Is Rand Paul Right About Jesus And War?

Politico.com ran a story yesterday under the headline, “Rand Paul: Jesus Was Anti-War.”

Is Rand Paul right?

It is hard to say because Paul isn’t quoted using the term “anti-war”; that is the headline’s interpretation. Jesus certainly told parables about being a king and avenging his enemies (for example: Matthew 22.7). And John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation show him as a warrior (Revelation 19.11-21). Soldiers were told to be ethical, but not to quit being soldiers. Rand Paul allegedly said, “I simply can’t imagine Jesus at the head of any army of soldiers.” I simply don’t see why not.

Rand Paul says of Jesus, “his message to his disciples was one of non-resistance.” It is true He didn’t want his twelve to start fighting back against persecutors. But Jesus’ wider group of followers included soldiers and centurions. Much of Jesus’ preaching was directed at Israelites tempted to engage in terrorism (freedom fighting) against the occupying Romans. This culminated when the mob in Jerusalem chose Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer, over Jesus.

Rand Paul, however, was not arguing that all war was wrong. “I think as Christians we need to be wary of the doctrine of preemptive war” (my emphasis). He also objected to our arming and aiding Al Qaeda related forces in Syria who are killing and torturing Christians.

Ironically, I think Paul’s “anti-war” message would be more clear if he talked about what we call (and often denigrate as) the “Old Testament.” Deuteronomy 17.16-17 forbids kings to collect horses and chariots, or wives, or “excessive silver and gold.” The wives would come with foreign political alliances, which fit nicely with Rand Paul’s questions about why we give foreign aid to other.  The horses and chariots were the ancient version of the tank, bomb, or some other super-weapon.

The temptation to militarize is a spiritual issue. Thus, from Psalm 33:

“The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

Psalm 20.7:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

Isaiah 31.1:

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD!”

This should lead Christians to think about how much spending on the military or on national security really makes us safer. At what point does a military build-up or a Homeland Security force become an idol that results in perpetual insecurity and instability? Do we ever say “this much is OK and now we stop spending”? Or are we on an eternal quest to raise taxes or go further into debt to add cameras in all cities or another aircraft carrier, etc? Frankly, comparing our military budget to all the other countries, we should feel like the safest people on earth. But it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Despite my occasional disagreements with Rand Paul, I like the fact that he talks to Christians about how we should view war. While he’s described as a Libertarian, much of what he says about foreign aid and avoiding preemptive war sounds more like common sense.

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