Christian Enthusiasm for War

I have been surprised that a number of well-known Christian prophetic voices are supporting war with Iraq. I am not a pacifist and I believe there are situations where a nation is justified in going to war to defend its people against an attack. However, these situations have always been very rare and this is not one of them. Very few wars have ever met the biblical criteria that justify war (these are explained in "Defence and War"). In the modern world, the consequences of war are so terrible that very few wars can ever be justified. Therefore, I am surprised at the current enthusiasm for war among Christians.

The reasons for supporting the war are given in the following quotations.

The cup of judgment is full of Saddam Hussein…. The battle is about bringing down the strongman of Islam and breaking open the Middle East. The spirit of Allah is working to form an Arab coalition to resist in the battle. God will humiliate the spirit over Islam (Ps 83:16) (Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders).

The lawlessness that is growing throughout the world would result in such chaos and destruction that things would be much worse if the United States does not become more assertive in its leadership. Now there are also major threats to us that in the United States that must be found and dealt with (Rick Joyner).

The record is clear, the actions of Saddam Hussein are cruel, evasive and ungodly. His actions cannot go unchecked (Bob Jones and Paul Keith Davis).

Removing Saddam Hussein is necessary – peacefully I hope, but if not, then by military means. In order to fight terrorism, we must cut off terrorists' supplies and support. And Saddam Hussein represents both. So war against Saddam is self-defense (Chuck Colsen).

These statements seem to be a variation on one theme: Saddam Hussein is evil.

  • He is supporting and supplying terrorism
  • He has weapons of mass destruction
  • He is willing to use them against other nations
  • He is oppressing the people of Iraq.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is an evil man, but these prophetic voices all go a step further and argue that because Saddam Hussein is evil, war to overthrow him is justified. They seem to believe that the United States should attack Iraq to overthrow evil. The problem with this argument is that evil is normal in the world until the gospel is victorious. The existence of evil is never in itself a justification for war. If it were, Christians would be permanently engaged in warfare all over the world.

Spiritual Reality

I could understand unbelievers wanting to use military force to destroy evil. They fear evil and the only weapons they have to fight evil are military, but we have a clearer understanding of the nature of evil. Christians know that the real source of evil is not Saddam Hussein, but the spiritual forces that are working through him.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

Our real struggle is not against evil men in positions of power, but against the spiritual powers working through them. The enemy is not Saddam Hussein, but the evil spiritual powers behind him. The same spiritual forces that wrestled with Daniel are now at work in Iraq.

Military force cannot deal with evil in Iraq, because it is unable to deal with these spiritual powers. Even if an invasion is successful and Saddam Hussein is deposed, the same spiritual forces will remain in control of the nation. The United States may be able conquer Iraq with overwhelming military force, but it will not be able change the spiritual atmosphere. War cannot remove evil from Iraq. This is why I am surprised at Christians making the case for war against Iraq.

We should never wish the horror and devastation of war on any people. The brutality of modern warfare and the pain of defeat often leaves a nation even more vulnerable to evil. Overthrowing Saddam may even result in even worse evil taking hold of the nation.

Christians praying in the West can influence the spiritual forces working in Iraq, but they do not have the spiritual authority to remove them. There will always be people with spiritual authority in Iraq inviting them back. Real change will only come, when people in Iraq with spiritual authority choose to stand in the power of the Holy Spirit against these evil spiritual forces and force them out of the nation.


Although evil often seems to be victorious in the world, God has prepared a solution. Evil came into the world through sin. Human sin allowed the spiritual forces of evil to go to work in the world. As a result, evil rulers like Saddam Hussein have been common throughout history. The purpose of the cross was to destroy the powers of evil (Col 1:13). Therefore the best way to deal with evil is to advance the great commission.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt 28:19).

As the nations receive the gospel and are taught to obey Jesus, they will bind the evil spiritual powers and increase the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the gospel will be successful, the Kingdom of God will grow throughout the earth and evil will be greatly constrained.

I suspect that part of the reason that Christians are so enthusiastic about this war is that they no longer believe in the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit to overcome evil. Some of the strongest support for war comes from the “end-times industry”. It teaches that, despite the gospel, the power of evil will increase as history progresses, and will only be overcome when Jesus returns to conquer the world using violent force (a rod of iron). This idea of Jesus forcing people to submit to his authority is not only a distortion of the gospel, but has a dangerous consequence. If God can only overcome evil using brute force, then there is some justification for the United States using force to overcome evil in this age. Thankfully, this idea is false.

Christian Realism

Knowing that evil will continue in the world, until this gospel task is completed, Christians should not be naive about it. The civil government has the “power of the sword” to place a restraint on evil (Rom 13:1–6). It can resist evil by punishing individuals who commit crimes. The civil government can sometimes use military force to resist an attack by an evil nation. Terrorist attacks can be resisted by all lawful means available to the civil government. Political leaders have responsibility to defend their nation from evil attack.

However, Christians should also be realistic about evil. The civil government cannot provide total protection for it citizens. It cannot eliminate all crime or violence. A nation will sometimes face attack from an evil nation that it is unable to resist. Evil will sometimes spill over from other nations and affect those that do not deserve it. Even nations with vastly superior military resources will sometimes be vulnerable to the threats of terrorists. The civil government should do everything possible to keep terrorists from entering their nation, but they will not be able to eliminate every terrorist in the world, or conquer every nation that supports terrorism. The civil government should be vigilant, but it will not be able to eliminate the threat of evil until the gospel of Jesus has been effective throughout the world. Nations should do what is lawful to protect their citizens, and then trust the rest to God.

The United Nations

Christians should also be realistic about the United Nations. This human organisation cannot eliminate evil from the world. It has no spiritual authority, so is very limited in what it can achieve. The United Nations is just a committee of political leaders that is never united. Some are good, some are bad, and a few are evil. The decisions of its various meetings are limited to the wisdom of these men and women. They have always been a mixture; some good, some evil, but mostly bad. The United Nations has sometime provided peace-keeping forces to control volatile situations. It has sometimes provided a forum for nations to talk and resolve their differences, but is has rarely been able to resolve the underlying (often spiritual) differences between nations. It has done very little to restrain evil.

The United Nations does not have the moral authority to decide between good an evil. Therefore, I have also been surprised at the number of Christians who assume that war is justified, if it is authorised by the United Nations. This human organisation does not have the moral authority to decide that a war is justified. Assigning authority to decide between good and evil to a human organisation is a dangerous mistake.


Christians believe that evil will be overcome by the power of the gospel. In the meantime, we should not fear evil. Although God has promised to protect his people through evil times, this does not guarantee that evil things will not happen to good people. Jesus’ death on the cross proves that good people can sometime perish at the hand of evil men. However, the worst that evil men can do to us is death; and for those in Christ, death is victory. Having this hope, we do not need to fear evil. As the shepherd's Psalm says,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

March 8, 2003