Blog - Doing Earthwork
God as WarriorTuesday, March 18, 2014
"I tell you,” said American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, "war is hell.” The idea of God as a "warrior,” then, may seem unbearable. Let’s first strip away all the baggage human history has attached to warfare: injustice, sexual violence, mutilation, and the like. Minus all such overtones, the Bible describes God as a warrior.
"Lord of hosts,” found in many translations, means "Lord of armies” (Jehovah Sabaoth). When David faced Goliath, he did so "in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel,” (I Sam. 17:45). Revelation 12:7-9 even reports "war in heaven” with the devil and his angels being hurled to earth. In 19:11, Jesus Christ "judges and makes war” with justice, and following him are the "armies of heaven” (14).
Why would he "make war”? Evil has invaded what God made "very good.” It has spread destruction, disease, and death everywhere—even enslaving creation itself to decay and causing it to groan (Rom. 8:20-22). Failure to fight such a malicious intruder would in itself be immoral. So God’s holiness opposes evil to the finish. This is one way our working God works.
As in other areas, to those made in his likeness God has delegated work in the likeness of his own work. Romans 13:1-7 says he has made human government "an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” To give that punishment "teeth,” God has put the death-dealing "sword” into the hands of government authorities.
That does not, of course, give any government the right to abuse its power to make war. General Sherman was right. War is the nearest thing to hell on earth. The old debates over the idea of a "just war” continue today. Even if a war meets all the criteria for a just one, many still ask: should Christians serve in the armed forces?
Some soldiers asked John the Baptist to explain what repentance would mean for them. He did not tell them to stop soldiering. Soldiering, like countless other forms of work, can demonstrate our having been made in the likeness of God. If he fights evil, then it follows that among those to whom he gave the task of ruling his earth some would do so as well.
Even though Jesus "makes war,” as already mentioned, he is always the Prince of Peace. The presence of evil in the earth today makes war unavoidable, even for those committed to peace. But with the coming of the kingdom Jesus taught us to pray for, the situation will change dramatically. The prophet Micah describes those days: "Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Mic. 4:3).
Come, Lord Jesus.