Old Testament Worldview, murder & war

Posted on Feb 16, 2014 in Theology blog | 6 comments

Roland, I am intrigued by your comments that there is new historical evidence that, in fact, Bonhoeffer was wrongfully accused of plotting to assassinate Hitler, which we have all believed was justified.  But you asked how could Bonhoeffer participate in actual attempt to assassinate Hitler if he believed in the radical worldview of the Christian faith?  You could not reconcile Bonhoeffer’s alleged participation with your Christian worldview.

But this subject brings up more than just murder.

There is an entire world view in the ENTIRE Christian Bible, not just relegated to the Old Testament, OT, that God is sovereign and watches over not just the affairs of people but also of NATIONS.

And God’s watch over the nations is pretty bloody!  Lots of good subject for a movie today.

In fact the Bible says, even in Revelation, that God sends the armies of men, the armies of heaven and the armies from the abyss.

So, we have poorly developed, if at all, in our pietistic personal religion of “love”, any theology of God’s dealing with nations.  The only piece that evangelicals own is that when the Gospel is preached to all the nations and peoples of the earth, then the great tribulations and conflagration of the end will come.
So what about it?   This is what I have thought:  I disagree with Bush having gone into Iraq and screwing up the Middle East, that only despots could control.

But last Saturday I met Nina’s brother, (both grew up in Lebanon and emigrated here) from Arlington, VA, who worked in the Bush administration.  His perspective was this — Though the war in Iraq cost tremendously in many ways, it was the only way that change could be fomented in the Middle East — it was the notice that all despots and despotic systems (e.g. Iran) in all areas of the Middle East were now on a short leash.  And there unleashed a conflagration across the entire Middle East.  He said, that only in years far into the future will we realize that this cataclysmic change was a boon to the world.  And although fundamentalists and despotic elements like the Brotherhood and Al Queda will continue to fight, theirs is a lost battle, against the force of modernism, freedom and the future.

So how do we look at this through the Biblical worldview?

I suggest that we see this all under the sovereignty of God.
I suggest that God sent Bush and the Armies of the West to bring judgment on a despot and a despotic kingdom, not unlike the judgment that God sent on ancient Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and “worship me” arrogance that displaced the True God.

Nebuchadnezzar could learn.  Saddam Hussein could not.  Nebuchadnezzar lived as a wild animal until he was changed to recognize God.  Saddam ended up living as an animal in a hole in the ground, but he would never change to recognize the True God and so he was hung.

What are the choices?

1.  God is limited in his sovereignty — only active in persuading individuals


2.  God is indeed Lord Almighty over all creation!

So then the difficulty is this:  Churchill sent his nation against the evil beast of Germany, which arose out of the sea (see Daniel and Revelation) in arrogance against the Lord of Heaven itself.  It simply cannot, if you have chosen #2 above, be that the conflict was merely a secular affair of men.  It was a conflict of heaven and evil.

So then, the warning of Tolkien (Bill Barnes’ Favorite books) and why he wrote the Lord of the Rings:  that noble and good men must give their lives to prevent the pernicious elements from overtaking the good world.  There is no magic “deus ex machina”#1 to rescue us from the overtaking intent and activity of evil.

So too, Jesus gave his life in the battle of Heaven with the Beasts of Earth.  Just as it says in Revelation that the Dragon attempted to devour the birthed child of the Woman (Christ)  in Rev. 12.  And now the Dragon battles with the sons and daughters of heaven on earth.  Do we really believe this?  But Revelation attests to it:  “The great dragon was hurled down [from heaven] — that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who LEADS THE WHOLE WORLD ASTRAY.” (Rev. 12:9)

I can’t explain it -why is it this way.

But every time you see a movie with the struggle of good vs. evil, as EVEN in the Lego Movie (go see it), we as Christians should say, Amen, a metaphor for the REAL struggle going on for the destiny of Creation.  Whether we will turn stones into bread, whether we expect God to rescue us from falling off the Temple’s tower, whether we bow down to worship the Dragon in order to gain everything the “world” offers — these choices continue to be ours and the worlds.

The real nubbin of this choice is that it is harder to stand for Good, than for Evil.
It is harder, because Evil might kill you, as it did Jesus.
It is harder, because God may send you into the fight, as He sent His Only Son to fight Evil on our behalf.
It is harder, because you might die in the fight, as did Jesus in His fight.
It is harder, because all those benefits promised by the Dragon will not be yours.
It is harder, because it demands greater sacrifice to stand for Good, then to stand for Evil.
It is harder, as Bonheoffer showed, whether guilty or not, the beast of Germany would have silenced and killed him one way or another.  To include him in those accused of the assasination plot was only a convenient way to do away with one of the most severe religious critics of the Beast and and the second Beast (Rev. 13:1 and 11) — for even the religious establishments in Germany were in the Belly of the Beast and bore its mark on their foreheads.

Think about it…

The only hope for those of us who choose to ally ourselves with Good is God’s promise that in the End, God Almighty will win.  And why do we have this hope?  Because the End Winning has already been exposed for full view of Heaven and Earth in the victorious resurrection of the Assassinated One.  And now we know, as Paul said, whether in poverty, nakedness, peril, suffering, even death itself, we are more than conquerors through Christ our Lord, who will raise us from death when the Lord Almighty resurrects us to a life like his in a Creation redeemed from the Evil and Death that has invaded it.  This is why the Presbyterian Book of Worship does not call the worship service for the dead a “funeral” or a “memorial service,” but a “Witness to the Resurrection.”  Amen.

For the True Kingdom,

Jack Irwin, M. Div.

#1 fromLatin, meaning “god from the machine”; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.


  1. Two more thoughts in response to my own previous position. Jesus asked me to turn the other cheek. He never asked me to turn somebody else’s cheeek or make them more vulnerable. Second, are we the new blessed kings of Persia? God certainly had a role for the mighty and pagan Persian Empire in advancing his covenant plan.

  2. Jack asked, “Just how does ‘Death itself start working backwards…?'”

    This is a literary phrase which comes from the Biblical truth “God, who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). Death itself doesn’t work backwards, but rather God brings to life things which are dead. Death has been conquered by God, and in the end of time His eternal victory over death (spiritual and physical) will prevail! He said, “I was dead, but look-I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

    Regardless of the details of what happens by the hands of mankind (war, etc.) everything will work toward accomplishing God’s will, “…according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

    While we have our part to do, we certainly can’t rationally figure it all out in our finite minds (no matter how smart one might be), that’s why “…by faith we understand that the universe was created by God’s command,..” and “..without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:23,6). Mental assent and/or reasoning does not produce faith.

    Whatever fight we fight, let us faith the good fight of faith!


  3. Heavy and deep topic guys! I’m still not clear on the biblical OT & NT guidance…will have to give it study and thought. It is clear the Jesus didn’t condone using force to overthrow Rome, but then again guess what happened? His movement ultimately conquered that mighty empire. Timely, we watched Ann Frank the Whole Story last night, not a particularly great movie, but the second half with the life in the concentration camps…the pure evil, the inhumanity, rocked me again to the core. I know that I must stand up to such evil and I want to truly believe that I would do whatever I could to fight and defeat it if I was there. To hell with turn the other cheek…I would hope God would forgive me.

    While I’m just starting to scratch the surface of what the OT & NT tells us on the subject, what is clear to me is the various church traditions (which I don’t hold as much weight as scripture) but non-the-less they are from some of the great early minds of the church, St Augustine and then Aquinas. I gave this study in my teens as I was drafted for the Viet Nam war right at the Tet Offensive in ‘68. As a Catholic I could not claim conscientious objector, but I still could not support the war based on what I knew of church traditions. So here’s a quick primer (which I’m copying and pasting from various searches):

    The criteria are split into two groups: ‘the right to go to war’ (jus ad bellum) and ‘right conduct in war’ (jus in bello). The first concerns the morality of going to war and the second with moral conduct within war.

    Augustine of Hippo, generally considered one of the first and greatest Christian theologians, was one of the first to assert that a Christian could be a soldier and serve God and country honorably. He claimed that, while individuals should not resort immediately to violence, God has given the sword to government for good reason (based upon Romans 13:4 – Rulers are God’s servants to help you. But if you do wrong, you have reason to be afraid. They have the power to punish, and they will use it. They are God’s servants to punish those who do wrong.). Christians as part of government should not be ashamed to protect peace and punish wickedness. He required that what is in the heart (the true motivations) was most important. (I had trouble with this one with Vietnam). He if fact asserted, peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defense of one’s self or others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority (a nation). Then Nine hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas, an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, used the authority of Augustine’s arguments as he laid out the conditions under which a war could be just:

    • First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man’s true end – God.)
    • Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power.
    • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.

    Growing from Aquinas arguments was the School of Salamanca, which expanded on Thomistic understanding of natural law and just war. Given that war is one of the worst evils suffered by mankind, the adherents of the School reasoned that it ought to be resorted to only when it was necessary in order to prevent an even greater evil. A diplomatic agreement is preferable, even for the more powerful party, before a war is started. Examples of “just war” are:
    • In self-defense, as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success.
    • Preventive war against a tyrant who is about to attack.
    • War to punish a guilty enemy.
    • A war is not legitimate or illegitimate simply based on its original motivation: it must comply with a series of additional requirements:
    • It is necessary that the response be commensurate to the evil; use of more violence than is strictly necessary would constitute an unjust war.
    • Governing authorities declare war, but their decision is not sufficient cause to begin a war. If the people oppose a war, then it is illegitimate. The people have a right to depose a government that is waging, or is about to wage, an unjust war.
    • Once war has begun, there remain moral limits to action. For example, one may not attack innocents or kill hostages.
    • It is obligatory to take advantage of all options for dialogue and negotiations before undertaking a war; war is only legitimate as a last resort.
    Under this doctrine, expansionist wars, wars of pillage, wars to convert infidels or pagans, and wars for glory are all inherently unjust.
    The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church – found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for “legitimate defense by military force”:
    • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    • there must be serious prospects of success;
    • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).

    If I work through all these points of tradition with what I believed about Viet Nam and what I know about the Nazi genocide, (it would take a small book to record my thought process), I come to the conclusion that I had a moral obligation to resist the Vietnam war, but I would give my life to fight the Nazi evil.

    I do pray every day, “…but deliver us from evil”. I believe this thread refers to the exact type of evil that Jesus is having His disciples pray to be spared from. You know we could have easily been born so that we were men in those dark days of WWII. I thank God I was not. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.


  4. Roland, Thanks for your response. Perhaps we ought to check out our “Western Christianity,” or more parochially the “American Christianity,” by looking at what parts of the Biblical world view we have ignored or left out or think that Jesus “left behind” or think we have evolved from into a “higher” form of religion.
    Another part of the Biblical world view which we have lost is this: At the end of Revelation every tear and pain is wiped away. What does this mean? I think for many, or most, American Christians this means we who get to heaven will be damn glad we have left all this corrupted earth behind, and that somehow God has even brought us through the worst and terminal corruption: death.
    I think that this statement in Revelation means something more than the Lord’s succor for those who died as members of the church. I can’t quite get a handle on this. But will try to explain inarticulately. It has something to do with turning the evil and corruption into good. The best example I can give: Jesus death — which the Dragon and its accomplices (you mention Caiaphas in your response below) knew was their victory. The Lord God Almighty didn’t send the angels to rescue Jesus from falling into death — and Jesus knew he shouldn’t tempt God’s purposes by praying in the garden not just that this cup be taken away — but also I think he was tempted to ask the Lord God to bring in the mighty myriads of angelic host to rescue Jesus’ fall from the high Tower of the Temple onto the Cross. God Almighty allowed the Dragon to kill his Only Begotten Son.
    Now the mystery takes over. I love the tale of Narnia, when the wicked witch and her minions have strapped the willing Aslan onto the stone table and KILLED him. But that was not the end, because the Evil did not know the secret
    “. . . when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”
    – Aslan the Lion, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
    The secret here — has something to do with “working backwards.”
    Is not the entire Story of God that is in the entire OT and NT (as one continuous story) all about WORKING BACKWARDS? Working backwards from the sting of sin which leads to death and to all the evil corrupted — backwards to where? Backwards to the ultimate goodness that Creation and Humankind were created in and for in Genesis. BACKWARDS TO THE GARDEN OF EDEN. (title for a great book?)
    Little did Caiaphas know — he did not know the deeper secret of the cosmos (which belongs to all Goodness and all Love), either. The secret is this: the evil done to Jesus, that God allowed, was turned into Goodness — pure Goodness without any taint to it.
    I don’t know how God does this. Good Reformed Christians and Calvinists simplistically prate that the reason is that God is sovereign. That is not enough for my scientific and engineering mind. Just how does “Death itself start working backwards” not just for Jesus, but for you and me, and for Creation?
    CS Lewis is, in my mind, right on to the magic of Creation and the Goodness behind it. Yet, I think he was simplistic too, by saying through the victory of Aslan in the Last Battle, that the corrupted creation – the old heavens and earth — were rolled up like you roll up an old carpet to take to the dump, where it essentially disappears. Rather, I am positing that the Lord God Almighty can take that “old carpet” and transform it into the carpet it was intended to be.
    God usually does not seem to create new carpets out of old carpets in this life. But I believe that when we see the Lord face to face and when we see the redemption of creation, included in that redemption will be that every death, sin, evil, corruption, illness, cancer, baby dying of dysentery, people killed by despots and by train wrecks, even people killed in war by bombs marked “To Hitler, from Arthur” — all that will be transformed into the Goodness of Creation.
    If you have any thoughts on this, or anybody does, please inform me.
    For the Kingdom,

  5. I am intrigued his view of the Iraqi war. Hopefully he his correct and some things good might still come out of what is happening in the Middle East.
    When it comes to war or the preparing for war, we run into a moral dilemma. For example, my father was a major player in the war effort of WWII. He was in charge of the Ryan PT22 production. This resulted in the training of many worthy pilots that would help bring down the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire.
    I followed in his footsteps during the “Cold” war, with supplying critical parts for aircraft such as the F4, F-111, F-14, F-15 as well as the B1B and B2 bombers. I also worked on missiles such as the Titian. These were not “weapons of mass destruction” per se. However, they could deliver such weapons which we had in some abundance. As a result, all of us in the “Military-Industrial Complex”, were severely criticized, by the church.
    No doubt, the pilots that my father helped train, went on to kill many enemy military, but many innocent women and children as well. I believe my efforts (with of whole lot of others) lead to the fall of the Soviet Union. However, it could have lead to unbelievable destruction as well. The question is: did we do the right thing in supporting these war efforts? I truly believe so. But just like so many things in life, we still may not know for years to come. (If at all)
    (An amusing side story: My Uncle Dave was in England with the Army Air Corps during WWII. One of his jobs was to load bombs onto the aircraft that flew over Germany. He wrote home to me saying that he had addressed one of the bombs “To Hitler, From Arthur” So I guess I am as guilty as Bonhoeffer)

  6. Jack, You hit it out of the ballpark! (that is a sports analogy) Your response blew me away. Based on your insights, I have gone back to my original perspective on the Bonhoeffer Issue (BI). Much more importantly, you have shifted or modified my perspective on my Christian Worldview (CW). I have been so radicalized in my worldview by reading and studying the bible this past 20 years or so. I found it harder and harder to read all of this stuff and immerse myself in scripture without also altering the way I saw virtually everything. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Rom 12:2 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:22. I vote differently. I prioritize differently. I devote my time differently. God’s regard for a computer tech in India is surely no less than His regard for me. Simply stated, I just see things differently now.

    This is why I was so open to the new historical evidence that Bonhoeffer may not have tried to kill Hitler after all. This is how I originally viewed the issue: One of the greatest Christians in history made an agonizing choice to commit what he knew was a terrible sin and had the courage to do so due to the greater good. When my daughter spent so much of her life in hospitals and programs, the mental health folks frequently skirted various “rules” because they had the courage to do what they believed to be the right thing. They stuck their necks out in order to help her and us. (I also vividly remember those few cowards who adhered to by the rigidity of the rules to protect themselves and resulted in doing us much harm.) This was Bonhoeffer-ism at work in my life.

    But after the radicalization of my own CW, I became uncomfortable with the traditional take on the BI. Jesus didn’t try to kill Caiaphas. He scolded Peter for harming an arresting guard. He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” He warned the Jews not to revolt against Rome. It was Caiaphas, not Jesus who reasoned, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Didn’t Bonhoeffer read the bible? So, when this new book came along, it tended to harmonize the BI with my CW.

    But no more. I am thoroughly convinced by your reasoning. What is most interesting is that the flaw you exposed in my perspective was one against which I have railed for so many years, ie failing to read the bible as a single, all-tied-in narrative. My radicalized worldview had become (unlike my theology) exclusively a NT worldview. It needs, rather, to be a Biblical Worldview. Me, of all people, had forgotten to factor in and take account of what the OT had to say about such things.

    As with the Messiah at Christmas and our own resurrection at Easter, I will no longer speak of a “Christian Worldview” but of a “Biblical Worldview.” For all the reasons you articulated, it surely must be that, from God’s perspective, nations do matter. Bonhoeffer knew that. You knew that. Now, so do I.

    Terrific Work.

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