But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 3:17-4: 3)
St James is clear that sinful passions are the cause of war among humans. If sin and passions cause armed conflict, could there ever be a just or righteous war? Not in the above comment of the Apostle James. Even those wishing to go to war for what they believe is a righteous cause would not find support in the thinking of St James. St Silouan once said: “War comes to us for our sins, not because of our love. The Lord created us in His love, and bade us live in love and glorify Him” (WISDOM FROM MT ATHOS, p 104). We humans sometimes claim it is our love for others or love for peace or justice that cause us to go to war, but there certainly is a strong current in Christian thinking that would not support that idea.
What if the leaders of the world saw their main purpose as achieving or promoting love and understanding among all people rather than on working out their sinful passions and power struggles? The world would be very different. If instead of seeing other people in the world as enemies, world leaders rather saw themselves as having a responsibility for all people they might actually work together for good, peace and justice. They might not agree on all issues and might have competitive ideas for how to make the world a better place for all. But if they took on themselves the task of helping people love and understand each other, a new direction could happen for humanity: we might compete to see who can bring about the most cooperation between humans to help all of humanity.
St Augustine who is often blamed for forming ideas of a just war, also understood for Christians that peace not war was the method to advance the Gospel. Augustine wrote:
It is a higher glory still to prevent war itself with a word than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war. For those who fight, if they are good men, doubtless seek for peace; nevertheless, it is through blood. Your mission, however, is to prevent the shedding of blood. Yours, therefore, is the privilege of averting that calamity which others are under the necessity of producing. (FOR THE PEACE FROM ABOVE, p 124)
The first priority of world leaders should be to prevent war not to have to rely on war to try to end war. Augustine’s comment might be summarized by in the phrase, wage peace, not war. He says good men might seek peace through war, but it is our duty as Christians, and the better way, to try to prevent the shedding of blood to attain peace. Militaries often do have a peacekeeping role, but Augustine says for Christians, the prime goal is to prevent the shedding of blood, not to rely on killing others to bring about peace. It is no easy task in this fallen world.
Patriarch Pavle of Serbia whose own country and peoples were torn apart by war in the 1990s says if we live as people of God, we will look for ways to be at peace with others. On the other hand, if we think killing others is the way to attain our goals (including attaining peace), then even if there are only two people on earth, the planet will not be big enough to prevent war and the shedding of blood.
If we live as people of God, there will be room for all nations in the Balkans and in the world. If we liken ourselves to Cain who killed his brother Abel, then the entire earth will be too small even for two people. The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to be always children of God and love one another. We should remember the words of Saint Paul: “If it be possible, as much as it lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). (FOR THE PEACE FROM ABOVE, p 195)
In the modern world, we have often come to believe a powerful standing military is one way to assure peace. But I think it was American founding father, James Madison, who wisely opined that the problem with standing armies is national leaders are never willing to let them stand but rather always decide since they have an army they may as well put it to use to attain their political goals through the military’s help. So, according to Madison, countries with powerful standing armies can never resist intervening militarily in most every situation, and sometimes the military becomes the main foreign policy tool of the country. St James, St Augustine, Patriarch Pavle, and a host of other Christian leaders through history might agree that sadly, too often it is sinful passion not godly wisdom that guides politicians in how they view the world and what weapons they use to attain peace.
“But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will deliver them by the LORD their God; I will not deliver them by bow, nor by sword, nor by war, nor by horses, nor by horsemen.” (Hosea 1:7)