Conflict, it seems, is an unavoidable aspect of our existence. Time and again, the sinful nature of mankind (be it born of covetousness, strife, or some sense of justification) has led us to sound the trumpets of war. But it comes at a price…
We resign ourselves to the fact that war is a necessity of our being, that peace is a momentary comfort, and because of this we set aside great reserves of funding in the event it is needed. Consider, for instance, how the United States, just for the 2016 year, has a Defense Department budget of some $598 billion dollars. That figure is just a bit shy of matching the combined sum of the next fourteen largest defense budgets from around the world combined, a sum total of $664 billion dollars. To be thorough, the remainder of the world’s defense budgets total in at $317 billion for the year of 2016.¹
Though the financial aspect of war may seem staggering, there is, as far as I’m concerned, a much greater toll in the midst of such conflict…
Little ones find themselves a frequent statistic amidst the costs of war. According to some sources, just in the last decade there have been an estimated 2 million children killed in the midst of our conflicts, 4-5 million left disabled, some 10 million experiencing lasting psychological trauma, and at least 12 million left homeless.²
As horrible as those figures are, it yet becomes worse when we consider how children are sometimes themselves recruited for war.
Just last week, for instance, some 51 people were killed at a wedding in Turkey at the hands of a 12-year-old suicide bomber. In the midst of such a joyus occasion, the celebration of love and happiness, fifty-one lives were cut short as the detonator ignited, snuffing out in the process a life which had hardly even begun.
This of course was just one of the latest child casualties at the hands of the Islamic terror group, ISIS, an organization (one of many, including Boko Haram, Al-qaeda, and a number of anti-Israeli Palestinian factions) that has used children to their end many times, be they trained operatives or helpless victims of hate. ISIS has become quite notorious for these efforts over the last few years, releasing a number of videos of young boys killing ideological opponents, gunning them down and even beheading them on camera.³
I must admit, I held my own feelings on this matter quite closely, knowing where I stood before I even began this article. Even so, as I scrolled through countless pictures of children impacted by war, their tiny faces screaming out in anguish, little broken bodies littering a landscape of shattered brick and spent shells, my heart grew heavy. How many, at this very moment, are shambling through the dark and dusty air of the home they knew, calling out in fear for their mother and father, brother or sister? How many are paralyzed by fear, the air ringing around them with mortar blasts and rifle reports as the body count rises around them? How many are firing those rifles at each other?
Be the victims children, or the elderly, women or men, it should go without saying that war, by its very nature, brings us to places that we would likely be better off avoiding. It inescapably leads to death, injury, displacement, and many, many scars. Scars across the land, across the bodies of those caught in the crossfire, scars across our minds and cultures. It burns the images of those trials within the memories of all, young and old alike. True, through the fires of war we may momentarily suppress the opposition, but in the long run it always ideologically catalyzes retribution; someone invariably will seek justice for the pain they have endured.
Make no mistake, this article is not a criticism of any particular political system, faction, or culture; this is instead a look at a transcendent characteristic of humanity as a whole. From the days of cave-sheltering tribes to the skyscraping towers of today, we are assured by our leaders, indeed even each other, that warfare is on occasion necessary. Necessary for our superiority. Necessary for our protection. Necessary even, it is often claimed, for our justification.
Some though take a different stance, questioning the validity of such claims. I cannot tell you where to stand on these issues, for such is an intensely personal matter for each of us. Ultimately though the issue comes down to a number of considerations, not the least of which being one’s faith. Even so, despite one’s worldview, be it religious or secular or something else entirely, there must be some understanding that violence oftentimes begets violence, and hateful actions only foster more hate.
Christians, I believe, can have assurance that war, on occasion, is merited. The Book of Ecclesiastes (3:8), for instance, tells us that there is “a time of war, and a time of peace.” Even so, we should make efforts to use tact and wisdom and patience in the midst of any conflict, be it as simple as an argument or as dreadful as outright war. In my own life I try my best to adhere to the words of the Apostle Paul, in accordance with the instructions he wrote in Romans 12. There, the Apostle Paul tells us, among other things, to bless those that curse us, to live peaceful with each other, and to avoid repaying evil with evil. Most famous of these instructions however comes in verse 19, saying:
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
In a sinful world, though, no matter how diligently we strive for peace, there will always, at least until the end of this age, be those who seek to take it from us, not the least of which being a specter of the dark reality beyond the bounds of our little world, hovering over our shoulders in expectant provocation. I must admit, to you here as much as myself, that as I looked through those stirring photos of the children of war, my heart strained for a moment to find a reason to encourage peace, to resist the temptation to join in with the cacophony of voices that call for vengeance against such atrocities. God forgive me. God forgive all of us.
Tonight, as you tuck your children in bed, look at their sweet little faces, listen to their quiet breathing, and think carefully about this world, about the terrible things that linger in the dark, about the depravity of our fallen hearts, and thank God that, for the moment, peace is a gift we can enjoy.
May God bless those who do not know that peace, and may He see them through to a lasting and joyous tranquility.