I want to preface this discussion by saying that I was once a pacifist. I understand the reasoning. I remember arguing with my pastor, a man much wiser than I, when I was younger that I would refuse to go into the military because I could not reconcile Jesus’ teaching that I should love my enemy and do good to him and then proceed to put a bullet in his head.
When I argued this, I was treating Jesus’ teaching extremely superficially, precisely, because I was ignoring the reference of Jesus’ words, and the reference is the context. To ignore the reference is to ignore the context. The reference in His teaching is the social context, where individuals interact with one another on a daily basis. This is clear in the examples Jesus gives both in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the rest of His teaching, e.g., going the extra mile when someone asks you to do something, giving to someone who asks of you, forgiving someone who wrongs you when he or she asks for forgiveness, etc.
But this is never applied to governmental action. That’s not Christ’s reference here. If it was, then ironically, the teaching that most tout as the greatest moral teaching in the Bible would, in reality, be the most evil teaching one could possibly imagine. Here is why.
To be passive when a victim of a crime is being victimized is to passively participate with the guilty perpetrator in the victimization of the innocent. It is to aid the crime when one could have been an obstacle to it. If you walk by a woman being raped, and you have the power to stop the rape by harming the criminal, and yet, you do nothing because of some principle that doesn’t allow you to harm another, then you have participated in that crime by virtue of your passivity, as that crime could not have been committed unless you allowed it to take place. Again, if you let a murderer, who has come into your house and is going to kill your children, murder your children because of some principle that says you want to love and do good to your enemies, you are participating in the murder of your children by virtue of not doing the good of protecting them.
In fact, what you are actually doing is not loving the victim in order to love the victimizer. You are hating the oppressed in order to love the oppressor. When you allow North Korea to nuke Washington because you don’t want to do harm to your enemies, supposedly, because of what Jesus’ taught, you are loving murderers and hating the murdered.
That’s why when you apply Jesus’ words out of context, you end up perpetrating the greatest of evils. You become fathers and mothers who participate in the murder of their children, citizens who participate in the rape of other innocents, presidents who participate in the mass murder of their own country.
Passivism is evil. It’s not just one amongst many Christian opinions. It’s evil. It isn’t Christian at all. I think when the mass murder of our country occurs, we ought to string up the guy who pushed the button and the guy who argued we should do nothing to stop the guy who pushes the button. They are one. They are both guilty of a treacherous crime. They have betrayed all of those who have been placed under their care in order to coddle those who would murder those under their care. Passivism is evil.
But, ironically, this isn’t what Jesus is teaching. As I said before, He is teaching His people to love others within the community in terms in their social interaction with others. He is teaching them to forgive others when others ask for forgiveness, to do more for others than expected, to good works before men that they might glorify their Father who is in heaven. He is teaching them to make friends with their opponent at law (i.e., fellow member of the community with whom a legal dispute has broken out). He is teaching them to not participate in vendettas and to seek vengeance for personal wrongs committed against them.
But He is not teaching them to shun their roles of responsibility in terms of government of their families, fellow members of the community, and positions of power that are given for the loving protection of those people groups. To do so, would be to argue that one should not love his neighbor, but instead his enemy. That’s not what Jesus taught His people. He taught them to love their neighbor and their enemy, and one can only do this in a non-governmental context. Otherwise, one must choose between loving his neighbor or loving his enemy, and this is a choice that Jesus does not tell us to make.
Instead, Christ tells us, when speaking to Pilate, that governments are given by God. The Spirit of Christ through Paul tells us that governments are given the sword for a reason. They are to be a guardian over the people with violence so that criminals are afraid to do evil. God sets up His government in the Old Testament that does just that, and Christ did not come to annul even the smallest bit of those moral principles upon which that government was based (especially in terms of the creation principle that sought to preserve His people from chaotic elements and agents).
But what is more than this is that passivism is contrary to the actions of God in His governing role. If it is evil to bring harm to your enemies, then is it evil for God to bring harm to His enemies? Jesus tells us that, whatever He means by “love your enemies,” it’s what God does. He causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Hence, if passivism were true, and governing roles must be passive in the protection of others, then God must be passive as well, since the example of Christ’s teaching is God Himself.
What this means is that, not only can there be no hell for wicked men, not only can there be no hell for the devil and his angels, there can be no restriction of them and their evil deeds that uses force (which presupposes the threat of harm) either now or in eternity, as this would be to contradict that passivism is consistent with what God does.
But if the love of our enemies refers to doing good to them where we can, in those spheres of love that do not exclude the necessary harm that must be imposed to protect our neighbors from their evil, then this is consistent with what God does in His common grace toward all men and with the responsibility to which He calls His people to love their neighbors.
In other words, what if the good Samaritan were to have gotten to the victim of the robbers’ brutal beating before or while the robbers were beating him? Would not his love for his neighbor demand governmental action that sought to deliver his neighbor from harm by inflicting harm, or the threat of harm, upon the criminals? Yet, if he had met those criminals in the market place, when they were not friendly, yet still not harming others, perhaps Jesus’ words would call us to do good to them in some way. In so far as it’s up to you, be at peace with all men. If their actions do not allow for peace, but instead call for governmental action that threatens or causes harm in order to prevent their present or future harm to the innocent, then love for our neighbor would call us to harm them or force them through the threat of harm. Indeed, many times evil calls for its own destruction in its threat of the innocent, and government is to answer that call in its protection of the innocent.
To apply this obvious truth to a biblical controversy: In light of this, what are we to make of these superficial arguments that pit the governmental actions of Israelite theocracy with the words of Jesus here in the Sermon on the Mount that very clearly, in light of the immediate and extended contexts and logic itself, refer to individual social action that does not include the responsibilities of government (familial, communal, or national)?
Answer: Ignore them for being what they are, bad exegesis and bad logic. Putting the words of Jesus in a parallel column with the words of God to destroy the Canaanites for their past, present, and future crimes, for the harm they would bring to present Israel, the people under God’s governmental responsibility, and for the harm they would bring to future Israel, is nothing short of irresponsible and sloppy scholarship.
But, as I have argued above what is self-evident, if passivism is evil, then one cannot argue that God, or the representation of God, is evil for not fulfilling it in the OT. In fact, to not have protected His people from harm by inflicting harm, to not destroy in order to prevent the destruction of His people, would have been evil, and contrary to the teaching espoused from Old Testament to New that commands one to love His neighbor/brother.
What God does in the OT are governmental actions, not individual social interactions; and as such, the two are not in conflict. To pretend that they are is to mix categories and end up with the most evil teaching in the Bible: loving your enemy by hating your neighbor, loving your enemy by betraying your wife, child, friend, brother, community, and/or country.
I can think of no doctrine more evil than this one. Luckily for us, Jesus never taught it.