My Musings



Theory and practice are hard to reconcile, especially in the realm of war. The phrase “just war” originated with St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), an influential bishop in the fourth century church, in his work The City of God. He believed that war was always the result of sin. Yet, it might be necessary to wage a just war against the forces of evil. He saw God as more anti-evil than anti-war. Therefore, he sought to offer a practical and theological framework for waging a just war and preventing an unjust war.

Conditions for a Just War:

    1. A just war must rise from a proper cause. The objective of a just war is to defend the innocent, punish injustice and/or restore peace. The cause of maintaining peace, for Augustine, was not merely proper, it was an obligation for a leader.

    2. A just war must be waged by the proper authority. Augustine noted Paul’s instruction in Romans 13 about submitting to the God-ordained governing authorities. He wrote, “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

    3. A just war must be waged with just motives, not vindictive motives. This point impacts both the manner of fighting as well as the motives. Cruelty, restlessness, revenge, and lust for domination are all unjust motives. Political motives should not extend beyond peace-keeping protection for the common good.

    4. Unnecessary violence is forbidden. Force can be justified only as a last resort and because no other viable options are perceived. Negotiate first and exhaust all your options for peace.

As centuries passed, other principles for a just war were considered:

    5. A just war demands that there be a reasonable chance of success. Even if the four conditions above are met but losing is a sure thing, then there is no excuse for driving men to their deaths. Human life is too sacred for that.

    6. A just war must be proportional. The harm caused by a just response to evil must not surpass the harm caused by the evil itself. Dropping a nuclear bomb in response to a minor skirmish would not qualify. All is not fair in the name of war.

    7. Non-combatants must never be targeted. In fact, pains must be taken to protect them. Indiscriminate killing of the innocent is prohibited as is using them as human shields.

Questions and Contingencies Remain:

    1. To what degree can we respond to evil when we do not know its source? How do we pull terrorists out of hiding? Should the Geneva Convention apply to a lethal enemy who does not wear a uniform and hides behind innocents?

    2. How far can we go to seek life-saving intelligence? What about covert action, enhanced interrogation or bribery?

    3. When is it just to use pre-emptive force to save lives? Such actions are often based on speculation over threats. How can we assess the reliability of speculation?

    4. Modern technology has complicated just war theory. The potential for mass destruction has increased dramatically. A tiny germ or chemical can do great damage. Can a modern army cross borders with peace-keeping motives to prevent technological progress in a rouge state?

    5. When non-combatants are harmed; is it the fault of those who purposely use civilians as human shields or those who wield the weapon of harm?

    6. If the use of force at home or abroad can be just to stop evil and Christians do serve as policemen or soldiers, how should they handle “gray-area” situations wherein they perceive unjust motives and methods at play?

    7. Does loving our enemy mean we must let them slaughter the innocent?

I hope these thoughts have helped you to approach this vital issue with deeper concern and courage as well as greater humility and wisdom. Certainly, people who differ on just war theory can hate war and love peace with equal conviction. The two worst options, it seems to me, are the simplistic ones:

  • To rush into war presuming that might makes right or that God is always on your side.
  • To sweepingly rule out any or all uses of force in the face of lethal evil, regardless of any or all the real conditions and contingencies listed above.

Photo Credits
Afganistan Soldiers: Featured Photo


About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.

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