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Love And Judgment
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The Gods Of War And Peace

By James Donahue

Bible thumpers who really spend time studying that book must have a lot of trouble justifying the many verses that describe their god as a "god of war" and also a "god of peace." How can the god of love that watches over mankind also condone the violent killing of armies and sometimes entire tribes?

The Rev. Jerry Farwell once admitted: "if one depends on the Bible as a guidepost for living, it is readily apparent that war is sometimes a necessary option. In fact, just as there are numerous references to peace in the Bible, there are frequent references to God-ordained war."

Some of the best known of these verses appear in Revelation 19, where Jesus is described as bearing a "sharp sword" and smiting nations, then ruling over them with "a rod of iron" following his return to earth.

Exodus 15 in the Old Testament describes the Creator as a "man of war: the Lord is his name." Other verses in this section suggest that there is a time for war. The Old Testament stories are filled with stories where God empowers the leaders of the Hebrew people for great battles. The stories describe how God strikes down the enemies of the Israelites during their struggle to claim and land God has awarded them.

Farwell argues that "we continue to live in violent times. The Bible tells us war will be a reality until Christ returns." At that time, the minister promises, Jesus will bring an end to war.

Or will he? A well-known verse in Revelation 19, describes Jesus as bearing a "sharp sword" and smiting nations, then ruling over them with "a rod of iron" following his return to earth. Will this be the way he forces nations to settle down and live in peace? Are we collectively so foolish as to ignore the commandment to love our neighbors?

The author of the Book of Romans wrote: "if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Apparently the writer wasn’t really sure that humanity could ever achieve the proper mindset to truly love one another and avoid conflict.

Yet there are more positive verses, especially in the New Testament.

Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God." (This is not a promise of peace, however. The blessings are on the people who work to bring peace. This implies that hate and violence remain a part of social behavior.)

Yet there is a promise of a happiness among those who achieve peaceful existence with their neighbors. Philippians 4:7 offers "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

So it is that students of both the Bible and the Quran struggle with this conflict between man’s dark warlike nature, God’s acts that tend to lead humans into warfare, and the commandments by God to do all that we can to live in peace.

We consequently are caught in this conflict between a god of judgment and punishment for doing evil and a god of love who watches over us daily. How can this be? Are there dual gods hanging over our heads? We somehow picture here the image of the man struggling between the voices from the angel on his right shoulder and the devil on his left.

And there may lie the crux of the problem. When we were created, we were granted free will. Thus it is up to us to choose the course we take in life. God can only advise us, through the written and spoken words of the prophets on how we should live. What we do with our brief time on this planet is up to us.