Spy novels suspend truth. That is the basis upon which they are written. All the characters are allowed to lie to each other. The reader does not know where the truth lies. The mystery and suspense for the reader is to discover who is actually moral, even truthful, in a sea of lies and deceit. It is a world in which even the hero is allowed to lie and act immorally.
Wars suspend morality. That is the basis upon which they are waged. The military are allowed to kill each other. The citizens suffer the consequences of people engaged in destruction of life and property.
Yet within both spy novels and war there is still a structure. There are still heroes and villains. There are still activities that the remaining vestige of our humanity will not allow us to do. But the declaration of war, like the opening of a spy novel, opens up possibilities of behaviour that should rightly worry everybody.
Of recent years it has been the habit of governments to declare war not on nations but on behaviour. So we have had wars on crime (and on organised crime), wars on poverty, wars on drugs and wars on terror. This declaration of “War on …” may mean nothing more than the Government is going to take the issue more seriously. But it can also mean that the Government is going to suspend normal restraints of law and morality in order to deal with the problem.
In the war on drugs a group of young Australians are now facing the death penalty. Our governments abandoned the death penalty years ago. Australian governments have considered it to be immoral. No Australian government has executed anybody during the lives of these young offenders. But we are now at war. And the war is fought in an international theatre. These offenders fought in the war zone that allows the death penalty. Our governments want to be part of the international war against drugs but fight it with our domestic morality.
In the war on terror the question of killing is even more complex. This Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the horrific commencement of the world at war on terror. The terror that was struck into the psyche of the Western world when the twin towers were destroyed in New York has changed, seemingly forever, the peaceful ease in which our morality was exercised.
We went to war. Not on the perpetrators of this wicked and evil crime but on terror and terrorism internationally.
Citizens should be able to live in peace and calm. The Bible’s prayer for Government is that through their efforts “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim 2:2). Terrorism intentionally disturbs that peace and challenges the Government’s ability to govern.
But do we want terrorists killed? Do we want the Bali bombers executed? Do we want to suspend that morality in the case of the war on terror? Can we have a war on terror without killing people? And what of secret prisons and different guidelines for extracting information, and holding people in prison for years without trial? Does participating in the war on terror give the terrorists victory? Has it so changed our freedoms and morality that we are no longer the innocent victims?
Evil is inherent in humanity. There is no world order unaffected by the profound evil in the human heart. There can be no peace in our time. We will always need human governments using force to bring about whatever justice and peace can be salvaged in this lifetime. Their very actions, unless practiced with the utmost care, will always be part of the problem as much as the solution.
God’s way of waging war is completely different. Though he is the God of Armies (the meaning of the word ‘hosts’) he fights not with human weapons but divine ones. He conquered evil with the death and resurrection of his own Son. He overcomes his enemies with the gracious love of the message of forgiveness. He pours out his Spirit into our hearts to bring us to repentance and acceptance of his forgiveness.
We are to engage as soldiers in his army and fight in his war. But we do not fight in a way that perpetuates war, injustice and terror. We fight by prayer and proclamation. We prayerfully and lovingly proclaim his amnesty. All rebels can come home now and be forgiven. More than that, can be adopted into God’s own family.