A common argument made by pacifists and/or those who really do not know their Bibles very well is that all killing is wrong because it cuts short a person’s life, thereby possibly preventing them from hearing the gospel and repenting. One hears this objection quite often, and it has even been used concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden.
‘It is so wrong and so un-Christian to kill Osama – now he will never be able to repent and become a Christian,’ we are told. ‘Because God wants people to come to know him, it is always wrong and always unbiblical to kill anyone,’ they will claim.
But is this in fact true? Is this in fact what the Bible clearly teaches? If so, then we have some major problems here. First and foremost, God is therefore immoral, wrong and unjust, because it is God himself who has allowed killing to take place. He has ordained at least three forms of morally-justifiable killing: self-defence, just war, and capital punishment.
I have laid out the case for all this elsewhere, so I will not rehearse the biblical arguments here. See instead such articles as:
But let’s just look at this premise a bit more closely. These folks are claiming that all killing is always wrong and always against the will of God. As just noted, if this is true, then God is wrong, and he is acting against his own will. For it is God himself who has permitted the use of killing in a fallen world to maintain justice and punish evil.
Indeed, all throughout the Bible we find this clear distinction between killing – which can be morally and legally permissible – and murder, which is not. Let us look at just a few biblical examples of permissible killing. Indeed, many of these are at the express command of God himself.
Obviously, whenever any killing is permitted, it will in one sense end a person’s life prematurely. So take the example of the destruction of the Canaanites. The pacifists could argue that this was just so wrong, because some of these Canaanites might have come to know Yahweh if they were allowed to live longer.
So they are in effect telling us that the Israelites should have disobeyed God’s express commands here, because God was obviously not being as compassionate as we think he should have been. The Canaanites should have been allowed to live out their full lifespan, because this might have allowed some of them to get right with God.
By this line of thought, God was absolutely wrong and immoral to say that the time for the Canaanites was up, and he never should have insisted on using Israel as a tool of his wrath and justice. Indeed, God is amiss to say that any person’s time on this earth is up.
This pacifist argument, if consistently applied, will mean that God was clearly very wrong not only in this but in so many other instances. He was in fact immoral and evil to make any of these commands, or allow any of this killing to occur. God must therefore be put in the dock and judged for his immoral actions, even for his ‘war crimes’.
Of course atheists talk like this all the time. But we really do not – or should not – expect those who claim to be biblical Christians to come up with such nonsense. They are simply siding with the atheists and secularists here.
And of course Jesus and the early disciples were also obviously quite wrong and immoral. When they talked to soldiers and those involved in the military, they never seemed to do the right thing. They never appeared to have said, “If you want to be right with God, you must immediately get out of the military and promise to never kill again.”
Yet we have many incidents in the Gospels and Acts where Jesus and his disciples encountered military folk, but never once do we hear such statements. What we hear is quite the opposite. For example, when John the Baptist was asked by some soldiers, “And what should we do?,” he had the perfect opportunity to push pacifism.
This was a golden opportunity for John. “Thanks for asking guys. If you want to be right with God, you must immediately leave the military, and vow never to use force or kill any more”. Yet for some odd reason this is not what he said.
Instead, he incredibly simply said this: “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” John, what were you thinking? You blew it big time. Here was your perfect chance to let these guys know that all killing is always wrong, but you instead gave them the mistaken notion that they could stay in the military and be right with God at the same time.
Surely Jesus would not miss such a great opportunity. And we find him dealing with military personnel in the Gospels. In Luke 7:1-10 (=Matt 8:5-13) for example we have the story of his encounter with the centurion, a military official.
If John blew his chances with soldiers, surely Jesus would make things right: another golden opportunity for the pacifist message to be broadcast loud and clear. But what do we find here? Incredibly, Jesus starts praising the soldier, not chewing him out.
He even commends his faith: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” But if all killing is always wrong, and the military is no place for a follower of Jesus, then why in the world did Jesus not point this out to him? He just missed a golden teaching opportunity here.
And it seems his disciples were not very good at pointing out this supposed biblical insistence on pacifism either. In Acts 10 we read about another centurion. If Jesus missed his chance, then maybe Peter could get things right. But he blows it as well. Indeed, we simply read of this soldier that he was “a righteous and God-fearing man”.
Well Paul at least would get it right, wouldn’t he? We read in Philippians about how he is imprisoned with Roman guards. In 1:13 he speaks about his witness running “throughout the whole palace guard” and in 4:22 he says this: “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household”.
What? This can’t be right. He is calling these military dudes ‘saints,’ part of the redeemed. But surely that cannot be the case, because the leftists and pacifists insist that one cannot be a real Christian and be involved in any kind of killing.
Indeed, by their reasoning, it is not just God, Jesus and the disciples who got it all wrong. So have countless others throughout human history. Obviously it was wrong to seek to stop Hitler or any Nazi. After all, they should all have been allowed to live – even if it meant enslaving the world, ruling with horrid terror and bloodshed, and killing every last Jew – because some of them might have found the gospel.
Justice, it seems for these folks, is to allow any and every evil to take place, because some of these evil doers might eventually see the light. So the bad guys here were clearly the Allies who sought to stop Hitler and liberate Europe. They were obviously frustrating God’s intent to save Hitler and all the other malicious Nazi thugs.
I was even asked by one of these pacifists, “who are you to decide that bin Laden had had enough of a chance to repent?” I replied: I am not in a position to decide anything along these lines. Only God is. He alone knows when a person has had enough opportunity to know of him, repent, and be saved.
But he appoints the times and seasons of men. He gives life and he takes it away. And part of the way that he governs in this fallen world is to declare that those who forfeit their right to life shall in fact lose it. He instituted the death penalty and the use of the sword for this very reason.
When God ordained – with full justice and righteousness – the death penalty for murder, he had every right to do so. If people think God is immoral for doing so, they really need to deal with God about this. What they are really doing is putting God in the dock and saying they are in a far better position than him to run the universe, and to make moral judgments.
In sum, God’s concern that the lost will come to know him does not in any way conflict with, or negate, his justice and righteousness. It is God who has established the state to use the sword to maintain justice and to punish those who do wrong. Those who choose to reject God’s just standards and forfeit their right to life deserve fully what they get.
In the meantime, we certainly should be doing all we can to tell everyone the good news about Jesus. I suspect however that many of these critics who complain about the death penalty, about the death of Osama, and so on, are doing very little by way of world evangelism.
We all need to share the good news as often as we can. But that in no way contradicts or counters God’s just dealings with men on this earth, including the delegated means he has chosen to do this with. God ordained the state and helped us set up laws relating to justice and so on, and that is as much a part of his perfect plan for us as is evangelism.
If critics are not happy with all this, that really is their problem. It certainly is not God’s problem. As Abraham confidently affirmed, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25).