Q&R: Doing All We Can To Stop Evil – Brad Jersak
Your Q&R article on whether Jesus-followers should use deadly force was insightful and definitely food for thought. What you suggested is a new paradigm for me. I’ve been slowly seeing its wisdom in regard to war and now also thinking about it on a personal level.
When it comes to war, most people would say we must do all we can to stop evil. For example, Hitler’s reign of terror. What if other nations hadn’t stopped him? People did individual things to help the Jews, yes, but not on a scale that could make a difference. How would you respond?
I completely agree with the premise. We must do all we can to stop evil. In some ways, it’s similar to saying, “We must do all we can to stop cancer.” In the case of cancer, unfortunately, we often don’t do all we can to stop cancer prior to life-saving (we hope) radical surgery. Nearly every death in my family tree was caused by cancer… or rather, those things that lead to cancer. Poor diets, strange additives, high stress, toxic fertilizers, chemicals in the air, too many sunburns, a lot of cigarettes, and so on. Have we done everything we can to prevent cancer? We’ve barely even tried.
Thinking about stopping an evil tyrant like Hitler when he’s already in full-scale blitzkrieg across half of Europe and incinerating Jews by the millions (to name one group) is a little bit like saying, “We should really do something about that cancer” when the tumor has already infected all our organs, tangled with our neurons, and there is a bowling-ball-sized growth in one’s eye socket.
Yes, we should have done everything we could to stop that evil. But we didn’t. We did almost nothing to prevent that evil… and I will get to who I mean by “we” shortly.
By the time the Allied forces felt the need to fire-bomb 100s of thousands of German civilians in cities like Dresden, we knew beyond all doubt that the governments and especially the churches of the world had NOT done all they could to prevent the rise of Naziism. What WOULD “doing everything WE can” have looked like in the case of Hitler?
First, Brian Zahnd reminded me that we have to ask, “Who does “WE” refer to in this sentence?” My audience is not a particular alliance of nations (e.g., the UN or NATO), or a particular government and its armed forces. I am, first of all, calling those who claim the name “Christian” to actually follow the Jesus Way or New Covenant as our framework for engaging the world… including its evils.
That includes the Christians in Canada, America, and yes, Germany, Italy… or today, Ukraine and Russia. WE must do everything WE can to prevent evil. If every Christian in Germany had pledged their allegiance to the New Covenant described in the prophets and the Jesus Way prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount… if they had united themselves to condemn hatred, violence, and militarism, they would not and could not have elected Hitler to begin with. It was Christians who abandoned the Jesus Way to put Hitler in power. They did so because of their resentment toward the injustice and retribution of the Treaty of Versailles (composed by Christians, exploited by Hitler) and their personal antisemitism (justified by the writings of Martin Luther and the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels ).
In other words, foreign nations wouldn’t have needed military bombardment to stop him if the Christians in Hitler’s own nation had not given him the power to lead them into battle. And the same is true of every so-called “Christian nation” that took opposite sides in the European theater in both world wars.
But we know what actually happened. 15-20 million people perished in Europe alone… all by mobilizing Christians who left the Jesus Way to win the war by killing each other. And that will keep happening (and is today). Militarized governments do not and cannot bring peace. So, what I’m arguing for is that we would first overcome evil in ourselves… prevent it in my own heart before it grows in our faith communities and our society, and before we elect strongmen who forecast exactly what they are going to do once they are in power. Or if they do, refuse to participate.
Sadly, we DO see our governments allowing and even sponsoring the growth of cancerous evil until they corner themselves into fighting violence by escalating violence and sacrificing our children in wars that, today, are consistently unwinnable (unless we’re the bully). Imagine investing the same funds into peace that foregoes war that we put into the cancerous war machine!
But in any case, governments do what they do. The question is then, “What do WE do?” And again, who is WE? Me personally. We, as my family? We, as a church? We, as Christians? We, as citizens of a nation? How about WE, as global humans, who just want to see our children live in peace?
Jesus and James are so clear on this: IF you want peace, you must sow peace. And peacemaking isn’t referring to the gory means of ending the latest wars. Peace-building is creating the conditions that prevent anyone’s felt need for war. And that could even work if the 1.2 billion Christians in the world were Jesus-followers who conspired to sow evil-preventing peace instead of resorting to nuclear weapons and cluster bombs and rockets when the cancer has grown so big that we are part of its spread.
None of this is easy. But we know this: the way we’ve done justified violence to overcome evil simply hasn’t worked at all to bring about true and lasting peace. It is time for Christians (at least) to try taking the Jesus Way on a far grander scale. I can’t foresee that, but until then, I must start with me.
Do you have Questions? Check out the many questions and our Christ-centered Responses on PTM’s Q & R page.