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War, What Good Is It?

The late Edwin Starr’s hit 1970 antiwar song made for good protest music but incorrectly answers his own question.

If you’re reading this blog you know war is good for generating endless discussion.

And I mean endless.

According to Chris Hedges’s article in the New York Time (7-6-03), humans
have only been at peace for 268 out of the last 3,400 years of recorded history. He probably missed a few skirmishes in those 268 peaceful years.

That’s a lot of wars.

A view of Arlington National Cemetery, located in Arlington, Virginia (VA).

Those conflicts killed an estimated 150 million to 1 billion people, Hedges writes. That high estimate almost certainly under-represents the actual death toll.

Consider 2 million people alone died in the 1942-43 Stalingrad siege on the Russian front in WW II. And ponder all the graves of unknown warriors from wars past being unearthed almost on a weekly basis around the world.

No one counted them.

When did we start fighting wars? Very early in our history it seems.

The Bible says at the time of Noah the earth was “full of violence.” God destroyed humankind in the flood except for Noah’s family but it didn’t take long after unloading the ark for war to return to recorded history.

Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod, was called a “mighty warrior” and the Bible lists him as the founder of Assyria. By the way, Nimrod was also responsible for the debacle at the Tower of Babel so I guess no warrior-leader is perfect.

The account in the book of Genesis also introduces readers to another fascinating aspect of war – the role of divine providence. 

Whether you’re talking about Yahweh the God of the Bible or some other deity. Humans have always looked to their God or gods for favor in battle.

Australian Biblical scholar and blogger Mike Southon lists 100 wars and battles in the Old Testament as he discusses this issue. He argues God used war to show his power over human events.

Painting of Abraham's Journey
Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan
by József Molnár

Southon’s first “official” battle in the Bible is the account of Abraham’s group of 300 to 400 servants defeating the much larger coalition army of several city-states in the Sodom and Gomorrah region.  His ultimate conclusion is that Christians have no place in the world of war.

I’m wondering whether you might disagree with that sentiment.

There are still the clashes of the Biblical end times. The Ezekiel 38 conflict and the battle of Armageddon. The Quran and Islamic prophecies contain their own versions of apocalyptic battles.

Pacifists are not invited to these events.

(You might be able to guess where I stand on this issue.)

In short, war is ingrained in our human condition from the very beginning of recorded history and apparently to the very end.

I don’t know why we’re fascinated with or prone to war. (Any psychologists around to chime in? Maybe it’s more of a question for a theologian.)

Wrestling Match
Crewmen take part in an arm wrestling competition during Sports Day activities aboard the command ship USS CORONADO (AGF-11). by PH2 C. Duvall

While we’re here, we may as well enjoy debating, arguing and fighting (symbolically) over war.

I invite fellow war history buffs to contribute to join in the fray of discussion. As I mentioned above, we have a lot of history to cover not to mention future conflicts so let’s get started.

So, what do you think? War, what is it good for?

(Fair fights only–no cutting off each others heads (symbolically).)

Posted in War History, War Theology


  1. Mike Southon

    Thanks for the quote! I never got around to posting my NT work, I had to pause my study as my employed ministry/work took over.

    I would argue that the pattern in the OT continues clearly in the NT. In the Revelation battle you refer to:

    7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. (Rev 20:7-9)

    There is no battle of Armageddon. There is the forces of God lining up against the forces of Satan, and then God winning the battle by himself. The point being – we don’t need to fight when we have a God like this on our side.

    Paul re-purposes the image of war to a much greater Spiritual battle. Our swords and armour are not made from steel – they are so much more powerful than that:

    10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6)

    My argument is simple: with tools like the Gospel and Prayer – backed up by the God of the Universe – messing around with guns is simply a waste of time. Leave that to those who don’t have God on their side.

  2. John Peterson

    Thanks for a thoughtful comments Mike. You’re the first! I hope to attract many more readers like yourself. BTW, when I get this site up and going, I may ask you to interrupt your studies and write a guest blog.

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