Whenever we read or hear about war in the news, we shouldn’t ignore its terrifying realities. War results in the taking of human lives by other human beings. The soldier dying in the battlefield is killed by a person who never knew him personally. Civilians are killed because they live in a place where soldiers drop bombs. Wars also result in long-term damage to homes, cities, and economies. American soldiers and Vietnamese citizens still suffer the effects of Agent Orange.
I am a spectator when it comes to war. I can watch graphic documentaries or listen to a disabled veteran tell his story, but I will never appreciate the full impact of war. However, recognizing its horrific consequences can change the way I read history or a newspaper.
Such awareness can also affect the way I read the Bible. There we read of wars being used as instruments of God’s judgment on people who oppressed weaker nations and practiced unrestrained forms of paganism that involved such things as child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 13:12-17). We also read of wars being used as tools to accomplish God’s overall redemptive purposes. The Old Testament narrative tells the story of how God replaced wicked nations with a holy nation, one that would bless the entire world (Genesis 12:3; Deuteronomy 4:1-8).
The Old Testament rationale for war does not make me cheer when I read about how thousands of men are killed, their wives are taken by Israeli victors, their property is destroyed and entire nations are either obliterated or displaced. These are somber realities of war. Even if we consider wars to be just and necessary, they still lead to unmitigated suffering.
This includes the Biblical ones.