Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Why does God allow war? (Part 2)



In Part 1 I reflected on the question, 'Why does God allow war?' Now I suggest some lessons that might be learned from the conflict. 

Human beings are not good as we hoped

The Enlightenment was in part a revolt against the biblical view of man. The doctrine of original sin was ridiculed by Enlightenment thinkers. They proclaimed the original goodness of human beings and hoped to create a brave new world based on reason, not revelation. It was confidently predicted that the onward march of human progress would continue unimpeded. Developments in science, the arts, education and politics would see to that. Yet it was the great 'Enlightened' European nations that went to war in 1914; Germany, France, Russia and Britain. Millions lost their lives to bullets, bayonets, shells, mustard gas and the squalor-induced diseases of the trenches. It is no good scanning the heavens looking for someone upon whom to pin the blame for the ‘Great War’. As Shakespeare put it, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ Or as the Bible says, James 4:1-3. Of the barbarity of the 1914-18 war Winston Churchill reflected,

When all was over, torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and these were of doubtful utility.

The Christian faith holds that human beings were made in the image of God. That accounts for our achievements in science, the arts and governance. But we are sinners, living in a fallen world. It’s not simply that we have a ‘good side and bad side’, but human beings are radically inclined towards sin and rebellion against God. WWI led to loss of the ‘innocence’ not to say the naiveté of the optimistic Enlightenment view of human nature. What made it worse was that WWI was not in fact  ‘War to end All Wars’. It was hoped that the the 1914-18 War so horrific that nation would never again take up arms against nation.  That was not to be. Human beings have been fighting since the dawn of time, when Cain killed his brother, Abel. WWI was followed by WWII. Today the news is dominated by terrible conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Gaza. As is often said, ‘history teaches us that history teaches us nothing’. We never seem to lean because sin is too powerful a force for us to break free of its shackles, John 8:34. Sin is man’s stubborn refusal to let God be God. We reject the giver of life and peace and the inevitable results are death and disharmony.  The Great War makes us face up to the moral frailty and brokenness of all human beings. But what is to be done about it?

Human beings do not have the answer to the problem of sin

The nations involved in WWI were not uncivilised backwaters, but the ‘Great European Powers’. They prided themselves on their cultural achievements and claimed to have a civilising effect on the world through their Empires. Nine distinguished Cambridge academics wrote to The Times on the eve of the outbreak of the war, ‘We regard Germany as a nation leading the way in Arts and Sciences, and we have all learnt and are learning from German scholars. War upon her in the interests of Serbia and Russia will be a sin against civilisation.’ But it was precisely that nation that was bent on plunging Europe into war by first invading Belgium and then France. Kaiser Wilhelm II was an advocate of ‘social Darwinism’. He believed that large, wealthy, and ‘fit' nations should dominate the ‘less fit' races of their colonies. Not content with that, he also wanted Germany to dominate the continent of Europe. Being a nation that ‘led the way in Arts and Sciences’ didn't prevent Germany from recklessly provoking global conflict. Despite the undoubted cultural achievements of the human race, we do not have the answer to the problem of sin that has disfigured human history. Margaret Thatcher once wrote,
For years when I was young and in politics with all my hopes and dreams and ambitions, it seemed to me and to many of my contemporaries that if we got an age where we had good housing, good education, a reasonable standard of living, then everything would be set and we should have a fair and much easier future. We now know that this is not so. We are up against the real problems of human nature. Why is it that we have child cruelty in this age? Why is it that we have animal cruelty? Why is it that we have violence?... Why is it that people take to terrorism? Why is it the people take to drugs? These are much, much more difficult problems.... Why, when you have got everything, do some people turn to those things which undermine the whole of civilisation? 
Why indeed? We have no answer to that question.  

Only God has the answer to the problem of human sin

Famously on Christmas Day 1914, hostilities between the British and German forces ceased. The troops conducted a football match in 'No Man’s Land'. It seemed somehow appropriate that the guns should fall silent on Christmas Day. Hadn't a multitude of angels announced the Saviour's birth saying, 'on earth peace, goodwill to all men'? (Luke 2:14). Battle recommenced next day, giving a hollow ring to those words. But the Bible did not promise that following Jesus’ birth never again would a saber be rattled, or shot fired in anger. Jesus didn't come to generate some kind of general spirit of goodwill by telling people to be nice to each other. Judged by that standard his mission failure. No, Jesus said, that wars would continue until the end of time, Mat 24:6.

Christ came to bring a different kind of peace, peace with God, John 14:27. His peace would not be 'as the world gives you'. That is, a mere cessation of hostilities. Thank God that the European nations are no longer at war! But that is partly due to the advent of nuclear missiles making war between what remains of the 'Great Powers' unthinkable and partly due to the economic self-interest of European nations being served by the EU. It doesn't mean that a spirit of harmony and brotherhood now reigns, as the constant rows in the EU testify.

WWI only ended because Allied soldiers fought and died for their country. They "gave their tomorrows for our today". We rightly honour their sacrifice and remember them with gratitude. Our Chapel War Memorial carries the words, "Their lives laid down so others might have life." The men whose name are inscribed in than simple monument made the ultimate sacrifice. What a terrible price was paid by that generation to preserve our way of life. Rev Prince William and Amy Beechy lost five sons to the Great War. Amy Beechey was presented to King George V and Queen Mary who thanked her for her immense sacrifice. She responded. "It was no sacrifice, Ma'am, I did not give them willingly."

It required a great sacrifice for us to be reconciled to God. Though Jesus God entered our world of suffering and pain as man. He came however, not simply to sympathise with us in our wretchedness, but to save us. Jesus willingly sacrificed himself, laying down his life for our sins upon the cross. The most tragic thing about sin  is not that it causes alienation and war between nations, but that it alienates us from our Maker. Jesus died to put us right with God. That was the measure of his love for us, John 15:13. His death satisfied the demands of God's justice that we may be reconciled to him, Romans 5:1. By his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of evil and darkness. Christ gave his life not simply for out tomorrows, but for our eternity.

The Lord Jesus will return as the Prince of Peace to finally conquer evil and bring an end to suffering and war, Isaiah 2:4. If there is no God we cannot be certain that good will triumph over evil. But the good news of Jesus fills us with hope that love and peace will win out in the end, John 14:27, 16:33. The gospel calls us to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Crown him the Lord of Peace! Psalm 46:8-10.

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