We’ve already determined that the government has a role within the biblical worldview, both in terms of administering justice and promoting prosperity for it’s citizens. Today, we will examine the government’s role in promoting peace.
The most sound argument from the Bible regarding peace isn’t found in a command directed at the government by Jesus, or a lax application of “Thou Shalt Not Kill” intended for Israel misapplied to the governing authorities. It is found in the non aggression principle.
The non aggression principle is the idea that no person may initiate the use of force against another person.
This principle, while not stated as such in the Scriptures, is implicitly found in the golden rule principle of Luke 6:31:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
While this isn’t a biblical mandate for government, it is what Jesus taught to his followers and we Christ’s followers should seek to apply this teaching – and all the other principles of Jesus’ teaching – to our lives.
Within the context of the passage, there is a further admonition of forgiveness for wrong done against the Christian:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. And from one who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes way your goods do not demand them back. Luke 6:27-30
This is a message not for nations, but people. Government, as we’ve already examined, has been given the duty of maintaining order and ensuring justice for the governed. A government or a nation cannot “love” its enemies as it has no capacity for love. Governments and nations by nature have no souls, and cannot feel or think. But the citizens of a nation and the representatives of government do. It is important that we make this distinction and that we realize that while some national laws are based in biblical teachings and principles (most of the Ten Commandments either indirectly or directly have influenced many of our laws), the majority of our laws appeal to the moral justice of the nation as a whole. Therefore, some crimes require punishment for theft, for assault and for other actions that harm or endanger its citizens and cannot simply be forgiven by the state. For Americans, the Constitution is the guide by which our nation lives and breathes and as such, our obedience to our governing authorities pre-supposes a greater obedience to the rule of law established by the moral code that our particular nation holds to as it’s fundamental doctrine.
Furthermore, as we discussed earlier, the breadth of Jesus’ ministry and message on earth was directed toward individuals, not to collectivist groups, not to the authorities in government and not to the nation where he retained his citizenship. Jesus spoke of the acts that Christian individuals should do to and for each other, for their families and for their neighbors. We must take Jesus’ words into account, but we also must remember that Jesus’ concerns were for the kingdom of God, not for the nation of Israel as a political establishment. Therefore, quoting Jesus’ words as the foundation for one’s political position is a misunderstanding and/or misapplication of the purpose of his life on earth.
That said, Jesus teachings and principles absolutely do matter for the individual, regardless of nation, culture or political system. As an individual citizen in American, one might have protection against the “cloak theft” Luke 6, however, it is possible for the Christian individual to choose to not retaliate and instead, choose to forgive or choose a different method of establishing order after being wronged as a way of emulating Christ. Peace begins and ends with individuals choosing to rise above personal circumstance and undue injustice and learning how to deal with these instances in the most calculated way possible, all the while keeping justice as the focal point for our decisions.
Beyond the biblical case for peace and non-aggression is the reality that there is a practical case to be made for them. Making the right decision isn’t always the simplest solution, but sometimes it is. It is especially so in the case of the non aggression principle. The philosophy of non-aggression is the basis for the most peaceful and most productive world. War may seem inevitable, as George Santayana once eloquently stated, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Yet, the Christian must cling to hope that peace is possible even in our volatile and violent world. The Christian perspective should be one that promotes peace based on the principles of non-aggression and at the very least, supports the principles of just war.
We will examine just war theory in the coming weeks.