God and War

WWII Memorial by Petr Kratochvil

Question:

My neighbor is a war veteran. I have invited him many times to worship service and/or Bible class but he won’t come saying he saw too many things in the combat zone. He won’t talk about his experiences, only saying that he couldn’t find God then and is not sure he can find God now. What can I do to help him?

Answer:

The horrors of war certainly change people. Many veterans struggle with what they saw and experienced in war. Some carry guilt from acts they have committed. Yet most veterans do believe in God, do struggle with the injustices of war and do wonder how God can tolerate such acts by people.

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…” (2 Peter 3:8 – 10a; New International Version).

In this passage, the apostle Peter explains some of God’s attitude in all this. God is patient with humanity. This patience is not because God is happy with the actions of people (such as in war), but because He wants more people to have the chance to repent and be saved. God’s tolerance of humanity’s inhumanity towards fellow human beings is not from indifference or carelessness, but from love. God waits so more can be saved.

However, God’s patience is not without end. There will be judgment on those who do not honor God and who mistreat His people. “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6 – 8).

God will come in judgment on those who disobey. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will be judged. Those who have done evil to good people will be judged as well. Although people do horrible things to each other in wartime, they will not escape the judgment of God. God may be patient with them, hoping to reach more souls, but in the end God will deal out retribution to those guilty of these sins.

Finally, there is the hard spiritual reality that all sin is horrible to God. We may look at war and think the actions taken there are the worst things possible. In our minds, people seldom look worse than when acting in war situations. But in God’s view all sin is extremely ugly. In God’s view, we have all sinned. . . 

“Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:2 – 4).

The apostle Paul spells this out for us. What others may do can be seen as evil, and often war makes evil even clearer. All of us must be careful for we, too, have committed sins in God’s eye, and our sins are no better than the supposed worse sins of others. Paul says God waits to pass judgment for one reason: He is hoping to lead more to repentance.

So I would tell your neighbor that God is not gone, nor is He indifferent. He waits through wars and the evils that people do to one another hoping to save souls. Although your neighbor may have been in situations where God seemed far off, God was nearby all the time, hoping, even in war, to save more souls. Now all your friend needs to do is what everyone away from God must do. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24).

First, we must admit (every one of us) that we are equally guilty of sin before God. We have no right to look down on others’ sins as worse than our own (including those acts done in war). Second, we must admit that all of us (every one of us) are saved by the gift of God’s Son and the grace that comes through His death. Trusting this, we repent of our sins and are washed in the blood of Jesus. Then, whatever atrocities we have seen or even committed, God forgives the sinner.

Saul (the apostle Paul) even said about himself, “even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (1 Timothy 1:13). He was aggressive and cruel in his efforts to stamp out the church of Jesus Christ. Yet, God patiently endured his actions knowing that many souls would be saved once Saul came to repentance.

Jesus appeared to Saul as he traveled to Damascus to commit more brutal acts against God’s people. Three days later Ananias came to him and said, “and now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Saul, in spite of all the violence he had committed, was cleansed and countless souls were saved as a result. Remind your neighbor that he too can be washed, that he too can be saved by God’s grace. Perhaps God will use him just as He used Saul. Remind your friend that God is still patiently awaiting his return.

Let me close by also offering these 3 additional suggestions…

  • Continue to be a good friend and listener. Allow him to talk, but don’t ask too many questions about his experiences. If he becomes more comfortable sharing his experiences, listen actively and non-judgmentally.
  • Watch for signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Look for flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviors, phobias, sleep problems, irritability, poor concentration, poor memory, blackouts, being “jumpy” (easily startled) and feeling constantly “on guard”. If you suspect PTSD, contact the National Center for PTSD at (802) 296-6300 or www.ptsd.va.gov/
  • Encourage your friend to contact the local VA medical center for medical assistance if needed. Contact the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs at (877) 222-8387 or www.va.gov/ to find his local VA office.
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