was bringing us freedom.” The belief that humans deserve to live in freedom is what motivated Americans to fight for their own freedom from the British. It motivated us to fight Nazi Germany and the Japanese during World War II, and against communism during the Cold War. And it’s what motivates us today to bring freedom to parts of the world that have never known it—Afghanistan and Iraq. This fight for freedom has the additional advantage of striking a blow against terrorism. Once people are given freedom, they will fight to protect their freedom against terrorists who are determined to take it away. This willingness to sacrifice on behalf of our neighbors is why serving in the military is considered such a high calling for Christians—and part of what makes just wars just. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica puts his discussion of just war in his chapter on charity—the love of God and neighbor. Aquinas applauded those who wielded the sword in protection of the community. Reformer John Calvin agreed. He called the soldier an “agent of God’s love” and called soldiering justly a “God-like act.” Why? Because “restraining evil out of love for neighbor” is an imitation of God’s restraining evil out of love for His creatures. And as Darrell Cole, a professor at William & Mary, argued in the journal First Things, the failure to fight a just war may be a failure to love. Fighting just wars, he wrote, “is something Christians ought to do out of love for God and neighbor.” A world where all Christians refused to fight just wars wouldn’t be peaceful, and it certainly wouldn’t be just. It would be a world where evil reigned unchecked by justice, and where the strong would be free to prey on the weak. The mass graves in Iraq—graves dug during Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror—are grim evidence of this truth. While the polls show that many Americans are becoming tired with the war in Iraq, our soldiers who are stationed there are not. They know they are doing a good and noble thing. One way you might celebrate Memorial Day today is by watching a film being premiered tonight on HBO, Unknown Soldier: Searching for a Father. I was not able to attend the preview, but I’m told it is deeply moving and will fill you with gratitude for those who have laid down their lives to set us free. And it will cause you, I hope, as well, to pray for those who are still fighting for freedom around the world today.


Chuck Colson


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