Master's Thesis - Moral Obligations in the Face of Evil

Christian Moral Obligations in the Face of Evil:
An Orthodox Perspective

by pragerfan


This paper examines what Christians ought to do in the face of evil, from the Orthodox perspective. It begins by defining the problem of evil, and then attempts to establish the moral fact of innocent suffering in a fallen world. The paper then marks out the dimensions of the problem of evil which is caused by human agency. To great evils such as extreme oppression, enslavement, mass murder, and genocide, war is often the only feasible answer, so the paper attempts to build a case for justifiable war. The paper then deals with the moral folly of pacifism, and the interpretation of Holy Scripture, both the New and the Old Testaments, with regards to taking the life of another human being, as a consequence of the death penalty or warfare. It then proceeds to the history of warfare and the Christian Church, and briefly discusses the Byzantine canonists' view of war. Finally, the paper builds the case for the Orthodox just warrior: ultimately, war as a means to stop mass evil may not only be necessary but just, virtuous, and sometimes even obligatory.

Quick Links:
I. The problem of evil, and its theological distinction from sin
II. The problem of innocent suffering
III. Personal sin versus material evil
IV. What does it mean to confront evil?
V. A majestic but flawed translation
VI. The problem with pacifism
VII. War, Jesus, and the New Testament
VIII. War and the Catholic Church
IX. War and the Orthodox Church
X. Defenses of justifiable war
XI. The Protestant tradition — Luther and Calvin
XII. War-fighting as virtuous
XIII. Warfare as a moral obligation
XIV. Conclusion

I. The problem of evil, and its theological distinction from sin

The problem of evil has plagued mankind since the Garden of Eden. What is evil? According to Fairfield University theologian John Thiel, evil can be defined as the destruction of personal life and its life-promoting environments.1 It is reasonable to define evil in this way as our Lord said that, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."2 Christ came not only to save in the soteriological sense, but to give His life for the life of the world. As the Author of life, our Lord stands categorically opposed to death. The Exodus of the Hebrews from the death-loving society of Egypt, whose bible was the Book of the Dead and whose great monuments — the Pyramids — were tombs, foreshadowed our own deliverance from death, sin, and the devil by the resurrection of Christ. No expression of love or faith is possible without, a priori, the existence of life: God is not the God of the dead but of the living.3 However, while biological life is a high value, it is not the highest value, for the very same Author of Life would later appear on earth to lay down His life for us.

The distinction between sin and evil lies in this, that sin is inherent in the nature of man. Sin is the propensity of man to commit evil, and the concomitant manifestations arising from that propensity. Orthodoxy does not admit the western doctrine of original sin; Adam's fall consisted in his disobedience of the will of God, and the consequences of that disobedience extend to all his descendants. Mankind became cut off from God, and passed under the domination of sin, death, and the devil, the "prince of this world." Men live in a world where it is hard to do good and even harder to avoid evil. But a man is no more guilty of Adam's personal sin than he is of the personal sins of his next-door neighbor. What he does share with his neighbor, however, is the fallen state of human nature, brought about by Adam's transgression. Our fallen state is openly manifested in sickness, death, and the devil, i. e. the presence of evil in the world.

As noted at the outset, evil is the destruction of life and its life-promoting environments. As Orthodox, we do not believe that God, as the Author of Life, is a doer of evil. Therefore, evil which is not brought about by human beings nor by God but as a consequence of living in a fallen world, such as floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and so forth, has no discernible moral agency as its cause.4 This presents a thorny problem which for the West calls for theodicy, i.e. the justification of God in the face of evil; however, such a task is beyond the scope of this work: we concern ourselves only with evil committed by human beings.

It can be seen, therefore, that all evil is sin, but not all sin is evil. A man who, for example, steals a candy bar from a convenience store engages in sin, but does not engage in the destruction of life or the destruction of its life-promoting environments. However, the man who commits murder engages both in sin and in evil, as murder is by definition the immoral taking of an innocent life. This distinction is important because in this paper we are chiefly concerned with mass evil rather than sin on a merely venial or personal level.

II. The problem of innocent suffering

Most would agree that innocent suffering not only exists but tragically abounds. If evil is the destruction of life and its life-promoting environments then the suffering of the innocent would in all respects appear to be evil plainly manifested. In fact, the suffering of the innocent may be seen as the evil that measures all other evils. Innocent suffering, regardless in which stage of life it appears, evokes a lamentation which no moral person wants to hear, but which no moral person can dismiss.5 It is the awful power of innocent suffering which defines, or helps to define, basic notions of morality, ethics, and systems of law.

Historically, however, the Jewish and Christian tradition, especially in the West, has largely denied the existence of innocent suffering, because of the claims that the Western tradition makes about the kind of being God is. The tradition holds that God is infinite in His love, goodness, and power. It is hard to juxtapose innocent suffering with God's infinite virtues. If we concede the reality of innocent suffering, such a concession could impinge on the love, goodness, or power of God. To sum up, one could ask Hume's famous question:
If God is able to prevent evil, and does not, then He is impotent;
If God is willing to prevent evil, and does not, then He is malicious;
If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then whence evil?
St. Augustine's view is largely representative of western Christian belief. He held that the presence of evil in the world was part of God's just distribution of rewards and punishments to the good and the wicked respectively, as evil is caused by the human will. To put it another way, all human beings are guilty of original sin, and so any evil suffered by them in any way is God's just punishment for their evil actions. Augustine thus subsumes the problem of innocent suffering as simply part of God's grand plan to reward the righteous and punish the wicked, and thereby escapes from reckoning with innocent suffering on its own terms, as a moral fact.6 But how do we reconcile the Divine Will with the actual ways that evil appears in human lives? In human experience, the wicked often prosper and the good suffer — the Psalms testify to this in numerous places. It is hard to see how innocent suffering fits into Divine Providence, as magnitude and depth of the suffering seems to fit no purpose in God's plan to reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

Does anyone suffer innocently according to Saint Augustine? It would seem not. This denial of the existence of innocent suffering can affirm the believer's faith in God, but it can also damage the faith's credibility when it encounters real-life examples of suffering. The very presence of innocent suffering pleads its case before what Thiel calls "the common tribunal of human experience," the fundamental sense that the victim could not in any way deserve the suffering that befalls him stirs this pleading. While the sufferer may in fact be guilty of causing some suffering to others, the suffering now endured is judged to be out of all proportion to whatever suffering the victim may have caused. This how we define innocent, or unjust, suffering.

The clearest proof of innocent suffering which history has ever produced is the Holocaust. By execution squads in Eastern Europe and then by the bureaucratized factories of death — the concentration camps — the Nazi regime systematically murdered millions of Jewish men, women, and children, as well as thousands of non-Jews. Viewing the Holocaust as retribution for first-century Jewish complicity in the death of Christ is a hateful, anti-Semitic, evil explanation that we can and must dismiss out of hand. Can therefore the Holocaust instead be explained by the Jewish failure to keep its covenant with God? This is a question with which Jews have been wrestling for some time. But whatever Jewish conclusions may be, on any reasonable analysis of the evidence, there is no moral difference between Holocaust victims as a group and any other group of human beings. Some of the victims were outstandingly good people and some of the victims were shunned for their sinful actions. Most were just ordinary people struggling to better themselves in the face of personal sin and failures. This "moral ordinariness," as Professor Thiel calls it, allows us to conclude that Holocaust victims, whatever their personal foibles may have been, suffered through no moral fault of their own. Their suffering was utterly disproportionate to their moral ordinariness as a group. In other words, they suffered innocently.

The suffering of children offers even a more clear-cut case of innocent suffering. Children stand powerless before evil and generally lack moral culpability of any sort. If the suffering of Holocaust victims is innocent due to their moral ordinariness as a group,7 the suffering of children during the Holocaust provides an even stronger example because their suffering cannot be justified by even a small measure of guilt. The famous "girl in the red dress" in the 1993 academy award-winning film Schindler's List, once seen alive and in hiding from the Nazis, is later found murdered; her limp body is seen in a wheelbarrow on its way to the flames. Only a madman can deny that she and thousands like her suffered innocently. Likewise, any attempt to juxtapose her suffering with God's plan to reward the righteous and punish the wicked can only end in moral absurdity.

Job is an uncompromising portrayal of the problem of innocent suffering. The opening scene in the book of Job would be comic if it were not true: God is asked by the Satan to let Satan have his way with Job. The devil causes the death of Job's entire family, and finally physically plagues Job himself in grievous ways. However in all of this Job did not sin, nor did he open his mouth to curse God. Job remained upright and perfect throughout this entire trial. However to say that Job did not personally suffer would be very wrong. He suffered tremendously. Job suffered more than most human beings can possibly bear or imagine. Whether one argues that the Devil caused Job's suffering or that God caused Job's suffering by allowing the devil to inflict it is in a sense academic: Job suffered innocently.

I mention Job because it is important that we establish a line of demarcation. In this paper we are not concerned with non-human caused evil. Acts of supra-natural powers such as natural disasters, floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes and so on cause innocent suffering. Sickness, disease, death, and the vicissitudes of the physical world have plagued humanity since the days of Adam, and many would argue unjustly so. One can debate whether God directly causes such suffering (which not a few in the West believe to be divine punishment for sins), or whether God indirectly is responsible, by having made a world in which such suffering is possible at all. In his book Thiel spends quite a bit of time on this issue, and concludes that ultimately God doesn't do evil, but he reaches this conclusion at a rather steep intellectual price: he merely pleads ignorance in response to the question of what moral agency causes this innocent suffering.

III. Personal sin versus material evil

We concern ourselves with human-caused evil. Of all God's creation, man alone is given free will. He alone can choose to love, or to hate; he alone can choose to save life or to murder; he alone can choose to give or to steal. He can wantonly destroy the innocent, or he can elect not to do so. Man's moral free agency means that man is responsible for his acts and how those acts either enhance life and life-promoting environments, that is, promote goodness; or destroy life and life-promoting environments; that is, promote evil.

In our everyday lives, personal sin abounds much more than evil. We struggle against our flawed nature, a nature which is morally ambiguous at best, to be better: better fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and better Christians. But most of the time, and for most of us, the struggle against our nature does not involve the decision to confront evil directly, for example, intervening when someone else is being attacked for no good cause. We may have an disagreement with our spouse or with our co-workers or our children — we may even behave boorishly while drunk, we may say things we later regret, but most of the time we are not asked to make a life-or-death decision, for example to attempt to use force to stop a robbery or murder. We largely act in the sphere of personal sins and shortcomings. Although all evil is sinful, not all sin necessarily results in the destruction of life and its life-promoting environments: not all sin is materially evil. Sin is like an archer whose arrow "misses the mark" while aiming at his target. Evil, on the other hand, may be likened to aiming one's bow at a fellow archer rather than down range at an appropriate target.

The choice to confront material evil in one's personal life is nearly always a courageous one. For example, Polish Catholics who hid Jews during the Holocaust valiantly risked their lives in this endeavor. But the circumstances which give rise to the confluence of events making such choices possible are rare, and one need not always think first of self-preservation — in such appalling conditions there may well be nothing to live for. However, in modern America there is nearly always some responsibility we must live for: we would be foolhardy not to weigh the personal risk to family which arises when we consider whether or not to stop for a stranded motorist (the modern-day Good Samaritan), much less to confront at the risk of one's life the evil appearing in our every-day lives. That is why those who do make the decision to confront evil in their personal lives are normally regarded as heroes. While Christ may command self-sacrifice, He does not command that we sacrifice others on the altar of our good works.

Therefore we now have a second line of demarcation. We will not deal with the question of confronting evil in our personal lives, and we do not deal with the decision to involve others in our choice to resist evil on an individual level. The choices are complicated and often morally ambiguous: am I morally obligated to stop for the stranded motorist when I have my family in the car and have heard on the radio a few days ago that another Good Samaritan was shot by a gang-banger while he stopped to render similar aid? Clearly, reasonable and well-meaning people may differ in their responses to this question.

IV. What does it mean to confront evil?

As related previously, we will not examine evil which has no moral free agency, for example natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, which tragically contribute to the destruction of life and its life promoting environments. Neither will we examine our responses to personal sin and evil on a personal level. In most cases, it is generally a bad idea to "hit back" in our personal lives, hence Christ's dictum, "resist not evil, but love your enemies." What sort of "enemies" was Christ referring to here, and did He in fact intend that we refrain from acting in the face of any kind of evil? The remainder of our discussion will, in large part, be concerned with the answer to this question.

Rather than personal sin, we are concerned with human-caused evil on a massive scale — the sort of evil that individuals acting alone cannot cause, but rather the evil in which governments and non-state organizational actors engage. The textbook example of this kind of evil was perpetrated by the Nazi regime during the period of 1933 through 1945, a regime whose concentration camps were responsible for the systematic and bureaucratized murder of over six million Jews. But there are many other examples of mass evil: the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Stalinist regime of Russia, the Maoist regime of China, the Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot in the mid-1970s. All were responsible for the murder of millions of people. In the modern era, we have also seen evil on a grand scale: the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the decision by Saddam Hussein and Bashar Al-Assad to use poison gas on their own citizens, murdering tens of thousands, and so on. As of today, the most glaring example of evil is that caused by radical Islamic terrorism, from the Lockerbie bombing in the early 1980s, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the embassy bombings in 1998, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, multiple bombings and murders by Al-Qaeda since 9/11, and most recently, the rise of ISIS, which has been said to be so depraved that it has been disavowed even by Al-Qaeda.

Certainly, there is no shortage of mass evil on earth, nor will there likely ever be as long as earth is inhabited by fallen man. The fact is that we have very few if any direct means apart from war to stop such evil. While the influence of the United States in financial markets is considerable, it is not unlimited: we can stop the flow of money and arms to countries and organizations known to be terrorists or sponsors of terrorism. But we cannot stop other countries such as Iran from funding terror: military power is the only option that guarantees stopping evil: dead terrorists do not murder again. But doesn't the Commandment say, "Thou shalt not kill?"

V. A majestic but flawed translation

The King James Bible has been for centuries the most revered translation of the Scriptures; the vast majority of Christian churches including the Orthodox recognize this celebrated version of the Bible as authoritative. But over time, the meanings of words have gradually changed and must be examined anew in light of contemporary meanings. In the King James Old Testament, there were two words for the taking of a human life — slay and kill.

To slay meant to take a human life but it was, from all appearances, morally neutral. In the Old Testament we see that Saul had "slain his thousands," and David had "slain his ten thousands."8 King David was only held morally accountable by God for the taking of one life: the innocent life of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba.9 In the king's 17th century English, the word for murder was kill, hence the commandment, "thou shalt not kill." Today, this commandment would be rendered, "thou shalt not murder," as the word kill today means what slay meant in the 17th century. Hebrew also has two words for the taking of a human life, ratzak, meaning to slay (or in modern English, to kill), and haroq, meaning to murder.9 The word used in the commandment is haroq, to murder.

A striking example of the difference between the two in Scripture is Cain murdering Abel, while Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster who beat a Hebrew slave. If murder is morally identical to killing, then God chose Moses the murderer to lead His people out of Egypt. This is, of course, not logically compelling, nor consistent with the Divine Character, nor with Moses as the quintessential Lawgiver. Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that all murder is killing, but not all killing is murder. That is why English and Hebrew each have two different words to express morally different acts. Murder is the intentional taking of an innocent life, and is never permitted. Killing, on the other hand, may sometimes be allowed.

VI. The problem with pacifism

Pacifism morally equates killing with murder. It is the belief that regardless of circumstance, war is always wrong because it is always wrong to kill another person. On its face, however, there is something amiss with this moral assessment. If a sniper is shooting into a schoolyard of children and one's only recourse to save innocent children is to kill the sniper, why is killing the sniper morally wrong? Is it morally wrong to kill extremists in the Middle East who, in a twisted throwback to eighth-century Islam, behead Christians and burn others alive? As soon as one acknowledges that sometimes killing may be necessary to protect the innocent, one ceases to be a pacifist. The question then is not if killing is moral, but rather when is it moral; and, if there are indeed times when killing can be moral, then it may be possible to say that confronting evil is moral, perhaps even morally obligatory, even if does involving the taking of human life, that is, killing.

Let us begin with the axiom that when there is no other way to protect innocent life, then killing is moral. This observation is nearly self-evident, and is a basis of the Western just war theory. Granted, some killing is morally ambiguous. Debates rage on even today about whether the Allied bombing of Dresden or America's use of the atomic bomb against Japan was moral or immoral, or whether these acts were necessary at all.

What we do know, however, is that had Allied soldiers not killed Nazis, virtually every Jew — and many other "undesirables" — would have been gassed in the German machinery of death built expressly for that purpose. Had American soldiers not killed Japanese Imperialists, tens of thousands of Chinese would have been murdered. If anyone had killed Lenin in 1917 or Stalin ten years later, forty million Russians would not have been murdered. If anyone had killed Mao Tse-Tung in 1930 upwards of one hundred million Chinese would not have been murdered or starved to death. We must acknowledge that sometimes, there is a enormous moral price to be paid for not acting. Moreover, if as the pacifist argues, God does not morally differentiate between murderers and those who try to stop them, there is absolutely no theological basis by which we can make moral distinctions between any behaviors: there ceases to exist a moral framework in which good can be called good, and evil can be called evil.

As mentioned earlier, the King James translation, while the most majestic English bible man has ever produced, has nevertheless created much moral confusion in modern times in its translation of the commandment "thou shalt not murder," rendering it, "thou shalt not kill" instead. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Jews largely rejected the Septuagint, and altered their texts producing what came to be known as the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. The scholars which translated the King James used the Masoretic text instead of the Septuagint to translate the Old Testament, yet in the New Testament we see that the Evangelists quote the Septuagint when He says, "you shall not murder" in Matthew 19:18 (in fact the Evangelists always quote the Septuagint as that was the Old Testament in use at the time of Christ). The use of two different words for the taking of human life indicates that not all killing is necessarily evil or sinful, in fact it can be morally virtuous as in the case of Moses' slaying of the Egyptian taskmaster, when the purpose of the killing is to defend the innocent.

As we have seen, pacifism is the belief that killing a human being, regardless of the reason, is always wrong. The fatal flaw of pacifism is that human life — that is, biological life — is its supreme value. Morality must be sacrificed for the sake of life, no matter the evil in which a particular person is engaged. Pacifists believe it would have been morally wrong to take the lives of German and Japanese doctors who in the Second World War performed grotesque experiments on living human beings, even though this was the only way to stop them from dissecting conscious people with no anesthetic, resulting in a cruel and agonizing death. But if biological life is the highest value, then every other value is by definition of lower import: justice, decency, kindness, and all other values are less important than life; biology takes precedence over morality — long lives are more valuable than good lives.11 Ironically, by prohibiting the killing of mass murderers, pacifism actually increases death. Therefore, pacifism contradicts its own premise that life is the highest value. But life is to be a means to goodness, to sanctity, and to God, rather than an end in itself.

Is pacifism the best way to resist evil or aggression, or a perceived wrong? It depends on who one's enemy is. Mahatma Gandhi understood that when the "enemy" is a Winston Churchill, non-violence often is an appropriate response. When the "enemy" is lack of civil rights, and the objective is to bring about change to remedy that condition in an otherwise peaceful and decent state, then non-violence is probably the correct response, as was the case for the Indian Independence movement of the late 1940s. However, even the great Gandhi seriously erred in giving the following advice to Britain in 1942 regarding how Britain should act in light of the threat posed by Nazi Germany:
I would like you [the British] to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...if these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman and child to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.12
If Britain had followed this advice, the result would have been national suicide. If the world had followed this advice, it would have meant the end of Western Civilization, and the inauguration of "a new dark age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."13 Clearly, when one's enemy is Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, a death squad, or Charles Manson, pacifism is suicidal. It ensures victory for and increases evil. One shudders to imagine what the world would be like today had Mahatma Gandhi, instead of Winston Churchill, been the British Prime Minister in 1940.

Pacifism, or the doctrine of non-violence, morally equates those attempting to stop evil with evildoers. Pacifism holds that as soon as I pull the trigger to stop the murderer, I myself become a murderer. This moral symmetry is mistaken. Would Christ have His people do nothing while evildoers increase suffering on earth and wantonly destroy the innocent? One can hardly think so. There is moral violence and there is immoral violence. If we cannot fight immoral violence with moral violence, with what then, will we fight immoral violence? We usually consider killing to be a last resort. Sometimes, however, moral killing, i.e. war, must be used to stop immoral killing; otherwise, innocents will be murdered.

VII. War, Jesus, and the New Testament

Many texts in the New Testament seem to be strongly pacifist in nature — for example, 'turn the other cheek' and 'love your enemies' from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ's command to Peter to 'put away the sword' after the latter had sliced off Malchus' ear, St. John the Baptist's admonition to soldiers to 'do no violence,' and so on.

While it is true that a number of passages may seem to be pacifist in nature, the question relevant to Christian societies and individual believers faced with the decision to confront evildoers is whether or not the New Testament morally assesses the war-fighting profession. It does not. Let us first look at some examples of military figures and imagery in the New Testament.

In Luke 14:31-33 the Lord Himself, in explaining the costs of discipleship, uses the image of a king who must consider whether to go to war with ten thousand troops against another king who has twenty thousand troops. It stands to reason that if our Lord categorically disapproved of all war and violence on spiritual and/or moral grounds, He would not have used the example of two kings going to war to illustrate the costs of discipleship.

St. John the Baptist tells soldiers to be content with their wages and 'do violence to no man.' If St. John disapproved of all war and violence, why would he tell soldiers simply to be content with their wages? He would have told them to abandon the war fighting profession altogether. But 'do violence to no man' cannot mean 'do not kill' otherwise the soldiers cannot be soldiers; they would immediately have had to give up their profession. Other translations have this phrase as 'rob no man by violence' and this, rather than 'do violence to no man,' seems to be closer to the original intent: rather than a prohibition of war, the Baptist is saying that soldiers are not to loot or commit other crimes during war.

Military figures abound in the New Testament. The Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus are depicted as evil for so they were. The Roman Centurion whose faith was pronounced by Christ Himself to be greater than any found in Israel is depicted as good and noble. Some military figures, like Pontius Pilate, stand conflicted, wanting to do good, trying to wash their hands of evil, while in the end, succumbing to evil. In each case, these vignettes speak to the individual, personal characters of the soldiers in question; they are not a moral assessment of war and of the war-fighting profession.

Military imagery is also used by Saint Paul, when he speaks about the armor of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the spirit, the helmet of salvation, and so forth.14 In 1 Timothy 1:18 Paul exhorts Timothy to 'wage a good warfare.' It is unlikely that had Saint Paul categorically disapproved of the war-fighting profession, he would have used military imagery to illustrate spiritual truth.

Is Christ's command to Peter to put away his sword in John 18:10-11 an injunction against war? It is certainly possible to draw that conclusion from the context of this particular incident. On the other hand, if there were ever a time that evil needed to be resisted, this seemed to be the time! Judas Iscariot had just betrayed the Lord, and Jesus was about to be hauled off to His trial, crucifixion, and death. To understand Christ's command, we have to recall that there are many things that Christ did not do whilst He was personally present here on earth. He did not become a tailor, take a wife, or go into politics, for example. The Jews wanted Him to be a warrior-king like David and deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. But it was not His mission to do those things either.

Christ's mission was to deliver humanity from the chains of sin, death, and the Devil, from which we could not deliver ourselves. His was a heavenly commission, not an earthly one. Christ was Himself the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: He explained to Pilate that He could call down twelve legions of angels, but how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled? By the same token, had Christ not allowed Himself to be taken by the guards, or had His disciples been killed in scuffles with the temple guards, how would His mission have been fulfilled? Thus He said to Peter, 'put away your sword' not because the sword was in and of itself evil, but because the Scripture had to be fulfilled. Christ literally was a Man on a mission, and He was not going to let Peter or anyone else stand in the way of accomplishing that mission: "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?"15

As we have seen, military persons and images are quite common throughout the New Testament. But nowhere in the New Testament do we see a moral assessment of the war-fighting profession on its own terms, nor do we see its wholesale condemnation.

VIII. War and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church developed a just war theory because it was entrusted with temporal as well as spiritual governance. But there is today a presumption against moral violence in many of Christendom's recent just war accounts. Stanley Hauerwas, for example, argues that the just war criteria is needed because of this presumption against violence. He goes so far as to say that Christians created just war reflection because of their "non-violent convictions."16

St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Catholic medieval theologian, does not recognize Hauerwas' and much of modernity's presumption against violence, i.e. our "non-violent convictions." He approaches the moral problems of war through the virtues and the common good. St. Thomas argues that war is not necessarily a vice providing it is done out of love, that is, charity. Peace is not necessarily virtuous if it is unjust. North Korea is a prime example of an unjust peace: there is no war in North Korea, but its "peace" belies an evil, nightmarish state in which human beings suffer on a scale quite unlike in any other in human history. For Thomas Aquinas, war is a tool, and can be used justly or unjustly. A plethora of texts suggests that St. Thomas argues for a moral approach to immoral (i.e. unjust) violence that obligates Christians to do what they can to put an end to it, even if it requires using force to do so.17

IX. War and the Orthodox Church

The history of the Christian Church — both Eastern and Western — is replete with war; some just, some unjust, and others morally ambiguous. One thing we are sure of, however, is that liberty and freedom are essential to our identity as Orthodox Christians; without these it is impossible to practice the Orthodox Faith as we have traditionally known it (though of course it is possible to be a Christian and love God while in captivity). His Eminence the Archbishop Demetrios wrote in celebration of "OXI day" in 2006, that
The Hellenic nation knew then, as the world knows now, that God out of His love for all humankind has bestowed liberty and freedom as inalienable rights to people of every culture, race, and religion the world over. The right to live in conditions of liberty and freedom represents the product of a beautifully rich synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity. It speaks directly to us as Greek Orthodox Christians, who are the proud bearers of this cherished and unique legacy, which we have the responsibility to share with our neighbors.18
One marked difference between the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Churches lies in the fact that, while in the so-called dark ages (400 A.D. - 1100 A.D.) the Western Church struggled with wars and invasions on the European continent, the Eastern Church enjoyed the protection of the Byzantine Emperor and so did not need to concern itself with internal policing and external defense. The Western Church, after Rome fell to the Visigoths in 410 A.D., took upon itself the additional duty of temporal governance and therefore needed a just war theory for the purpose of defending its community externally against barbarians and internally against lawbreakers.

This did not mean however that the Orthodox Church ceased to think about war and peace. On killing in wartime, St. Athanasius the Great writes
It is not lawful to murder, but in war [it is] both lawful and worthy of approval to destroy the adversaries. Thus at any rate, those who are bravest in war are also deemed worthy of great honors, and monuments of them are raised proclaiming their successes; so that the same thing, on the one hand, is not lawful according to some circumstances and at some times, but, on the other hand, according to some other circumstances and opportunely it is permitted and possible.19
It is interesting that that Athanasius does not morally equate murder with killing in war.

However morally flawed the comparison between killing, a morally neutral act, and murder, a morally blameworthy act, may be, there is still the sense in which people who have taken part in the killing of another human being are — at least ritually speaking — spiritually unclean. In the Old Testament, according to Fr. Patrick Viscuso, Israel's holy wars are considered to have taken place by divine command; however, all those who took part in killing were required to remain outside the camp for seven days. The man who kills a human being appears to be blameworthy and to require "expiation" from pollution before being allowed back into the camp.20 But there were many other things in the Old Testament that could render a person "unclean" (too numerous to list here) and which required some sort of penance before the unclean person would be permitted back into the Israelite camp. The question is then whether the Old Testament specifically condemns war-fighting as beyond the reach of God's power to forgive — and this question appears to be answered in the negative.

St. Basil the Great follows the example of Moses in requiring "an express time for the remission of the fault" with regards to killings during war.21 In this way, St. Basil makes an analogy between the Old Testament and the Empire. During Moses' time the killing of Israel's enemies — those displeasing to God — takes place by divine command and is considered a mighty work. Even so, those who killed are regarding as having need of purification from pollution prior to entering the encampment. In Basil's time, soldiers are said to fight enemies who oppose Christian faith and chastity and are thus considered worthy of praise; however, in a similar manner, those who kill are required to be purified before entering into the Communion of the Church.

St. Basil's thirteenth canon advised that those who killed in battle be prohibited from Communion for three years. However, while endorsing the canon's overall soundness, the Byzantine canonist Zonaras argues that, from a practical standpoint, three years is too long, especially for those who soldiered as a profession, and would constitute an "unendurable punishment" for the Christian soldier: "such counsel appears to be burdensome. For it might follow from it that soldiers never partake of the Divine Gifts."22 St. Basil's thirteenth canon was never generally enforced because similarly, according to canonist Theodore Balsamon, "soldiers, who are engrossed with successive wars and slaying the enemy, would never partake of the divine Sanctified Elements."23

It is also important in passing to reflect on the examples of the saints. There are many Orthodox warrior-saints including St. George, St. Procopios, St. Daniel the Stylite, among many others. In the Western Church, St. Joan of Arc was also a warrior. If the intent of the Church or the Church fathers — Eastern or Western — is to morally condemn all wars and the war-fighting profession, it is unlikely we would continue to honor and venerate these warrior-saints.

X. Defenses of the Justifiable War

At the outset we discussed the problem of innocent suffering, the problem with pacifism, and the moral need to confront evil. We do not tackle the problem of non-man-made suffering, such as natural disasters and horrific accidents. Nor are we dealing with the problem of personal evil (for example what one should do when someone is defrauded or robbed). Because the phrase "just war" conjures up a presumption against moral violence that was generally unknown to the early fathers, we shall often use the term "justifiable war" in describing those military efforts which are undertaken to liberate oppressed peoples or for other noble causes, the moral presumption being against injustice itself (oppression, slavery, and so forth), not against the violence needed to overcome that injustice.

Jus ad Bellum

Contrary to the pacifist view, not all wars are evil, wrong, or immoral, so how do we decide as Christians whether to go to war (or to support war-making efforts)? We decide by the principle of Jus ad Bellum (literally, justice by way of war). There are five criteria for justice by way of war. It is important to note here that "war as a last resort" was unknown to the original framers of the justifiable war tradition (St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Thomas Aquinas, et al.).24 If Jus ad Bellum is satisfied, then a war is justifiable regardless of whether other measures have been taken first.

The first criterion of Jus ad Bellum is that proper authorities, such as legitimate heads of state, have the moral authority to go to war. Legitimacy can derive from many sources. In the western world, a democratically elected leader is usually considered legitimate by virtue of having been elected. However having said this democracy must not be seen as a good in and of itself: like war, democracy is a tool that can be used for good or for evil. People can elect good leaders, and people can elect terrible leaders. The Palestinians' legislative election of Hamas — a terrorist organization - over Fatah in 2006 to govern the Palestinian people exemplifies the latter. In monarchies legitimacy may be conferred by historical reference to the divine right of kings — but morally wayward kings can also forfeit such legitimacy. Generally speaking, if a leader possesses a reasonable character and is either freely elected or appointed according to the traditions and laws of his country, he has a presumption or at least a patina of moral legitimacy. Even leaders who come to power under adverse or even unjust circumstances can be seen as legitimate for the purpose of Jus ad Bellum if for example, they are waging war in defense of their country and its citizens.

The second criterion of Jus ad Bellum is justice of the cause. It goes without saying that a war of plunder can never be justified under this criterion. However, wars in self-defense (opposing German aggression in 1940), the defense of a weaker state (liberation of Kuwait, 1991), overthrowing a tyrant (overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, 2003), stopping a tyrannical system from gaining power (Korea, 1950; Vietnam, 1963) may all be admissible under this criterion.

In considering the righteous or justice of the cause, it is easy to conflate moral and political considerations, but care must be taken to view these considerations as distinct. While it might have been necessary to overthrow Saddam Hussein to protect vital shipping lanes necessary for international commerce, such geo-political considerations do not generally constitute moral considerations. This is why, whatever other virtues it may have, the argument that the United States wages "war for oil" has never widely held sway. Morally bankrupt indeed would be the country that wages war solely for the sake of oil or any other natural resource. Natural resources may be one of many considerations but from a Christian moral standpoint ought never to be the only impetus for war. Geopolitical considerations may evolve into moral considerations if a nation's failure to act would result in the immediate or imminent loss of massive life or limb, but generally geopolitical considerations remain distinct from moral considerations, e.g. considerations of justice.

The right of a peaceable and just sovereign state to defend itself from unjust foreign aggression is self-evident, so we do not treat this right in detail here. However, if the state in question exhibits barbaric cruelty toward its own citizens (such as the use of poison gas) it may be morally correct under certain conditions to forcibly overthrow the government of that state and institute new government which will respect the fundamental rights of its citizens to liberty and freedom. This is one of several reasons that Saddam Hussein was ousted from power by the United States in 2003.

By far the most difficult and complex question of Jus ad Bellum is whether it is morally right to go to war in order to stop threats that may not be imminent or presently occurring. In the context of the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq this was known as preemptive war, and it remains the primary justification of most of the current strikes against terrorist leaders and their command centers in the middle east. Israel has conducted a preemptive war on terrorist organizations for decades, killing terrorist ringleaders wherever it can find them, and the United States has also exercised this option on a smaller scale in its use of sophisticated drone strikes to kill terrorists before the terrorists murder U.S. citizens. The Israeli strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 is another textbook example of preemptive warfare. The moral justification for preemptive warfare is that waiting until "war is declared" (that is, until the enemy strikes first) is unacceptable in terms of present or imminent human suffering. In light of the recent Paris attacks which profoundly and gruesomely illustrated the lack of human empathy on the part of radical Islamic terrorists, preemptive war may be an attractive, if perhaps morally ambiguous, alternative to the traditional war of self-defense. This author notes that the moral and theological jury on preemptive warfare is still very much out. We can never know the magnitude of evil prevented by Israel's preemptive assassination a number of years ago of Abdel Al-Rantisi, the infamous Hamas terror leader, nor the evil which would have been perpetrated by hundreds of terrorists the United States and its allies have killed since 9/11, but judging by the events of 9/11 and subsequent terror attacks, one may reasonably argue that hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives have probably been saved.

The third criterion of Jus ad Bellum is right intention. Providing for the common defense and minimizing non-combatant casualties (i.e. not harming those who do not deserve it) are both right intentions. It is a regrettable but nonetheless crucial point that innocent people may be killed in just wars, but they are not killed intentionally. That is to say, the justice (or justifiability) of war is not harmed by the unintentional death of innocent people. It is difficult for those of modern sensibilities to get their arms around this principle, but two points should be made in its defense. First, the war in which there are no unintended casualties, or as the military planners like to callously but nevertheless correctly put it, collateral damage, exists only the chessboard or when playing the game of Axis and Allies: war without unintended casualties is simply fantasy. If war can only be justifiable when the possibility of collateral damage has been eliminated, then war can never be justified. If war can never be justified then humanity has relinquished its most powerful tool in defeating great evildoers such as sadistic tyrants, rogue regimes, bloodthirsty terrorists or terrorist groups. Second, the advent of modern warfare with precision weaponry has enormously reduced the amount of collateral damage inflicted by just warriors. Whereas in World War II the Allied Powers undertook the wholesale bombing of entire cities to destroy Axis military capability — and admittedly, to demoralize civilian populations as well — today's war-fighting has mostly consigned to history's trash can the spectacle of massive collateral damage like that which occurred during World War II. Even the modern mainstream media implicitly recognize this in their own usually overblown and out-sized reaction to even minor collateral damage events.

The fourth criterion of the Jus ad Bellum is that war must be the only reasonable means to right the wrong being done. Indeed, taking a nation to war may well result in hundreds or thousands of human deaths, or even alter the course of American or world history (e.g. World War II, Vietnam). These potentially grave consequences call for extremely well-considered decisions based on as much information and intelligence as it is possible for a nation to gather. It is trite but true that war should not be entered into lightly. Having said this, many times war is the only means to right the wrong being done. Allied soldiers making war, not peace activists, stopped the atrocities of the Nazi execution camps; American soldiers killing Iraqi soldiers ultimately brought down Saddam Hussein's reign of madness in Iraq. Americans fought Chinese and North Koreans to a stalemate in the Korean War, at the cost of over 37,000 American lives, thereby preventing at least the southern half of Korea from becoming the nightmare state that today is North Korea, one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. Today, South Korea is one of the most powerful, prosperous, and freest nations in Asia, but America had nothing to gain economically from fighting in Korea. Even regarding less popular wars such as Vietnam it must be acknowledged that the objective of preventing one-half of that benighted country from falling to the evil of Communism was a noble and laudable goal, even if due to other non-military circumstances the United States ultimately failed in this effort. In all of these cases, however, we recognize that without the tools of war, the world would be a much darker and sinister place. Were pacifists, i.e. those who believe all wars to be immoral, to have prevailed in 1938, the world would perhaps today be governed by a monstrous trifecta of German Nazism, Soviet Communism, and Islamic sharia. However, because we are morally able to wage war we have stopped many evil aggressions and brought hope to millions of people who might not otherwise have anything to live for.

The fifth criteria of the Jus ad Bellum dictates that there must be a reasonable chance of success for a war effort to be justifiable. This is in no small part due to the enormous toll in blood and treasure that war-fighting exacts. Fortunately, in modern times, the United States still maintains an tremendous advantage in war-fighting capability over any prospective foe; we must maintain this edge. However, since Vietnam, we have seen political will lacking to bring war-fighting efforts to a victorious conclusion, especially in engagements in the middle east. The discussion of how to ensure that sufficient political will exists on the part of the government and populace to achieve victory — defined as the destruction or unconditional surrender of an enemy — is beyond the scope of this paper. It is enough to say for the moment that possessing overwhelming force and having committed armed forces to battle, it is obligatory that victory is achieved, otherwise the sacrifices of the fallen and injured will have been in vain. An example of this are the various towns in Iraq for which the Iraqi army is fighting ISIS to regain control. Many of these towns were in fact liberated already by the United States, at the cost of dozens or hundreds of U.S. troops. The fact that these towns have to be liberated a second time calls into question the US and Iraqi strategy in the middle east and whether or not Allied liberators perished in vain. Ideally, if the cause is just we should never have to admit that soldiers died for nothing; otherwise, it can be difficult to rally the nation to war when it is again needed.

Jus in Bello

One objection frequently raised regarding war runs similar to the following:
I acknowledge that war can be justifiable, and sometimes it is the only recourse to address wrongs being committed, and to save innocent life. However, we often act immorally during war, examples abound such as My Lai in Vietnam, etc.
This is not an objection to war-fighting itself, but to how the just warrior acts during war (i.e. justice in war, Jus in Bello). But it is often raised as an objection to waging war because, the argument goes, the possibility of atrocities can never be permitted under any circumstances, and so in order to never permit the possibility of a My Lai, Christians and other moral people therefore must a priori oppose all warfare.

This author will be the first to acknowledge that this objection has merit. A moral basis for waging war demands nothing less than the highest possible ethics from the just warrior. The just warrior forfeits his moral claim to do justice if he partakes in atrocities against enemy soldiers or civilian populations. One cannot claim to be a bringer of freedom and liberty and at the same time engage in murder, rape, looting, and so on. The Christian warrior must conduct himself according to the most stringent ethical standards while at the same time accomplishing his mission. It is a difficult but not insurmountable task.

So what do we mean by this? We mean that there are different sets of rules for on the battlefield and off the battlefield. While the just warrior may be permitted to kill an enemy soldier on the battlefield, once that soldier has been captured, is a prisoner of war (POW) and no longer constitutes a threat, that POW must be treated with all humaneness and decency (though not obsequiousness). In so doing Saint Paul writes that we "heap coals of fire upon their heads."25 While it may be a just cause to kill in battle, it is always wrong to treat POWs inhumanely, just as it is wrong to treat any human being inhumanely. Non-combatant civilian populations must also be cared for, and to the greatest extent possible commensurate with the accomplishment and security of the military mission, must not be harmed. A fine example of Jus in Bello is the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, argues is the most moral army in the history of warfare.26 Just one example suffices: the IDF makes cell phone calls and drops leaflets to warn enemy civilians of an impending attack so that civilians are not hurt. No other army, including that of the United States, takes this measure of caution so as not to harm civilians.

According to Saint Ambrose, the ideal just warrior is King David: brave in battle, patient in adversity, and merciful in victory. Although David did abuse his powers as a commander (recall the murder of Uriah), he sought God's mercy (2 Samuel 12:13) and was eventually forgiven.27 All things considered, David was fundamentally a just man. The lesson of Jus in Bello is that just warriors are not perfect, but they enter battle with a clear conscience and will exit battle the same way.

XI. The Protestant tradition — Luther and Calvin

Because the Orthodox Church does not exist in a theological vacuum — we live among and we dialogue with many branches of Christian Protestantism — a few words are in order regarding what two Protestant thinkers have to say regarding the morality of war-fighting.

In his essay, "Secular authority: To what extent should it be obeyed?" Martin Luther argues that the law and the sword should be used for the punishment of the wicked and the protection of the upright.28 Christians are the best holders of sword and authority, because these are a particular service to God. Luther's objections to the argument that Christ did not use a sword are two-fold. First, Christ's words are addressed to true Christians, to guide the conduct of Christians toward other Christians, and not toward non-Christians. Second, as we noted earlier, Christ did not take a wife, become a tailor, or do many other things, but we do not say that therefore no one else ought not to do so. Christ pursued His own office as our Redeemer, and as such could offer no resistance.29

Luther further argues that soldiering is a work of love, because the war-fighter protects the innocent and the upright from the unjust aggressor. With today's technology, it is possible to do this work with very minimal unintended casualties, as we have discussed, and this constitutes a moral good. It brings down the moral price of war, while highlighting the benefits of removing evil. One cannot morally equate, for example, the Palestinian terror group Hamas' use of innocent people as human shields to the just warrior's use of precision-guided munitions which intend to destroy only those targets of military necessity.

John Calvin argues that one cannot conceive of Jesus Christ of the New Testament commanding anything different than the Yahweh of the Old Testament.30 Christians believe Jesus Christ is God and that God does not change.31 Calvin holds that St. Paul's letter to the Romans establishes the purpose and work of Christ, and so allows us to understand all other Scripture (including the Gospels). In light of this he argues three points:
  • Because of human disobedience, God sees to it that many are killed justly, including through war.
  • It is part of God's character to use force against evil and therefore to use human beings — including Christians — to restrain the evil actions of other human beings.
  • There is no moral difference between murder and failing to save an innocent person from being murdered whom you could have saved.
  • Admittedly, from an Orthodox perspective Calvin's first and third points are problematic. Many Orthodox, this author included, do not believe that God deals in death, preferring instead to hold that death is a consequence of the fallen world in which we live and can in no way be ascribed to the will of God: God does not will death. Calvin's third point introduces the complex notion of moral culpability arising from one's failure to act — more on this presently. Calvin's most salient point here is his second, it is in the character of God, as revealed to us in the Scriptures, to use force against evil. This is abundantly clear in the Old Testament where God uses Israel to punish evildoers such as the Amalekites and Hittites, and in turn uses evildoers to punish a wayward Israel! In the New Testament, St. Paul admonishes us that the ruler "bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil."32

    XII. War-fighting as virtuous

    It would be impossible for soldiers to be soldiers if they were prohibited from killing enemy soldiers; after all this is the job of the soldier. Zonaras and Balsamon both write that if a soldier for having killed in battle were prevented from receiving Holy Communion for three years, then effectively a soldier can never receive Holy Communion. Although the military necessarily safeguards the citizens and freedom of the state, we have seen that the early Church did prescribe a penance for killing in battle. This seems to have stemmed from the notion that all wars are evil, even those fought justly (Jus in Bello) for a justifiable cause (Jus ad Bellum). But if all wars are evil, and the Christian cannot partake of war, even for a just cause, then the alternative is to have non-Christians do the war-fighting for Christians. But why should the non-Christian fight and die for the Christian whom because of his personal religious convictions cannot be bothered or obligated to pick up the sword in defense of the state in which both live? This smacks of Christian hypocrisy.

    It is the job of the soldier to kill enemy soldiers. To argue that a soldier acts immorally (i.e. acts evilly) for simply doing his job strains credulity. In fact, St. Augustine wrote that the "soldier in slaying the enemy is the agent of the law, wherefore he does his duty easily with no wrong aim or purpose...that law therefore, which is for the protection of citizens can be obeyed without wrong desire."33 Unlike the pre-Constantine Church, St. Augustine held that in order to condemn a soldier, there has to be something more to the story than the fact that the soldier simply did what he was supposed to do: kill enemy soldiers.

    Morality aside, a soldier is trained to do one thing well and that is to kill enemy soldiers. But this is not the case with a knight. The knightly virtues represent a character that can only be approximated; piety and virtue, not just killing, are the essence of the knightly life. The sword of the knight is consecrated to
    ...protect the Church, to fight against treachery, to preserve the priesthood, to ward off injuries from the poor, to ensure peace throughout the provinces, and as taught by a true understanding of the Sacrament, to shed blood and, if need be, to lay down his life for the brethren...34
    wrote the 12th century John of Salisbury, Bishop of Chartres. To the extent that the knight did not live up to these virtues during battle, he was required to do penance to reconcile himself to the community. Since there is no perfect knight, every knight had some amount of penance to do, something for which he had to feel sorrow. However, exactly what the knight had to feel sorry for changed over time. This was due in large part to St. Ambrose of Milan who held that a just war in and of itself can be an act of charity towards God and neighbor (e.g. protecting the innocent from harm). This idea found full fruition with St. Thomas, who in turn held just (or justifiable) war to be an act of charity for which one could be reconciled to the community. We see this in modern times with praise for those who served in the military and especially for combat veterans. Only a tiny minority of people genuinely loathe those who fought for or could have been called to fight in defense of freedom and of the innocent.

    XIII. Warfare as a moral obligation

    Throughout Christendom starting probably with Constantine, there has been an ethic for fighting to defend the innocent. This is what motivated at least in part, the Crusades. Regardless of whether one believes the Crusades to be a noble effort, or a success or failure, one cannot deny that the Crusaders themselves believed that they were doing God's work in liberating and rescuing fellow Christians and lands from Muslim potentates.

    One could argue that the 20th century warfare has brought a revelation of sorts to the way people think about morality. Perhaps in prior centuries one could embrace pacifism because after all, it was mostly an academic exercise anyway - it was unlikely that one was personally going to have to come to terms with the the moral consequences of a national policy of pacifism. But as war-fighting technology advances, the ethicist is confronted by a new challenge: what do we do when the innocent are slaughtered en masse and we have the means to stop it? If our morality can't even say that we should attempt to protect the innocent from the reach of a bloodthirsty tyrant because we are afraid God will punish us for killing the tyrant or his henchmen, then what good does our ethics produce?

    More importantly, what practical good is moral hand-wringing to those who have been murdered? Jews in Auschwitz knew that they were on the way to the ovens and prayed daily that Allied bombs would fall on the infamous Nazi death camps. They didn't care about living or dying. They cared about stopping the evil. That the Allies did not obliterate Auschwitz and similar camps is one of the great moral tragedies of World War II.

    The moral use of force implies that we place more value on innocent lives than we do on the lives of perpetrators. It is morally right - in fact it is a moral imperative if one is able - to kill the murderer to stop his murdering. If we do not kill the murderer to stop his murdering, we fulfill the Talmudic dictum that, "he who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate."35 For those who really deserve compassion are innocents, but in showing "compassion" to the cruel by doing nothing to stop the tyrant, the pacifist unwittingly ensures the demise of the innocent.

    In short, not fighting evil by means of war, when war is the only way to stop that evil, ensures that evil, not goodness, prevails. There is no clearer example of this than the failure of the European Allied powers to confront Adolf Hitler in 1936 after Hitler annexed the Rhineland, and then again in 1938 when he annexed the Sudetenland. Instead of Chamberlain's now infamous "peace in our time," Hitler could easily have been stopped in his tracks and the world would have avoided the horrors of World War II.

    As we have seen, the argument that "God doesn't want me to kill that murderer (or tyrant, or terrorist, etc.) because then I am no better than he" holds sway with many people, especially those on the Christian left and the so-called emergent church movement. But what makes us think that Jesus would desire us to do nothing whilst evils are perpetrated against innocent people? What makes us think that Jesus would have us choose a course of action which results in more evil, more suffering, and less goodness? Finally, what makes us think that we can remain holy (and therefore fit for Holy Communion) when we allow evil to triumph through our own inaction?

    For Christ was, while He was personally present here on earth, a God-Man of undisputed action in confronting evil. He didn't negotiate with the devil, He cast the devil out. When He saw sickness, disease, and death, He didn't pass by on the other side as the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He didn't engage in a sort of lengthy theological debate about whether confronting evil was right, He simply ended the evil — He healed the sickness or the disease, He raised the dead. Yes, He confronted and dealt with evils men could not, such as sickness, disease, and death; however, the lesson is the same: evil must be confronted. In the modern fallen world, none possess the divine powers of Christ to routinely heal the sick and raise the dead. But we do have means to stop other kinds of evil — human-caused evil. If we have the means, and in good faith decide by the justifiable war criteria and the political process that these means should be employed to stop evil, then as Christians we are morally obligated to support the destruction of evil.36 "Ye that fear the Lord, hate evil," writes the Psalmist,37 and God speaks directly to the people of Israel, "neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD,"38 that is to say, we cannot stand by while our neighbor's blood is shed.

    We are not called by Christ to allow evil to go on against innocent people, e.g. allowing tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler to threaten the free world and innocent people in it while they terrorize their own citizens. We cannot as Christians do nothing while Al-Qaeda and ISIS murder innocent people at the theater in the name of a twisted theology and its so-called god. Can we argue with a straight face that allowing evil to go on unchecked is the manifestation of love for one's neighbor that Jesus commanded when He said, "love thy neighbor as thyself?"39

    The Christian justifiable war tradition teaches that we do no evil when we use force justly. In fact, just warfare must be enjoined if we are to going to be a virtuous people. Failure to engage in a just war is a failure of both natural and spiritual virtue, because it is a failure of charity.40

    XIV. Conclusion

    We began by defining evil as the destruction of life and its life-promoting environments. Innocent suffering abounds and we cannot negate the fact that people frequently suffer innocently, that is, out of all proportion to any wrong they may have done. People suffer innocently because of human free will; or they suffer because of natural disasters, sickness, disease or death which are part of this fallen world. We concern ourselves with human-caused evil.

    We have constructed a case for the Orthodox Just Warrior. The Just Warrior alleviates innocent suffering caused by humans who are bent on doing evil to the innocent. The Just Warrior does so by wielding weapons of war against his enemies according to the doctrine of Jus ad Bellum, and once the criteria of Jus ad Bellum are met the Just Warrior may begin his task. In waging war the Just Warrior must always act morally, no viciousness nor plunder is permitted; in short the Just Warrior must emulate the knightly virtues — as soon as the soldier ceases to be a knight, he becomes nothing more than a paid mercenary. In wielding his sword in a justifiable cause the Just Warrior does not condemn himself nor separate himself from the Body of Christ and its Holy Communion, for laying down one's life to protect the innocent is not a sinful act but a work of love that in itself may be considered as restoring him to the Christian community.

    Because Jesus Christ Himself confronted evil while He was present on earth, we should in like manner put an end to the evil that we can, with the understanding that an army cannot be everywhere at once — which wars are to be fought by the state is decided by the state via the political process in which Christians including the Just Warrior make their voices heard. The Scripture is clear that we are to love the Lord, and if we love the Lord, we are to hate evil. If our neighbors are being slaughtered it is immoral to stand by and watch this happen. We cannot claim to be Christians and at the same time do nothing whilst great evils are perpetrated.

    In 1940, as the battle for Western civilization was about to commence, Winston Churchill addressed his immortal words to the British people:
    Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.41
    Today, Western civilization — and Orthodox Christianity especially — are once again threatened with extinction — this time by radical Islamic terrorists in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Orthodox Christians, and Christians of all denominations, must once again take up the fight against barbarism. The purpose of this paper has been to show that as Christians we may march forward to fight confidently, without fear of human or divine condemnation, and virtuously, because we fight for the preservation of our Church, our families and neighbors, and our countrymen as an act of supreme love that we may preserve the very bulwark of liberty on which the practice of our faith depends.

    This paper was presented for the degree of Master of Theology in 2016.


    1 God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering, Page 1
    2 John 10:10. The King James Version of the Bible is cited throughout this paper unless otherwise noted.
    3 Mark 12:27
    4 God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering, Page 97
    5 God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering, Page 1
    6 God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering, Page 5
    7 God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering, Page 16
    8 1 Samuel 21:11; 1 Samuel 29:5
    9 2 Samuel 12:7-9
    10 Think a Second Time, Pages 190-191
    11 Think a Second Time, Page 191
    12 The Gandhi Reader, Page 345
    13 Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Page 314
    14 Ephesians 6:13-17
    15 John 18:10
    16 The Virtue of War, Page 139
    17 Supra, note 16
    18 OXI Day Proclamation
    19 The Virtue of War, Page 74
    20 Christian Participation in Warfare, Page 37
    21 Supra, note 20
    22 Christian Participation in Warfare, Page 38
    23 Supra, note 22
    24 The Virtue of War, Page 51
    25 Romans 12:20
    26 The World's Most Moral Army
    27 The Virtue of War, Page 126
    28 The Virtue of War, Page 151
    29 cf. Matthew 26:53
    30 The Virtue of War, Page 154
    31 Hebrews 13:8
    32 Romans 13:4
    33 The Virtue of War, Page 198
    34 The Virtue of War, Page 199
    35 Contemporary Lessons, Page 1
    36 Subject to the condition, of course, that the fight continues to be waged justly (Jus in Bello).
    37 Psalms 97:10
    38 Leviticus 19:16
    39 Matthew 19:19
    40 The Virtue of War, Page 169
    41 Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Page 314


    1. The Virtue of War: Reclaiming the Classic Christian Traditions East and West, Alexander Webster and Darrell Cole, Regina Orthodox Press, 2004

    2. Think a Second Time, Dennis Prager, ReganBooks, 1995

    3. God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering, John E. Thiel, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002

    4. "Christian Participation in Warfare," Fr. Patrick Viscuso, Ph. D., Peace and War in Byzantium: Essays in Honor of George T. Dennis, S. J., The Catholic University Press, 1995

    5. The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings, Mahatma Gandhi, Grove Press, 1956

    6. OXI Day Proclamation, His Eminence +DEMETRIOS, Archbishop and Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, 2006

    7. "The World's Most Moral Army," Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander, British Forces in Afghanistan, 2015

    8. Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Sir Winston S. Churchill, G. P. Putnam & Sons Publishing, 1941

    9. New Pilgrim Bible, King James Version Student Edition, E. Schuyler-English, Editor-in-Chief, 1948

    10. Contemporary Lessions from an Ancient Midrash, Eliav Shochetman, NATIV Journal, Volume 6, October 2004