Russia is mauling Ukraine, a painful sight to watch. What should America do? We instinctively desire justice and want to cry to our leaders, “Send in the troops!” But the answer is not so simple. At the moment, many countries are attempting to help Ukraine through negotiations and compromise or are using economic measures to deter Russia from its war. These countries applaud Ukraine’s defense of its people while attempting to avoid war for themselves. When is it just for a nation to go to war?
Sometimes war is unavoidable because an aggressor violently attacks another country. If so, assuming that negotiations and compromise have failed, a country may justly go to war in an attempt to end with force what violence already exists. This war may be engaged by government sanction and not by individual citizens. In our context, it is the President long with Congress who authorizes our American soldiers into war. In the course of war, taking enemy lives and destroying enemy property should be with the objective of peace, assuming these negatives are worth the peace to be had in the end.
Considering what the Bible has to say, we realize that mankind is sinful (Ps 51:5; Jer 17:9), so sinful that he will murder, and so sinful yet that he sometimes does so with a national army. The church should pray for peace (1 Tim 2:2). When peace is not forthcoming, however, God grants each nation the power of the sword to use lethal force against an aggressive nation that is killing its citizens without cause (Rom 13:3–4; cf. Gen 9:6). As God engaged in just war and will do so again one day (e.g., Num 31; Rev 19), so also a nation may go to war to defend its people. War is not admirable (1 Chr 22:8–9; 28:3; Isa 2:4; Joel 3:10), but sometimes it is necessary.
“Just cause, just intent, and war as the last resort are key criteria that must be met for a war to be just and for a nation to go to war. Limited objective (to restore peace), noncombatant immunity, and proportionality (is the harm inflicted on all proportional to the good done?) are key criteria for determining whether a war, once started, is being waged justly” (Feinberg and Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, p. 661).
Christians should expect to help their nation defend itself as necessary. Just as one should carry out any vocation as unto the Lord (Col 3:23), so also one may defend his nation in just war as an expression of faith in God (Heb 11:33–34; cf. Luke 7:9).
Pray that God would help Ukraine to defend its people, and pray that God would help Ukraine’s allies as they do what they can to end this war as well.
Articles by Pastor Huffstutler are available at davidhuffstutler.com.
The above summarizes arguments from the chapter “The Christian and War: Christian Faith in a Nuclear Age,” pp. 635–96 in John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (2nd ed.; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).