Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

In the Western world, we have a very specific idea about what slavery is. We will either link it to the African slave trade that plagued our nation up until the 1860s, or compare it to the cruel sex slavery that’s still going on all over the world. However, I think it is important to note that while the Bible does condone slavery, it is a different kind of slavery than you and I are used to thinking about. I want to lay out just a few of the details from Scripture to paint a picture of what slavery looked like in ancient Israel, and then I would like to respond to some charges from skeptics that the kind of slavery the Bible allowed was as oppressive and dehumanizing as the slavery that took place in the United States.
 
Slavery in Old Testament times was quite different from American slavery up until the 1860s. In ancient Israel, slaves were acquired either from Israelites who had failed to pay their debts so sold themselves into slavery to regain financial freedom again, or from other nations, generally taken after war. It was forbidden, however, to kidnap men and sell them as slaves under penalty of death. Hebrew slaves were freed after 6 years (their masters were also ordered to provide them with enough financial security to start their lives over in Deuteronomy 15:12-18), or on the Jubilee which happened every 50 years, though foreign slaves could remain slaves and be passed down through the slave-owner’s family. All slaves, whether Hebrew or foreign, were given the Sabbath day off to rest.
 
There is one law in the Old Testament that anti-Christian website religioustolerance.org has described as:
“[permitting] owners to beat their slaves severely, even to the point of killing them. However, as long as the slave lingered longer than 24 hours before dying of the abuse, the owner was not regarded as having committed a crime, because — after all — the slave was his property.”
 
How well does this description capture the original law?
 
“If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NASB)
 
The Hebrew word translated “remains alive” is amad, and means “he stand.” The NLT translates the clause “if the slave recovers within a day or two” and the HCSB renders it more literally as “if the slave can stand up after a day or two.”

Whether one takes the view that the slave is dead after a couple days or is simply not yet capable of working, the message is roughly the same: slavery was a social institution which allowed for people to buy themselves out of debt. Israel had incredibly progressive slavery codes for the time, allowing slaves to run away to safety from oppressive masters and demanding they be released at set times, even if they hadn’t paid back their debt completely. Later in the chapter (vs. 26-27), it is even noted that if a master struck a slave enough to knock out a tooth or damage his eye, that slave must go free. But since labor was necessary to pay back the debt, that labor had to be enforced. If the master used force to kill, that was unacceptable and he should be put to death. But if he used minimal force to make sure the slave worked to pay back his debt, there would be no penalty of death. The verse was therefore either saying that if he killed the slave on accident, the death penalty couldn’t be enforced (there was no death penalty for accidental manslaughter in Israel), or else it was saying that force against a disobedient slave was acceptable, but just not deadly force. This would change how we might understand the verse to something like, “if a man purposefully hits his slave so that he dies, the slave will be avenged. But if it was an accident, he will not be avenged because it is not against the law to chastise a disobedient slave, nor is it a capital offense to kill someone on accident.”

 
Some may accuse me of “reading into the text,” however, I don’t believe I am guilty of doing this. The laws of ancient Israel are not formulated like ours are. They show principles by giving examples, whereas we are much more specific in giving our laws. Because of this, we may come across a law in the Bible which forbids a man from taking both the eggs from a nest and eating the mother of the chicks, and totally misunderstand why such a law would be written. That is because this command is not a PRINCIPLE of morality, but an EXAMPLE of it– do not destroy the environment around you, but take what you need to survive. We may also note the command to establish a fence around one’s roof. Because people would often climb onto the roof to escape the heat of the house, a fence would be a way to protect people from falling and being hurt. This law does not only command that we build fences on our roofs, but that we secure our homes to protect our families and friends. To pull ONLY the words from these two texts and ignore the principles behind them would be to ignore the purpose behind what the author is writing. The same goes for the above verses on slavery. While it is accurate to say, “this passage says it’s okay to kill your slave if they die a few days later,” it completely misses the point of why the law was given. I am not reading into the text by discerning purpose, but attempting to handle the text according to why the author wrote it. It is the skeptic who refuses interpretation who is handling the text inappropriately (the examples I used are from Deuteronomy 22).
 
It is of course noteworthy that the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt and had been killed and abused. They themselves supported this law, which on one hand argued that it was okay to use force against a lazy or disobedient slave, while also supporting the other part of the law which argued that slave-owners who purposefully killed their slaves must be paid back for their sin. Furthermore, only a few verses later we see another law related to slavery which gives us a look into the heart of the same author who wrote the first:
“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.” (Exodus 21:26-27)
 
This passage gives us irrefutable proof that the author of Exodus is concerned for the rights of slaves in ancient Israel. Not only is the kind of strike intended to kill a slave forbidden, but even a strike hard enough to knock out a tooth is forbidden. Using this kind of force against your slave would result in his automatic freedom. This seems to give strength to the above interpretation of verses 20-21 which argues that the main concern in view is protecting slaves from unnecessary violence, while still giving the slave-owner the right to discipline disobedient slaves who are benefiting from their master’s financial support (through food, clothing, shelter, etc.) but refuse to earn it. Similarly (though not the same circumstances), a disobedient child could be punished via the “rod,” and parents were actually explicitly encouraged to do so when the situation called for it (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15).
 
Not only were the rights to life and a non-abusive master extended to slaves, but the slave whose master was harsh and dangerous had the right to run away!
 
“You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.” Deuteronomy 23:15-16
 
I think a clearer picture is emerging of what slavery looked like under ancient Israel (that is, if it was indeed following the Laws which God had given them). It was considered a necessary institution by society, but God placed laws on His people with the result that those those who fell into slavery were being treated with dignity and respect, as human beings just like their masters.
 
“The most astonishingly unique slave law in the Old Testament is the law of asylum in Deuteronomy 23:15-16. Runaway slaves, far from being punished or sent back, were to be given freedom of residence in a village of their choice. The universal law of the rest of contemporary societies (as indeed of modern societies before slavery was abolished) not only punished runaway slaves but also laid severe penalties on anyone who gave them refuge. Israel’s law was the diametrical opposite, on of the most countercultural pieces of Old Testament legislation to be found. Israel’s law not only allowed runaway slaves freedom; it went beyond that and commanded their protection.”
(p. 336, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Christopher J. H. Wright)
 
So yes, the Bible does not condemn the practice of slavery per se, though it would have an awful lot to say those who supported the African slave trade and much of the slave trade all over the world today. The Bible, as opposed to the godless institutions of slavery we have encouraged, supports the idea that slaves are human beings like their masters with rights to life and fair treatment, whether Hebrew or foreign, and allowed for abused slaves to run from their masters if they saw fit. It was a social practice that God allowed, though biblical principles such as the equality of all men (Acts 17:26, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6, Ephesians 6:5-9, James 2:1-9, Philemon) would in time overturn it.

The Christian Response to Sinners

“I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
Romans 1:14-17
“Think of a cultured despiser of the Gospel… They hear the Gospel and like the Greeks, they say, ‘foolishness.’ Now, in our day, in America , our conservative lifestyle and our biblical orientation is in danger of being so politicized that our fundamental response to people like that is disdain, not debt. Test yourself right now. You watch the television, you look at political speeches, you walk the university campus and see how some may be dressed or whatever, and rising up out of your heart is not the feeling, ‘I owe them grace,’ but, ‘yuck…’ That’s not Romans. That’s not the Bible. If you come to the world with one colossal, well-argued ‘yuck’ upon your house, you won’t win anybody to Jesus.”
-John Piper, in the sermon “Not Ashamed of the Gospel” (06/14/98)

A Question on Killing for Pro-life/Pro-war Christians

We’ve seen in the news a handful of times where an abortion doctor is murdered. Pro-life/pro-war Christians are always quick to say that killing an abortionist is shameful, but I struggle to understand why. If these Christians can justify killing in self-defense, in the defense of others, or in war, why shouldn’t we be killing abortion doctors? They’re murderers of the worst kind. Do we simply shun killing them because we are required to obey the laws, as Peter and Paul commanded? Or do we shun these actions because we view them simply as impractical and giving Christians a bad name, though not evil in themselves?

If so, then what about men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who is considered a Christian hero because he was involved in a secret plot to assassinate Hitler? If we can call Bonhoeffer a hero when he broke the law and attempted to murder a killer, why shouldn’t we consider a man like Paul Hill who chose to murder abortionists to be a hero also? I believe that Christ has called Christians to shun violence, so I have my answer, and while I consider a man like Bonhoeffer to be a giant of the faith, I consider his choice to be involved in assassinating Hitler to be unheroic and unchristian.

How would pro-war Christians respond to this question?

Some Arguing for “a Man’s Right to Bruise”

Cody Cook
Black Box Press

Cincinnati, OH– A legal battle to defend “wife correction” (or as its detractors call it, “wife beating”) has reached the United States Supreme Court, and surprisingly it has found a lot of support.

Stephen Gates, a proponent for wife correction, had this to say: “if wife correction is illegal, then men who correct their wives will be made into lawbreakers. We should tear down any laws limiting this practice. I think that we should trust men to know when they can make the decision to inflict pain on their wives, and believe that they will know when it will be for the good of themselves and their chattel– er, spouse.”

Gates proposal not only extends to repealing all “wife correction” laws, but also for the allowance of new facilities where husbands can “safely” correct their wives with the help of experts.

“We should not only make wife correction totally legal, but also provide safe facilities for husbands to do so. Husbands who physically correct their wives at home could be hit with a frying pan or stabbed with a steak knife if their wives don’t accept the correction. This is very dangerous. We need to provide a safe environment for husbands who take on the very difficult decision to beat their spouse,” Gates said.

Those who are against “wife correction” have argued that “safe wife beating” is a ridiculous concept because violating a woman’s physical well-being can never be “safe,” and that we shouldn’t make it easier for men to abuse their wives.

“Just because a man gets hurt trying to inflict pain on his wife, that shouldn’t move us to offer him protection and allow him to keep doing this grave injustice to women,” said Sen. Susan Ruth (D-NY) Monday during a congressional hearing on this issue.

I asked Graves what he thought about Ruth’s statement that, “as fellow human beings, women have the right to be protected from physical harm.”

Gates gave the typical pro-correction response: “Well that’s because she’s a woman, isn’t it? Why should I let women tell me what I can do with my property? Susan wants to make this all about a woman’s right to protection from harm, but let’s not forget that a woman belongs to her husband and that it’s arrogant for her, some senator in Washington, to tell men what they can and can’t do with what belongs to them.”

I attempted to interview Sen. Susan Ruth to get more of her side of this debate, but she was unavailable due to a scheduling conflict– she was speaking at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.

What Should Christians Do About the Hitlers of the World?

I have a bad tendency to pick up a book, read aways into it, and then get distracted and not finish it. Today, I picked up my forgotten copy of “What About Hitler?” by Robert W. Brimlow, determined to finish it.

After laying out the case that Jesus calls us to non-violence, and that a Christian cannot logically get around this difficulty, Brimlow finally (near the end of the book, in a very short chapter) tells the reader what Christians should do about the kind of evil which Hitler represents:
“We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may also mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die. That’s it” (p. 151).
While I would have enjoyed more elaboration on how we can be Christian peacemakers and still be capable of defeating evil via a Christian peace policy, I thoroughly enjoyed this answer. He’s right. As difficult as it might be, we can’t turn our backs on Christ and what He has called us to. If we would dare to implement Christian peace practice into foreign policy (since war has had a dubious effect on fixing the world’s problems), I wonder what kind of change we might evoke. On the other hand, if this fails (from a secular perspective) just as war has failed, we must prepare to die and let God handle the consequences.
If I can say one thing about being a Christian pacifist, it has forced me to examine my faith and trust in God. I have become a better Christian in all areas of my life because of this. God is in control.

I Respond to Sam’s Comments on My View of Hell, Part 1

Oh, it’s on! Online blog debate about hell with my friend and nemesis, Sam. Here is the order of the debate, for those who might be interested in keeping up…

1. My Blog, “Is God Wrathful by Nature?”
2. Sam’s First Blog in Response

In a recent blog I posted (Is God Wrathful by Nature?) my good friend and theological nemesis Sam debated a few of the points I had made and attempted to correct what he saw as a mischaracterization of his position. I suggested that we go back on forth via blog on the subject of hell, where I would argue for a hell which is not eternal, and he would argue for one that is. He recently responded to this challenge.

He mainly went after a statement I had made in our “comment battle” on my “Is God Wrathful” post. Sam stated that because God is infinite, sin against Him must have infinite consequences, and one part of my response was stating that man is not infinite but depends on God, so eternal punishment does not necessarily follow.

He viewed my argument as being man-centered instead of centered around God, creating unbalance. He quoted me as saying, “Just because God is infinite, why would the sin against Him deserve infinite punishment? After all, it is committed by finite agents which have no immortality in and of themselves, and depend on Christ for their continued existence.” I went on to talk about how Scripture seems to argue that God’s wrath does in fact have an end. However, I think I wasn’t entirely clear about what my argument was. I wasn’t attempting to make a man-centered argument against Sam’s God-centered one, but was pointing out certain assumptions Sam was making and asking him why they were necessary. In the next paragraph, I will try to demonstrate the flow of argument that I was attempting to share with Sam:

While annihilation does satisfy eternal consequences for sin (final and eternal death is an infinite consequence), the idea that the punishment must be infinite and conscious because God is infinite does not necessarily follow. After all, man is not inherently infinite but Scripture points out that we depend on God (and more specifically Christ) for our continued existence (2 Tim 1:10, Rom 2:7). If man does not have infinity, why should he have to suffer through it’s duration? Sinful man would only be made to suffer eternally if God sustained Him. God would only sustain the damned person if Sam’s view that a sin deserves conscious eternal punishment was true. But why should we believe this? As I pointed out in our comment battle:
“Isaiah 40:2 seems to say that a person can be punished by God double for their sins, and only during one lifetime. While this is certainly a figure of speech, it points to the fact that there is an end to God’s wrath. I think it would be silly to say that God punishes on both a temporal time scale that can be satisfied and on an infinite one that cannot for the same sin. I say with Isaiah: ‘The heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever” (Isaiah 51:6).'”

Furthermore, Sam’s view has another major flaw. Jesus is clear that there are degrees of punishment for sin (Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, Matthew 18:34), and yet Sam says that sin deserves eternal conscious torment because God is infinite. However, if it takes infinity to suffer for sin, there can be no degrees of punishment. One would have to suffer infinitely all the time to accomodate God’s wrath. Thus, the traditionalist who argues this point consistently has to throw away portions of Scripture. The argument that sin must be punished infinitely and consciously is illogical in the light of Scripture.

Sam also makes two other points I would like to address.

Sam asked, “Why does God not let the wicked into heaven after they have paid for their sins, which only incurred a finite penalty? As James White pointed out, after [their] punishment for their finite sins, they have made propitiation. Why does God then annihilate them?”

I actually heard Dr. White make this point on his podcast recently on reflecting about a debate he had with Roger Forster on Unbelievable radio. He asserts that Forster was unable to satisfactorily answer this question. I haven’t heard the debate, so I can’t attest to that. However, I think the Bible does shed some light on this issue.

We read in Romans that the wages of sin is death (the same message is in the first few chapters of Genesis, although the serpent seems to argue that one can live perpetually as a god even after sin). Because the wages of sin is death, we can say that, in other words, the penalty for sin is annihilation. However, it would hardly be fair to God’s justice if both great and little sinners suffered the exact same fate, so additional punishment is tacked on, as Jesus says in Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, and Matthew 18:34. Once this additional punishment has been undergone, the final sentence of spiritual death (annihilation) can be given, where the sinner has “paid the last penny” (Mat 5:26) and paid back “all he owed” (Mat 18:34) to God. So, White’s understanding of annihilation has this flaw, but not the position itself.

Sam also accuses me of equivocation, and I believe that he isn’t doing so unfairly, though I would like to explain what I mean by the term “eternal” which the Scripture uses. Here is what Sam had to say:
“Verses that speak of eternal life in Cody’s view refer to eternal life. Those same terms that refer to eternal punishment means a cessation of existence that lasts an eternity. He must add additional premises to account for this, and thus violates Occam’s razor.”

The Scripture which parallels the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” is Matthew 25:46–
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (ESV).

The fact that I can get two opposites from the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” appears to be an equivocation (using one term to mean two different things). However, I would like to explain why I do so.

First of all, Matthew 25 is not in a vacuum. The whole of Scripture is inspired, and carries the same message throughout. Sometimes a verse might seem to support one thing, but a clearer Scripture can help to clarify its meaning. I cite numerous passages in my main argument for conditional immortality (click here to read) and feel that the main thrust of the Bible supports my view. This would be one of the few verses that appear at first look to be a “problem verse” for my position.

Second of all, the language Matthew is written in is Greek, not English. So it is important to examine the Greek words used and their range of meaning. For instance, the Greek word for “eternal” is used in Jude verse 7 to say that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered an “eternal fire.” It is obvious that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning, so we can see a clear example where “eternal” refers to the consequences of the fire, and not the fire itself (see also Isaiah 34:9-10). On the contrary, 2 Peter 2:6 clarifies for us exactly what Jude is saying:
“by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”

So eternal can refer to the consequences of a thing as opposed to the thing itself. Thus, the punishment can have eternal consequences (or for that matter, be eternal itself if the punishment is death) and still support my position. I acknowledge that this verse can be tricky for my position, but I can throw out countless others which would be tricky for Sam’s. The question is, what does the entirety of Scripture say? I believe that the entirety of Scripture points to the destruction of sinners and the salvation and redemption of the elect.

Is God Wrathful by Nature?

I recently had a discussion with my friend Sam about hell and my view of annihilationism (click here to read a summation and points in favor of this view). One of the points he brought up was that if sinners could be totally destroyed, that would seem to stop God from ever being wrathful again, which would make Him “mutable” or able to be affected and changed by outside forces. The problem with this is that God by definition is unchanging and “immutable.”

This reminds me of a lecture I heard from a Sufi Muslim on the Fall of Adam (which can be found at Islamfrominside.com). In this lecture, it is said that Allah desired for Adam to fall, because then Adam could know the names of Allah as it relates to his wrath (Adam had experienced Allah’s mercy in the Garden, but he could not fully know Allah until he knew his wrath).

I think the difficulty with both of these perspectives is that they assume that God is by necessity wrathful. It seems to me that God is not. After all, in the beginning when there was no evil, God had no need to display His wrath and nothing to display it against. It was when satan and mankind fell that God began to show this. Does it make God mutable that He responded to mankind’s sin with His wrath?

Certainly not, because wrath is not a central characteristic of God. If it were, then it’s appearance after sin would be dependent upon man’s actions, making God mutable (as would it subsiding if sinners could be finally destroyed). As Sam and I continued to talk, we agreed that it is holiness and perfection (not wrath) that are central to who God is. God’s holiness is always central to who He is, and wrath is only a manifestation of this attribute when God’s creation acts against Him and His goodness. If God has to be wrathful, that would indicate that there has to be evil, which is contrary to what Christians believe about God, because He existed before all things and is completely good, with no evil in Him.

Now that I have established that God is necessarily holy, but not necessarily wrathful, I ask this question:
Eternal wrath requires that there be something to always punish. However, God is not eternally wrathful, though He is eternally holy and perfect.

So, does eternal holiness and perfection require that sin continue to exist forever so that it can be punished, or does holiness destroy sin from its presence? Be sure to ask Nadab and Abihu the next time you see them.

A Response to Open-Theism

There is a view in evangelical Christianity called Open Theism. It posits that God does not know the future for one of two reasons: Either the future is unknowable to God because it hasn’t happened yet, or it is knowable to God but He has decided to limit His knowledge. My good friend Sam has written a blog on this subject also (click here to see it), in which he deals with the issue from a more philosophical perspective, and specifically attacks the view that the future is unknowable. I encourage everyone to read his thoughts on this issue as well, because he considers points about this view that I don’t. I hope to make one philosophical argument, one argument from end times prophecy, and then show some supporting Scriptures for the traditional view. I want to argue from Scripture that God does in fact know the future clearly. If scripture clearly teaches this doctrine, then Open Theists are arguing against scripture, which is the only common ground Christians have to argue from.

Much of this debate is centered around free will. There is a poor philosophical argument which states that in order for God to know the future, He must be determining it, which would make humans into robots who don’t have any choice in what their actions are. I believe that Open Theists believe this philosophical argument is valid, and so they undercut God’s knowledge in order to save free will. While I can sympathize with their desire to save the Biblical doctrine of free will, their response has done damage to the truth of God’s nature.
God’s Timelessness and Free Will

God created the universe (which is organized by time), so He can interact in time, which only applies to the created universe. Being omnipresent (everywhere), He surely does interact in time. However, He existed before time and before the universe, so He may also look at the universe from outside of it. So while humans feel like they interact with the universe in what philosophers call an A view of time (time moves forward, opening new and unknown possibilities as the future becomes the present), God looks at time, and time is in fact is consistent with, B view, where time is like a yardstick. God can see the beginning from the end, just as we can see the beginning and end of the yardstick and discern them. Just because He knows what we will do doesn’t mean He has fated us to do it. It only means that He is standing at a unique vantage point from which He can see much more than we can. In this respect, God is like the man who is standing on a mountain and can see two cars coming up the opposite sides of a hill (I believe this analogy or one like it is used by philosopher William Lane Craig). The drivers cannot see above the hill, so they have no idea what’s coming their way, but the man on the mountain has perfect perspective and knows exactly what will transpire. This does not mean he makes it happen, although he can throw rocks at the cars, altering the drivers’ responses. Likewise, God interacts in time with us, creating new possibilities (see Jeremiah 18:7-8), all of which He is fully aware of, and which He knows the consequences of.
Thus, God can know the future and humans can still be free.
God’s Prophetic Knowledge of the Future

The Bible is filled with countless prophecies from God, which illustrate His knowledge of the future. Now, this might not faze many open theists who would argue that because God is still infinitely intelligent, He understands the probability of anything happening. So, these open theists would argue, God can “know the future” to some degree based on his understanding of probabilities. However, if God can know even up to the final moments of human history with certainty, then He must know the future exhaustively, because one small free will act of any person could have a huge impact on the future. The tiniest event could start a domino effect which could completely change what God has prophesied. So, in order for God to write in His Word exactly what will happen at the end, He would have to have supreme confidence that it would come to pass. Open Theism does not provide God with this confidence. Only God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future could account for these predictions. Some Open Theists who believe God has purposely limited His knowledge might argue that God has opened his knowledge up to the end times. This makes the whole game pretty speculative, and makes the possibility of meaningful exchange with Open Theists to be unlikely, since they would be arguing from silence about what God may or may not know. Secondly, it would put God back in the business of determining events from their perspective, since knowing the end would be determining it, and would also determine the choices of each human individual who have to act a certain way to make the end happen.
Scriptures Which Support God’s Foreknowledge

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
-Psalm 139:16

This verse teaches that even before a human being is born, God knows what will happen in every day of their lives.
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…'”
-Isaiah 46:9-10

This passage tells us that God knows the beginning from the end, predicting with pinpoint accuracy what will transpire. Furthermore, it declares God’s involvement in time, making His will come to pass even as Israel sins against Him, going after false gods.

“Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.'”
-Genesis 15:13-16
 
This last passage tells us much of God’s foreknowledge. He tells Abram to know for certain that his offspring (the people of Israel) will be slaves for 400 years, the nation that enslaved them will be judged, and the Israel will leave with many possessions, taking over the land of the Amorites when God will no longer be able to put up with the Amorites’ sin. He also tells Abram that he will die at an old age. This tells us a lot. God not only knows that Israel will be enslaved, but He knows for exactly how long. Not only does He know that He will judge the Amorites, He knows exactly when they will have become so perverted with sin that He cannot allow them to go on. And even though Abram lived a rough life in a bloodthirsty time, God knew He would live to a great age. God was not dealing with probabilities, but with certainties.

What Would bin Laden Do?

Note: Updated on May 31, 2013 for style and clarity.

It just hit me that I’m posting this blog on Memorial Day. This isn’t on purpose. I respect the sacrifices of soldiers and appreciate their desire to protect their countrymen and their cherished values. My disagreeing with going to war does not indicate that I do not love or respect the troops who go to war. Even so, I believe I am sharing both the truth of reason and revelation when I write on this topic. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your feedback!

For those out there who have been following my blog, you probably understand by now that I am sympathetic to Christian pacifism. I do not feel that the traditional Christian “just war” position is morally or biblically justifiable, let alone can be rationally and consistently held. What I would like to do in this essay is demonstrate three things:
1. Osama bin Laden and the Arab world have good reasons to be angry toward the United States and our foreign policy.
2. We also have good reasons to be angry toward those who have attacked us. Interestingly, many of them are quite similar to the reasons Osama bin Laden has cited. However, our “good reasons” justify going to war in our eyes, even though we dismiss these same “good reasons” when al Qaeda uses them. This is illogical and shows a fatal flaw in the justifications we use for going to war.
3. No “good reason” we may offer is worth cutting off our enemies from the love of Christ, or making war and justifying hatred against them.

What is a “Just War?”

There are several criteria for a “just war,” both in why a war should be declared, and how it should be fought. Here are a few of the main criteria (quoted and adapted from Thomas Aquinas’ section on “The Just War” in his Summa Theologica) for why a war may be undertaken (called “jus ad bellum” criteria) according to just war principles:

1. Legitimate authority. According to Thomas, a war may be just, “In the first place, the authority of the prince, by whose order the war is undertaken; for it does not belong to a private individual to make war, because, in order to obtain justice, he can have recourse to the judgment of his superior…” In other words, only duly constituted public authorities may wage war– a nation can wage war, not just a gang of kids off the street or a terrorist organization, according to this principle.

2. Just cause. According to Thomas, “in the second place, there must be a just cause; that is to say, those attacked must have, by a fault, deserved to be attacked.” Innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. Apart from protecting innocent life, this principle has been expanded to also deal with violations of human rights. Many theorists have also included as part of this rule that any authority which uses its power to stop a people from controlling its own political destiny can justly be made war against. Thus, Hitler’s invasion of nations to bring them under the flag of Nazi Germany was a cause for war based on this definition, as was (arguably), the United States’ recent invasion of Iraq.

3. Right intention. Says Thomas, “in the third place, it is necessary that the intention of those who fight should be right; that is to say, that they propose to themselves a good to be effected or an evil to be avoided. This is what made St. Augustine say in the book De Verbis Domini: ‘With the true servants of God wars themselves are pacific, not being undertaken through cupidity or cruelty, but through the love of peace, with the object of repressing the wicked and encouraging the good.'” Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not. Based on this principle, America invading Iraq to free its citizens from a tyrannical leader, or to stop a madman from launching WMDs, would be the right intention. However, if it could be shown that economic benefit was the true reason, this would not be the right intention, but would be a violation of just war principles.

4. Last resort. Just war theorists succeeding Thomas also added the criteria of last resort. Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. This was a controversy with the recent Iraq invasion, because many claimed that we rushed to war, whereas the administration defended its position by pointing out Hussein’s lack of interest in working with U.N. weapons inspectors up to that point. This was also a controversy in America’s atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

Similarly, there have been traditionally defined basic principles that ought to govern a war once it has been declared (jus in bello). Two of the most prominent just in bello criteria are:

1. Distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants. Thus, bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target or acts of terrorism against ordinary civilians are forbidden in a “just war.” In the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those cities were of military advantage (Hiroshima being an army depot and Nagasaki being a large seaport and also an area of production of military equipment), however, an appalling number of civilians were killed by these bombings. This brings us to the second criteria.

2. Proportionality. Even if an attack is upon a military objective, if the incidental civilian casualties would be in excess of the anticipated military advantage, this would not be an act undertaken as part of a “just war.” Even though the atomic bombings of Japan were clearly targeted against civilians (and the bombing of Hiroshima was not preceded by warning Japanese civilians as previous bombings had been), it was hoped that the extreme casualties accrued in the bombings would be justifiable because they would force Japan into surrender– the greatest “military advantage.” So we see that even though targeting civilians in war is considered highly unethical, we have made allowances for this practice when we felt it was to our benefit, or when we felt that we were forced to do something drastic based on the unjust attacks of others.

Bin Laden’s “Just War”

After 9/11, a common explanation from American leaders as to why al Qaeda did what they did was because “they hate our freedom.” To clear up their justifications, Osama bin Laden wrote a “Letter to America” (full text here) in November of 2002. He directly responded to the question, “why are we fighting and opposing you?” This (edited down for length) was his response:

“Because you attacked us and continue to attack us. You attacked us in Palestine. You attacked us in Somalia; you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon… As for the war criminals which you censure and form criminal courts for – you shamelessly ask that your own are granted immunity!! However, history will not forget the war crimes that you committed against the Muslims and the rest of the world; those you have killed in Japan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq will remain a shame that you will never be able to escape. It will suffice to remind you of your latest war crimes in Afghanistan, in which densely populated innocent civilian villages were destroyed, bombs were dropped on mosques causing the roof of the mosque to come crashing down on the heads of the Muslims praying inside…

Under your supervision, consent and orders, the governments of our countries which act as your agents, attack us on a daily basis… The freedom and democracy that you call to is for yourselves and for white race only; as for the rest of the world, you impose upon them your monstrous, destructive policies and Governments, which you call the ‘American friends’. Yet you prevent them from establishing democracies. When the Islamic party in Algeria wanted to practice democracy and they won the election, you unleashed your agents in the Algerian army onto them, and to attack them with tanks and guns, to imprison them and torture them…

You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of your international influence and military threats. Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures. You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.

These tragedies and calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge. Is it in any way rational to expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, that we will then leave her to live in security and peace?!!”

While many may disagree with bin Laden’s assessment of the difficult and complicated Israeli/Palestinian situation (as well as other political situations he refers to), the position bin Laden advocates is very much in line with the “just war” approach, and even more like the version of it America has advocated. Bin Laden gave reasons for war against America, such as innocent life our military has taken and our government’s political oppression of Arabs, which fall very much in line with the “just cause” principle. As for the principle of right intention, he sought to correct what he perceived as American evils against the Arab world. He was also doing so as a last resort. He felt that America would not listen, but had turned a blind eye to the plight of the Arab people. Thus, he sought a violent means to get our attention.

It is true that al Qaeda is not an officially recognized government, which would exclude it from being considered under just war criteria. However, his very argument was that the United States had oppressed the opportunity for Arab political sovereignty, so that a just war could not be declared. Secondly, even Arab states that might desire to correct these perceived wrongs would not, because the military might of the United States is so that no matter what evils we engaged in, there would hardly be a nation brave enough to fight back. Most importantly, the United States was founded by men who resisted the rightly established political authority, seeking to secede from the power structure and create their own political destiny, even using violence. So the United States must even make an allowance for this, or else we cannot rightly make war according to this criterion.

It is true that bin Laden targeted civilians, but so have we. We did so in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because we felt that Japan would not make for peace with us if we did not act strongly against its people, getting its attention and forcing them to hear our demands for change. And based on the concept of proportionality (that the cost of civilian deaths must be worth the military advantage they bring), it would not be difficult for bin Laden to justify his attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon if he were to appeal to this principle as we have (50,000-60,000 non-combatants killed in Hiroshima compared to 3,000 non-combatants on 9/11). Even so, bin Laden offered an interesting justification for not using the principle of “distinction” when it came to targeting non-military individuals. His rationale was that America is a representative democracy where we claim that the government is instituted for and by the people. Thus, America as a whole must approve of its government’s foreign policy as it relates to the Arab people. According to this concept, American civilians are in fact guilty of our nation’s alleged crimes.

If this modified “just war” view which the Western world (along with the United States) has created, is truly just, then we may not refer to bin Laden’s actions as evil. He is in fact in the same camp with many of our own leaders.

It is also a fact that this letter calls America to Islam and Shariah law as well calling us to change in our foreign policy. Bin Laden demands that these conditions be met for peace, which truly makes him a theocrat who cannot easily be negotiated with, as America cannot rightly enforce Islamic Shariah law. However, his initial reasons for making war with the United States are political and not religious, and many of them are very understandable, though his actually making war cannot be justified from a Christian standpoint.

Conclusion

The reasons bin Laden gave for his attack are very much like the justifications we have used in the past. We went to war against Britain in the 1700s because we felt their political power over us was oppressive. Many lives were lost on both sides due to this battle over the political and economic power that many American people desired and felt was worth going to war for.

In August of 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over 200,000 people (mostly civilians) were killed directly or indirectly (via radiation) by the end of 1945 due to these bombings. In contrast, nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11th of 2001 due to the actions of al Qaeda. Both the actions of Harry Truman and of Osama bin Laden are absolutely, and inarguably, evil.

Jesus has called Christians to a standard that is different from the standards which the world creates. He has asked us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He has asked us to be merciful (Matthew 5:7) and make peace (Matthew 5:9). He has asked us not to fight (Matthew 5:38-39), but to forgive, and that any man who does not forgive the one who sins against him, God will not offer Him forgiveness (Matthew 6:15). We are a part of a new and better Kingdom, and we do not go to war like the soldiers of this kingdom (John 18:36). Instead, we are to be like Christ.
However, instead of asking “What Would Jesus Do?” when it comes to war, Western Christians have been asking, for all intents and purposes, “What Would bin Laden Do?”

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
1 Peter 2:21-23

Is It Illustrative That I’m Worried About Posting This?

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”
– Tony Campolo

Making Jesus the Center.