War: When Not to Turn the Other Cheek

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,


Jesus said, “Resist not evil”, turn the other cheek” and other similar pacifist type sayings. But yet, we in America continue to support and fight in what we call “Just Wars”. How does one reconcile Jesus sayings as an individual/nation in defense against genocide or terrorism? Some have suggested there is one standard for individuals, while there is another standard for “Government”. And what role does the Christian church play in support of a “Just War’? Are we fighting a modern day crusade?

Sincerely, Jim


Dear Jim,

Many years ago, a man standing beside me on the harbor pier in Thessaloniki confessed, “I just killed a man.”

“Excuse me!”

“I just killed six men.”


His friend broke the silence with one word: “Kosovo”. Immediately I understood. He was an American soldier striving to keep the peace in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict in the early sixties. The Serbs (Orthodox Christians), Croats (Catholics) and ethnic Albanians (Muslims) were decimating each other at will. Finally the Serbs gained the upper hand and proceeded to kill over 200,000 Albanians (genocide). Is it not sad that the ones committing genocide were the orthodox Christians?


He began to tell his story. “We knew that the Serbs were using hospitals as protective human shields. It was my job, along with three others to check out this particular hospital. We expected an ambush and got what we feared. We turned a corner and six men jumped out from a hallway on our left. I was better trained and that made the difference. I shot all six and was proclaimed a hero. But, I don’t feel like a hero. I feel like a murderer.

“My commander is recommending me for a medal. He gave me two weeks off for some rest and recovery. Eleven days and I am just as much a wreck as I was when I left.


“My conscience is killing me. I feel that God is angry with me and will make me pay for what I did.”


The soldier was a Christian and I talked with him about God’s forgiveness; but that didn’t seem to help. So, I talked in rational terms. He was doing his job. He saved perhaps hundreds of people by taking those six out of the battle. He ought to be proud of what he’d done. Nothing I said helped. He had been told these things many times already.


Solomon wisely said,

“Rescue those being led away to death;
    hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” Proverbs 24:11 NIV


When we look at the teachings of Jesus we can deduce that He was a pacifist. What else can we conclude.


“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”


“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself?”

The most war-like thing Jesus ever did was to tip over a table.

He never talked about killing the Romans who were murdering thousands of Jews. Never did he talk about joining the army and killing national enemies.


His forerunner, John the Baptist, echoed the same pacifist philosophy of Jesus.


“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Notice, neither John nor Jesus advised anyone to “un-join” the army.


We might describe Jesus’ as saying, “Don’t fight back” except when He says, “Fight Back.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane He instructs Peter to get ready for the days ahead by buying a sword.

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one (Luke 22:35-36).


This is not the first time Jesus mentions using a sword.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

My conclusion is that there is a time to turn the other cheek and a time to fight back.

On the personal level “turning the other cheek” demonstrates the true submission, love and selflessness of Christ followers.

My college friend, Hank, got the living daylights knocked out of him by another student athlete. I saw him at breakfast. His face was purple and black and swollen like a blown-up balloon. He could hardly move his lips.

“What happened to you?”

“I got in a fight during practice.”

“I’d like to see the other guy.”

“Oh, I never hit him. I decided to turn the other cheek. His behavior for Christ was a watershed for many as they contemplated their own commitments as followers of Christ. Here was a man who was willing to live up to the teachings of Jesus even at substantial personal cost.


It is a different matter when the innocent are threatened. David talked about what to do when someone is in trouble and others have the power to intervene, but refuse to do so. He says that God needs to slap these people on both cheeks so to speak.


According to both the Old Testament and the New Testament, some circumstances warrant the just use of force. Exodus 22:2 states that if a man finds a thief in his house at night, killing the thief is an acceptable means of protecting one’s home and property.


In a just war soldiers had better not turn their cheeks. They had best fight to win. After all, bears are in the woods. Someone had to stop Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Heinrich Himmler, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Syria, Iran, the Taliban, the Kilmer Rouge, ISIS, Putin–just to mention a few.


Saint Augustine was the Christian Bishop of Hippo in North Africa in the late 4th and early 5th centuries a.d. Augustine was a pastor-philosopher who developed practical guidelines for determining whether a particular war is just—or not. They are as follows:


1. The Primary Purpose Of A Just War Is To Defend Those Under Attack.

2. In A Just War Vengeance Is Tempered By Justice.

3. There Must Be A Reasonable Prospect Of Victory—Of Achieving The Ends For Which The War Is Fought.

4. The Motives Must Be Pure.

5. The Post-War Attitude Is One Of Mercy.


In my opinion the church has every right to help those who are hunting bears in the woods. We don’t want the church to join hands with bears.


It breaks my heart that world governments have chosen to violate guidelines #3 and #4 relentlessly. We no longer fight wars to win. How sad. We too often fight only for those things in our best interests.


By the way, I now know what I should have done to help the soldier. He didn’t need encouragement, explanations, reasons or justification. Those things come later. What he needed was comfort. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.”


Jim, thanks for the intriguing question. I hope my answer is helpful to you and to others. Ask me some more.

Love, Roger



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