The Outcome of Violence
“One man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist.”
Is there a moral difference in Paul
Hill, the former Presbyterian minister who shot and killed an abortion
doctor and his escort, and John Brown, the nineteenth century
abolitionist, whose “body lies a-mouldering in the grave.” John Brown
became for many people a hero, his story set to a Methodist hymn that
Julia Ward Howe later changed to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
I am not saying that a person who follows Jesus can never serve in the military of his nation, nor am I saying that all killing in war is murder–though, of course, a lot of killing during war is murder. But I am saying that we must beware of the normal and natural human tendency to sit in judgment of others while being blind to our own faults. Such blind judgment leads us to dehumanize others as if they were somehow different than we are, making it easy to do violence against them, propelled by a vengeful, self-righteous spirit.
Isn’t that the “spirit” of John Brown and Paul Hill, (Luke 9:55, 56.) not the Holy Spirit, but a self-righteous spirit that condemns others without taking a long, honest look at oneself, a spirit that calls down violent fire that destroys rather than the fire of Pentecost that changes hard hearts and makes them tender, giving them a hunger and thirst for righteousness within.
Actions always have unforeseen,
unpredictable consequences. That is especially true of war.
As a student of history, I think that it is safe to say that almost all
wars that have ever been fought were begun by people who believed that
their war was necessary and morally justifiable. Those who started
these wars also believed that they could be won, often very quickly and
with minimal disruption of civilian life. I think of the folly of
those who fought the “War to End all Wars,” World War I, an utterly
unnecessary and evil war that paved the way for dreadful, demonic
totalitarian systems: Stalinist Communism and Nazism. Would
that wiser heads had prevailed.