A brief response to pacifism

Artwork by Elhanan ben-Avraham

He said to them, But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” – Yeshua, Luke 22:36.

The Jewish people of Europe in the 1930’s had come to trust their host countries, especially Germany. Why shouldn’t they? The Jews had proven themselves good German citizens, even serving with distinction in that military in WWI. Besides, the Germans were not barbarians, but were among the most cultured and educated people in Europe, having produced Bach, Handel, Durer, majestic cathedrals, and the Reformation. Most Germans were Christians, Lutheran Protestants, claiming to worship a Jew, and the same God of the Bible as the Jews themselves did.

But the grim irony is that the naïve trust of the Jewish people, especially in Germany, was not well founded. Without resistance millions of Jews went quietly onto the train cars like sheep to the slaughterhouse- shlachthaus.  It was not until the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that some of the Jews chose to perish fighting, rather than as Pacifists.

There are some Christian pastors again, in our days, preaching Pacifism from the church pulpit to their flocks.  Their justification is apparently based on the idea that ‘all sin is equal before God’, from the theft of a loaf of bread to avoid starvation, to mass murder. As one pastor put it, ‘Your sin and that of Osama bin-Laden are the same’. Therefore, this view would seem to imply, a sinner must not exact force against another sinner. Taken further, none could qualify to sit as a court judge to condemn a murderer to execution, the judge himself (and any jury) being equal sinners. But these teachers have erred in their conclusion, as the Bible differentiates between sins, and defines different levels of sin.  There are sins unto death, and sins not unto death, which is also referred to in the New Testament (1 John 5:16-17).  The Torah speaks of sins that are committed without knowledge and intent, and therefore have a sacrifice for their atonement, whereas sin committed with full knowledge and intent require a different atonement.  The Bible describes both first degree murder and manslaughter, both which have completely different consequences, only the former being a capital crime.  There are also sins committed that time only takes away, such as the eating of foods proscribed by the Torah as unclean, which is removed by the process of digestion and evacuation from the body, and then washing with water.  Not all sin is the same.

Prior to World War II, Winston Churchill attempted to warn the British of the dangers of Hitler and his Nazi movement in Germany.  His warning fell on deaf ears, and he himself was called a “war monger”.  But had Britain heeded his advice and eliminated Hitler and his war machine with the sword early, perhaps WWII and the death of more than 40 million humans could have been prevented.  Instead, the British preferred to believe in the Pacifist doctrine of Chamberlain, whose foolish pact with the Devil would produce “peace in our time”. Appeasement and Pacifism are cut from the same cloth.

Some of the Pacifist ideas seem to be built upon the words of Jesus, such as “turn the other cheek”, and “love thy enemies”, and “do well to those who persecute you”, etc.  But in the historical context of His teaching, which is the world of 1st Century Judaism, those commands are in reference to intra-communal relationships (the same essential teachings are found in the Torah).  They are not intended for the rapist/murderer who would enter one’s home to rape one’s wife and kill one’s children.  Nor are they intended for nations defending themselves from those whose intent is to annihilate them.  We see Jesus giving advice to kings regarding warfare (Luke 14:31-32), and we hear Him telling His disciples at one point to sell their cloaks and buy swords, if they did not already have one.  Swords were not used only to peel oranges.  The Apostle Paul also writes to followers of the Messiah to submit unto governmental authorities, as they are from God, and they do not carry the sword in vain (Romans 13).

If Christians accept that Jesus is God, the same as the Old Testament God of Israel, then it is that same who is the Commander of Israel’s military in the Bible, who sent them into battle against their enemies and brought victory (or defeat).  It is the same God in whose Name young David slew Goliath of the Philistines, and it was the sin of King Saul that he did not slay all the remnant of Amalek, according to the word of the Lord. The command given in the Ten Commandments is normally wrongly translated as “Thou shalt not kill”.  Hebrew has very clear distinctions, and the word used here is lo tirtzach- “Thou shalt notmurder”.  L’harog, the word for “kill” is not used in the Ten Commandments.

The author of “Tortured For Christ”, Richard Wurmbrand , who was imprisoned and tortured as a Christian minister by the communist regime in Romania, said, “If one were to see a murderer coming to kill the defenseless, and one had a gun and did not use it, he would be a sinner for not using it”. 

Perhaps ironically, the only nation that has acted as a Christian nation as far as “turning the other cheek” is modern Israel who, in the 1991 Gulf War, while being barraged with Scud missiles falling on her cities for six weeks, did not respond militarily, though it was surely capable of doing so.

After nearly two thousand years of persecutions, inquisitions, pograms, crusades, expulsions, and  the Holocaust, during which the Jewish people were slaughtered as Pacifists without an army or anyone to defend them, Israel is now back in its own land where they can defend themselves, and has by necessity a fine military, who bears the sword not in vain.  With the constant drumbeat of her neighbors calling for her destruction, it is only appropriate. And it is only right that we should rejoice when we see the Knights of the Air flying overhead in defense of our homes against our implacable, relentless enemies. Jesus told us that “there is not greater love than one who lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). There is perhaps no greater expression of this than the armed soldier who puts himself in danger to protect his home and people.

Until that day that the glorious prophecy of Isaiah (chapter 2) comes to pass, “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”, then one is obliged to dress appropriately for the current weather conditions, and to not bear the sword in vain.