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January 09, 2012

war, children, and the Bible

Because my children and I are studying Joshua in Sunday school, one of the themes that needed to be addressed was war and God, or "holy war." Some Grade 4 to 6 teachers would not ask their kids to grapple with the theology of war, but why not? They know war happens now and in Bible times, therefore they need to interpret what they hear through a Biblical lens. We greatly underestimate children's ability and stunt their spiritual growth when we simply repeat the "famous" stories they've heard (boring them to death), instead of introducing them to the endless treasure trove that is Scripture. When we teach the great themes and ideas behind the stories, creative Bible study methods and everyday applications to issues of morals and ethics, we remind them that the Bible is the source of everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). But my topic is holy war, and I digress.

I was not sure how to prepare to teach about holy war, as I have not studied the topic a lot myself. To address this topic, I used resources from Spokane Bible church's website. Tod Kennedy has a fairly simple introduction to understanding a Biblical theology of war. If you aren't American, brace yourself for a few eagles, stars, stripes and Bush references. But really, it is a good resource. See the web page here, or the powerpoint pdf here. I based my notes for the kids on some of the Biblical truths Tod shared.

As I thought about this topic, I remembered a letter to the editor which I found in a newspaper a few years ago. I photocopied it because it was one of the best secular statements I had ever heard on war. The words below are from the English philosopher John Stuart Mill:
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
I leave it to you to check the links above for more details on what I believe is quite a Biblical view of battle, but I think Mills' comments are insightful. For the years since I read this quote, I always carried this in my mind: worse than war is self-centred apathy which fights for nothing.

The timeline I keep on my classroom wall with key events from eternity past to eternity future is often a useful tool for framing truth in the context of the history. Today we talked about how war did not exist before sin entered the world, and will not exist when Christ rules in the Millenium, and after sin is forever put away. The visual really seemed to anchor the truths for one of my fifth graders, as she wondered at many years of history marred by war. By referring to the timeline, she recognized that the peaceful years are the years when God makes everything right, and the tumultuous years are years when Satan has much sway over our world system.

I also teach my children with a list of the key attributes of God on the wall. When our conversation about sin and war somehow led to "What happens to babies who die?", it was so helpful to have God's character traits on the wall and to remind the children that whatever God does, He is always fair, loving and perfect.

It is great when I can see the wheels turning in their heads, as they plug information into the framework of their knowledge of the big picture of history and the character of God. I think they enjoy a unique, unexpected topic, too.

The timeline reminded me too that we weren't made for war. As I prepared to teach the children, I came across Isaiah 2:1-5. Go ahead, click the link. Isaiah describes a beautiful time in the Millennium when the Lord's temple will be established, and the peoples of the earth will come to Him to be taught by Him. We see Christ as the perfect law-maker ("the law will go out from Zion"), judge ("He will judge between the nations") and peacemaker ("[He] will settle disputes for many peoples"). The result?
They will beat their swords into plowshares
   and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
   nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah presents a picture of hope that would soothe many hearts, if only they knew and believed. As Isaiah 2:5 says, "Let us walk in the light of the LORD." Our children need to understand the big picture, to fit their developing theology of war into the big picture of past, present and future. Joseph Mikael says, "The most valuable tool in your study of God's Word is your knowledge of the rest of God's Word." As we teach the greater framework, we create a place for each new truth to fit. When we help them to understand life through a Biblical viewpoint, we remind both them and ourselves of this great hope: this hurting world is not going to hurt forever. Our God's character never changes. His Word is rich and full of truth. So let's teach them, even about the not-so-child-friendly things. It's better that they hear it from us.

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