Monday, August 04, 2014

Why does God allow war? (Part 1)

On 28th June 1914 shots rang out in Sarajevo. Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie were gunned down in cold blood while being driven from a reception in the Town Hall. The twenty-year-old assassin was Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslavian nationalist. Like other radicals he was resentful of Austro-Hungarian rule over his country. The Archduke was heir to the Austro-Hungarian Imperial crown. 

The assassination of the Franz Ferdinand was the catalyst for the outbreak of the First World War as the Great Powers of Europe acted to protect their interests and cement their alliances. By the end of that most bloody global conflict around 16 million people lay dead, 888,246 of whom were British or colonial soldiers. War Memorials erected in every city, town and village of the UK testify to the huge loss of life on foreign battlefields. Ten members of Providence Baptist Church lost their lives in the Great War. Our War Memorial records their names:
To the Glory of God and in loving memory of the men
of this church who fell in the Great War 1914-18 
F. H. Daniells - F. H. Noakes
W. Ingram - E. J. Woodward
C. D. Millard - W. G. Noakes
E. J. Grant - A. V. Brown
H. J. Mizen - A. J. Newman  
Their Lives laid down that others might have life 
A sense of foreboding pervaded Europe in the days leading up to the outbreak of WWI, 100 years ago today. Russia mobilised its troops to protect the Serbian Slavs from annihilation at the hands of the Austro-Hungarians as revenge for assassinating their Archduke. Meanwhile Germany and their Austro-Hungarian allies mobilised to attack Serbia, Belgium and France. Britain and France were desperately trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. As a gap lamp lighter went about his business on the streets of London, Foreign Secretary Edward Grey mused, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ 

Some, however were excited by the prospect of war. Winston Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine: ‘My darling One & beautiful – Everything tends towards catastrophe, & collapse. I am interested, geared-up & happy.’ The reality of war was somewhat different, however. Churchill’s ill-conceived military adventure in the Dardanelles left him devastated as his attempt to open up a second front by invading Turkey ended in failure. The First Lord of the Admiralty resigned his post and signed up for military service in the trenches of France in an attempt to atone for his political sins. A member of Providence Baptist Church, Edmund James Grant lost his life at Gallipoli.

WWI saw the introduction of mechanised warfare on a massive scale. It is said that the artillery bombardment of German lines at the outset of the Battle of the Somme could be heard from England. An estimated 200,000 – 400,000 allied soldiers lost their lives amid the mud and blood of Passchendaele. Of that battle a haunting anecdote survives, ‘A party of men passing up to the front line found a man bogged to above the knees. The united efforts of four of them with rifles under his armpits made not the slightest impression, and to dig, even if shovels had been available, was impossible for there was no foothold. Duty compelled them to move on up to the line, and when two days later they passed down that way the wretched man was still there; but only his head was visible and he was raving mad.’

Civilians also came under attack. Around 17,000 British people were killed by German air raids. The atrocities of WWI prompted many to wonder, ‘Where was God in all this?’ To pose the question is to touch on the problem of evil. There are no easy answers to this problem, but we need to be clear on two things. First, the Bible insists that God is good, just and in sovereign control of his world. Second, human beings are responsible for their own actions. God may allow war, but it’s man that does the fighting. We cannot understand why God would willingly permit evil on a small or large scale. Faith seeking understanding may sometimes have to content itself with the fact that God's ways are past finding out.

For some, seeing the horrors of war first hand or through news reports may induce a crisis of faith. What C. S. Lewis experienced as a soldier in in WWI helped convince him that there was no God. The unimaginable cruelty and injustice he witnessed at the Battle of the Somme was enough to snuff out any lingering vestiges of belief. But later he reflected,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I com­paring this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. 

The very problem that caused Lewis to lose his faith helped him to recapture it. Our outrage at the cruelty and injustice that often takes place in war assumes that God exists as the One who takes his stand against evil and barbarity. Apart from his existence the problem of evil makes little sense. If there is no God random stuff happens, both harmful and beneficial. There is no rhyme or reason for it. There is no sense in even asking, 'Why?', as the question implies that there is some higher purpose to life, which there cannot be if there is no God. 

But faith offers no simple answers. We have to be careful it comes to addressing the question, ‘Why does God allow war?' The Lord has not provided us with a running commentary on his purposes in history, Deuteronomy 29:29. But we may perhaps discern his  voice speaking to us through events such as WWI. What may he be saying to us today as we contemplate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War?

To be continued....

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