Why Do People Fight in God's Name?
Written by Dr. Justin Imel
Since man has walked the earth, he has fought over religion – the first murderer’s evil thoughts festered because his offering displeased God (Gen 4). Cain may have been the first to murder over religion, but he is far from the last – from the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem witch trials to the attacks of September 11, 2001, countless millions lay dead in the name of religion. Thus, one of our readers asked, “Why is war a part of religion?”
Providing a proper answer requires one to handle rightly “the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15), for God once commanded war in His name. God desired that the Israelites annihilate the Canaanites, for His people could learn much evil from the inhabitants of Canaan (cf. Deut 20:16-18). Because the Israelites failed to honor that instruction, they suffered tremendously (cf. Judg 2:1-5). They would have fared much better had they waged more, not less, wars in the name of God.
Yet, nowhere in the New Testament does God require His people to battle fleshly enemies in His name. God reigned over a physical kingdom in the Old Testament, but He now reigns over a spiritual kingdom. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (Jn 18:36).
War in the name of Jesus occurs because someone misunderstands the nature of His kingdom. Peter drew a sword and severed Malchus’ ear for he failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship (Matt 26:51-54; Jn 18:10-11). The Jews of Jesus’ day largely expected a Messiah to come, establish an earthly kingdom inaugurated by defeating the Roman government, and reign in Jerusalem. Peter, being no exception, took his sword and began to defend the King. Jesus, however, told his eager disciple, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Jn 18:11).
The kingdom belongs not to this world of strife but to the spiritual world of peace; those fighting man in God’s name forget that salient truth. We pray that people look to the Prince of Peace to learn peacemaking and begin reconciling in the name of Jesus.