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Posted July 28, 2005

Book: Between Pacifism and Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition
Author. J. Daryl Charles
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, pp.196

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Are these our only alternatives for dealing with global injustice today?

Darly Charles reconsiders the use of force to maintain or reestablish justice, showing how love for a neighbor can warrant the just use of force. Reviewing and updating the just-war teaching of the church, he shows how it captures many of the concerns of the pacifist position while deliberately avoiding the excesses of jihad and militarism.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Rethinking Neighbor Love

The priority of Christian charity is an important theme in the writings of ethicist Paul Ramsey. Ramsey is very much concerned, like Augustine, to evaluate human deeds in terms of their intention. In his treatment of war and the use of force, we find a needed corrective to common errors — in particular, sloppy sentimentalism as well as vague humanitarianism – that so frequently pass as “Christian love.”

But Ramsey is in good company with other Augustinians. Consider Aquinas, for whom “[performing] virtuous acts by reason of some outward force” could describe both love and the law. Or closer to our time, Reinhold Niebuhr, who describes love as “the compulsion of conscience, the force of the sense of obligation, operating against other impulses in the personality.” Even the apostle Paul strikes us as very “Augustinian,” when he writes that “Love does no harm to its neighbor” and “is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). But whether we resort to Augustine, Aquinas, Niebuhr or the apostle to the Gentiles, we come much closer to the true character of love than we would otherwise.

In a tangible sense love embodies obligations that are due God and our neighbor, whoever that may be. The “Law and the Prophets,” Jesus reminds us, sum up what love entails. One of the nagging tendencies of contemporary Christianity, I have attempted to argue, is the utter divorce between love and justice, between love and law. “Love” is sentimental, subjective and self-oriented; law is impersonal, objective and only to be tolerated to the extent that it enhances the self. Paul, however, fuses love and justice when he makes the twin claims that love “fulfills the law” and “does no harm to its neighbor.” Hence, neighbor love, as Paul Ramsey persuasively contended, will result in an “ethics of protection.” For this reason, while just war is an obscene oxymoron to some, to the Christian realist it is an expression of charity for its concern of the neighbor and its repudiation of nationalism, jingoism and militarism.

Of course, the rub for most of us seems to be the tension between the push of duty and the pull of grace. Love, God forbid, should never come to us in the form of “Thou shalt not . . .” Or should it? If we ponder the Pauline claim that “love fulfills the law,” it would seem then that love entails a peaceful coexistence between duty and inclination, between the personal and the public. But let’s be clear: any notion of love that overemphasizes duty will lean toward legalism. And on the other side, any notion of love that favors inclination will disappear into nihilism. A proper understanding of charity therefore retains a healthy tension between the personal and the public, between others and self, and between self and God, all the while making important distinctions between the two sides.

Perhaps in this light we can begin to see how love can protect others forcefully, even to the extent of taking up arms reluctantly in the desire to help achieve a greater social good. But this eventually can only stand on the foundation of certain biblical truths. So we recapitulate. Love frees us to serve others. Love recognizes no natural boundaries. Love considers our obligations to our neighbor. Love seeks to express to others what God has expressed to us. Love wishes for the neighbor what one wishes for oneself.

No discussion of love would seem complete without talking about forgiveness. What about forgiveness? And doesn’t pacifism get to the heart of forgiveness as commanded by our Lord? Aren’t we commanded to forgive our enemies and not resist them?

Forgiveness in the teaching of Jesus has a prominent place, without question. But any discussion of forgiveness is muddied by contemporary notions of the idea that have obscured critical moral issues. So our first order of business is to distinguish between f
orgiveness as inner psychological or emotional release of a party who has committed wrong and forgiveness as a declared, formal “release” of a guilty party who has acknowledged guilt, is penitent and has requested to be forgiven of the aggrieved party. This distinction is absolutely critical. While we are commanded not to harbor unforgiveness in the sense of resentment or hate toward anyone, we are not commanded anywhere in Scripture or the Christian tradition to forgive parties of wrongdoing who have not [1] demonstrated penitence for their actions, [2] acknowledged the guilt of their actions and [3] requested forgiveness from the offended party for wrongs they committed.

But there is a problem. Modern and postmodern culture have foisted on us a sentimental understanding of forgiveness in which mercy trumps justice, consequences for wrongdoings are denied and moral self-responsibility is absent. The religious version of the therapeutic culture is “cheap grace,” though grace, it seems, has gotten ever cheaper over time. But love and mercy do not annul justice; as Paul reminds believers, they fulfill it. Sadly, there is enormous confusion in the Christian community regarding the notion of forgiveness and handling wrongs. We will need a good bit of qualification.

I can forgive a man who, having been caught stealing my car, is apprehended by law enforcement authorities and wishes to return or replace my car and ask for my forgiveness. That is, I release him based on his willingness to own up to his sin, evidence of which is his desire to face me directly and provide restitution. I cannot forgive a car thief who remains unrepentant (apprehended or otherwise). I can make sure, or struggle to make sure, that hatred does not dwell within me. Forgiveness, biblically speaking, proceeds on the prior reality of repentance and contrition. Moreover, only the offended party, not a third party, can grant forgiveness, biblically speaking. Most significantly, forgiveness does not set aside the consequences of the ethical violation. These principles, so foreign to our modern sensibilities, are attested to by an enormous weight of biblical testimony.

In a provocative essay titled “Payback: Thinking About Retribution,” Christian moral philosopher Oliver O’Donovan examines what true forgiveness entails. O’Donovan believes that there is a necessary reconciled tension between justice and mercy that must be preserved and not loosened.

“In Christian thought retribution is one pole of a dialectic with forgiveness. One reason, indeed, that Christians have insisted on retributive justice [historically] is that if one pole is lost, the opposite pole will be lost too. The theological doctrines of forgiven sin, redemption from punishment, reconciliation of the offender with the offended God, those and nothing else are what have held the philosophical notions of desert and retribution firmly in place.”

Doubtless many of us are troubled by the very notion of punishment. After all, some of us grew up in less than ideal homes where less than ideal attempts to “discipline” (i.e., punish) us were implemented by our parents or guardians. And some of us are still carrying around those bruises. So why not, say, use negotiation or moral education? Or how about community service?

If we insist on driving a wedge between justice and retribution/punishment, then we empty justice of its content and it becomes moral Silly Putty. Justice must be the same for you and for me, and for him and for her. Justice itself is what makes punishment retributive. And justice itself is what makes retribution a moral entity. Certain things are wrong because they are wrong universally, which means that to rectify that wrong is to believe in moral desert. People do not get - should not get, that is – different deserts for committing the same moral wrong. Such a phenomenon we call a “travesty of justice.”

At this point, we must counter mainstream cultural thinking. Does punishment educate? Indeed it does. Does retribution have a therapeutic function? Unquestionably, if we understand that therapy is not merely about feelings and self-esteem but about healing the vices and moral sickness lodged within the human psyche. Punishment, alas, points us in the direction of forgiveness.

Forgiveness then is rooted in moral reality. That is why, as a biblical-theological concept, forgiveness is grounded in the principle of restitution. To make restitution is to restore by making things right (Any next-door neighbor of yours will be more than happy to verify this definition).

In Old Testament law restitution is always, an ox for ox, a life for a life, a tool for a tool, property for property. In the New Testament this principle remains in effect, hence the significance of the Zacchaeus story, despite the fact that it is tantalizingly brief. As seen by Luke, Zacchaeus’s repentance does not merely remain at the abstract level of a “change of heart.” Rather, the point of the story is that he demonstrated tangible evidence of a profound inner change. In his situation justice meant returning fourfold what he had stolen monetarily.

Of course, in the realm of criminal justice, offenders do not always take the initiative and return to the offended party. Sometimes the initiative might be reversed, as in Jesus’ teaching directed at Peter, recorded in Matthew “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over”. Several things are implied here. Sin against you has been committed. The other person is at fault. The other person has not shown repentance before you take the initiative. As a result of your initiative the other person sees the error of his ways (and supposedly repents). But notice that even if the other person does not receive you, you still go through a further process to confront him with his guilt. In the end, if he still refuses to accept moral responsibility, he is to be treated as an outcast. That is to say, forgiveness or “release” is not granted.

Following the above brief smattering of biblical evidence, we can glean several basic principles that inform forgiveness. 1. Forgiveness is preceded by contrition. This requirement before God, it goes without saying, is written on virtually every page of Scripture. Forgiveness does not do an end-run around contrition and repentance. John the Baptist makes sure that his audience does not lose sight of this reality. 2. Contrition is demonstrated when the offender returns to the offended, confessing his or her sin. Even when in the case of Matthew 18 the reverse occurs, and victim approaches the offender, the end result is that heartfelt sorrow for wrongs committed must be acknowledged. 3. Forgiveness as a result of direct dealings between victim and offender may then be imparted by the victim. 4. Forgiveness may not be granted by a third party – in proxy, so to speak. Only the offended party may grant forgiveness to the guilty.

But I will add one further principle that finds ample support in the testimony of Scripture. 5. Should the offending party refuse to acknowledge guilt and contrition leading to repentance, judgement rests on that party. Whether judgment is carried out sooner or later and in what manner it occurs are not our present concern.

Where does that leave us? When our therapeutic culture speaks so glibly of “forgiveness,”we must be careful that we do not empty it of its moral meaning. Contrary to the teaching of many “Christian” ethicists, forgiveness does not stand in contradiction to retributive justice. It does not annul punitive justice. While mercy is applied to the soul of sinners, it does not set aside the ethical consequences that require “atoning sacrifice.” Justice, if it is to be restorative, requires a sacrifice, a loss, a deprivation. Thus, once people who are convicted of premeditated murder have a death-row conversion, they will demonstrate the authenticity of their conversion by being willing to undergo the death penalty. Otherwise, it is fair to question whether that conversion was genuine in the first place.

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

Wrestling with a perennial issue
Contemporary Geopolitics
Presumption against war or against injustice?
Making moral judgments
Religious attitudes toward war
Just-war thinking and the terrorist threat

2. Just-war thinking in ancient and medieval thought

3. Just-war thinking in the late medieval and early modern period

4. Just-war thinking in the modern period of the present

5. Christian ethics and the use of force

6. Just-war theory: Its character, constitution and context

7. Just-war theory and the problem terrorism

8. The church’s worldly mission