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Having thoughtful Discussions with Older Children About War

With the war in Israel and Ukraine in the news every day, it’s easy to forget about innocent men, women and children who live, or have fled a war zone. Saint Augustine and later Thomas Aquinas formulated and refined what has been called the Just War Theory. They argued that while some wars are morally justified, how they are conducted can be immoral. Therefore they laid down the certain principles that ought to guide Christians whose nation goes to war, even if their enemies do not follow them.

Their task was a challenge. There are Christians who lean heavily on the very teachings of Jesus, “Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek,” and “thou shall not kill,” teachings of the Old Testament that seem incompatible with any form of war, or violence. Then there are those who point to the "take no prisoners," accounts of God ordering the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child as they entered the promised land.

But Augustine argued that God judges the heart. The highest motivation for every act or thought must be love and obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, what is done from love, to bring about justice, must be good. So, what follows is a brief summary of this Just War Theory.

1. Wars must only be fought by a legitimate authority. Individuals or groups of individuals may not declare war. Only governments, which are ordained by God, may do so (Romans 13). There is no private right to kill, except in self-defense.

2. The cause must be just. Wars must be fought to protect the innocent, resist aggression or to support the rights of some oppressed group, never to claim more territory or power. War must advance the good, resist evil, have clear aims and with the ultimate goal of peace and well being for all the citizens, both the conquers and the conquered.

3. War must be used only as a last resort. “Blessed are the peace makers” must be our highest aim.

4. There must be a reasonable chance for success. Going to war and killing of others when the likelihood for success is small, is immoral. Essentially it’s the murder of soldiers for some immoral patriotic or religious ideal.

5. War must be proportional. There must be a balance between the good that war may achieve, versus the harm done. Therefore, one wouldn’t “nuke” a city of a million, because the army of that nation had killed a thousand citizens of another country. That’s “over punishing” your enemy.

6. Every effort must be made to protect innocent citizens. Warring armies must take every reasonable precaution to not injure innocent civilians, or their property. Just going to war without justification on moral grounds, is a sin. Therefore, the burden of proof falls on the nation who intends to go to war.

Do you agree with these criteria? Before you discuss those ideas with your children, apply them to World War II and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did the U.S. go into these wars justly? Does the current “war” in Israel meet most of these tests? If not, which ones?

Go before the Lord for wisdom. Discuss your thoughts with spiritually mature Christians. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. It's a Christian issue and a moral position to take. In no case does the ends, ever justify the means. Then gather your older children together in the next few weeks while what is happening in Israel is front page news and discuss war from God’s perspective. The purpose of this exercise is to make your family aware that there are thoughtful, spiritual Christians who take seriously "Peace on Earth," questions. They should know you are one of them.

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