Monday, October 2, 2006

Prophets against War

The Bible is the most powerful anti-war literature in the history of mankind.
And at once someone says, “But isn’t the Bible filled with wars from one end to the other?! Hasn’t the Bible been used to justify every kind of atrocious crusade, inquisition, invasion, pogrom, and enslavement you can think of?!”
Well, war is talked about a good deal in the Bible—but why not, since mankind is involved in it almost continuously.
And religion has of course been used to justify every irreligious act you can imagine—but this is not inherent in religion: it is inherent in us.
It is no wonder we must warp the message of the Bible. We need war as a tool for gratifying our greed. We need God as moral approval of our depravity. And if every prophetic voice from Amos to Jesus tells us we are choosing death, not life, well so much the worse for them! We know what to do to prophets.
The other morning several of us were sitting around a table reading the Book of the Prophet Joel. If you read the book in an unfamiliar but easy-to-understand translation, it is hard to miss the point. (We were reading the Contemporary English Version.)
Near the end of the book, Joel says—I am putting this in my own words—All right, you nations! You want war? Then beat your plows into swords and your garden tools into spears. Come on to the Valley of Decision, and there you may stew in your own juice. There you may choose Death and not Life. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, and they will seek him and live, and he will give them little farms where they will have bread and cheese and the occasional lamb.
This is the kind of thing you get from the prophets. They are saying, “You want plunder and slaves and power and dominance? Well, you will kill each other trying! But if you want the life that Yahweh gives—well, really it might sound boring to you, because all he offers is a vine and fig tree for you to sit under—and justice rolling over the earth like mighty waters!”