John Lennon had the right idea, but he didn’t account for the fact that at least one person wanted him dead. I’m all for peace until somebody wants to kill me. In the “On Religion” section of USA Today, Oliver “Buzz” Thomas appeals to the Bible to declare that Christians should work for peace in the world.[1] I couldn’t agree more. Christian leaders should call for an international summit to establish a workable agenda to pursue peace in the world. At the same time, they should recognize that Islamic extremists are hell-bent on converting the world to Islam by the sharp edge of the sword. It is their stated goal.

In the movie Ben Hur, there is a discussion between Balthasar and Judah Ben Hur about seeking revenge.

Judah : I must deal with Messala in my own way.

Balthasar : And your way is to kill him. I see this terrible thing in your eyes, Judah Ben-Hur. But no matter what this man has done to you, you have no right to take his life. He will be punished inevitably.

Overhearing their conversation, Sheik Ilderim states the following : “Balthasar is a good man. But until all men are like him, we must keep our swords bright!” If all those in the world had the heart of Balthasar, then there would be no need to discuss what the right response is regarding self-defense and war.

Mr. Thomas quotes some familiar New Testament passages to make his point that peace is the best way. Jesus tells us “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9), but He doesn’t tell us what our response should be when someone, despite our best efforts to be peaceful, still wants to steal, rape, and murder. Then there’s Jesus’ injunction to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38–39). There’s quite a difference between slapping someone across the face and someone wanting to take a baseball bat to your head. Self-defense is a biblical option in such cases: “If the thief is caught while breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account” (Ex. 22:2). The homeowner can assume that someone breaking into his house at night has nothing but bad intentions. So what is a legitimate reaction when we are told what the goals are of those who are planning to kill us in “the name of Allah”? Peace doesn’t have a chance!

The laws used by Mr. Thomas apply to personal relationships. They are not describing the proper response of governments. While governments should pursue peace in every way possible, there are still times when peace is not an option. We can see the differences when we compare Romans 12:17–21 with 13:4. Paul tells Christians, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (12:18). Sometimes peace isn’t possible. The implication is that the Christian can protect himself against an aggressor who means to do harm. While the individual is never to take his own “revenge” (12:19), the civil magistrate “does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (13:4).

Mr. Thomas appeals to Christians to develop a proper biblical ethic regarding pursuing peace. He implies that he wants these personal views regarding peace to transfer over to the civil magistrate since that’s who wages war. He then ruins the deal by stating that “Our beloved nation is a civil state, not a religious one.” Then why should our civil leaders listen to the “three-quarters of the U.S. population [who] consider themselves Christian”? Mr. Thomas can’t have it both ways.

One last point, Mr. Thomas states that there are “no references to God in our Constitution. . . . The Founding Fathers gave us a secular state in which all religions are free to flourish or flounder on their own initiative without interference by the government.” Mr. Thomas needs to recognize that the Constitution is not as religiously neutral as he supposes. It closes with “Done in the year of our Lord.” The reference to “Lord” is to Jesus Christ, not Buddha, Allah, or Vader.


[1] Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, “A Christian view of war, USA Today (September 18, 2006), 13A.