Shall I or Shall We War?

Submitted by Pastor Dr. Mark A. McCleary
Senior Pastor, Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church, Windsor Mill, MD

In the 60s, the musical group Chilites rhetorically asked, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again!” Marvin Gaye, the soulful balladeer, caused us to reflect on war’s impact when he asked, “What’s going on?—Brother, brother, brother, there is far too many of you dying. Mother, mother, mother, there is far too many of you crying.” These lyrical prophets speak to the reverberating issues and negative impact of war, then and until now.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered this topic at the micro and interpersonal level when he asked, “To be or not to be, ah, that is the question?” George Hebert Meade describes the individual and socialization via the metaphor of “I” and “Me.” The former is the individual as idiosyncratic initiant, and the latter as the situated person within society, sending and receiving influencing messages. Thus, Shall I or We War? indicates the personal and public dynamics and decisions involved in war.

Christopher Marlowe stated, “Accurse be he that first invented war.” On the other hand, Francis Edward Smedley declared, “All is fair in love and war.” Ironically speaking, both are right in my opinion. War is terrible at the individual and corporate levels, and yet the effectual ends of war seem to legitimize even the terribleness of war. Perhaps William Sherman’s assertion helps explain this conundrum—“the legitimate objective of war is a more perfect peace.” This seems to be the battle cry of jingoist protagonists and religious pulpiteers who are pro-war in Iran, Korea, the Middle East, or wherever USA Manifest Destiny is hampered. This is especially the case after the recent beheading of the American journalist by Isis. It seems similar to the nationalist pep-rally-like rhetoric of George W. Bush after 911—“the folk who did this will hear from us soon.” Bush made this prediction before any alleged hijacker was identified and before he launched what turned out to be a bogus hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Said weapons, if found would have been used to confirm Iraq and Sadaam Husein’s blame for the 911 tragedy. Shall I or shall we war? According former President Bush, “Yes.”


Sabine Baring-Gould

Human history is a record of war in various manners—between men and women (James Thurber), Civil War (100 Years War in England and between the North and South in the USA), pre-1989 Cold War between the USA and its democratic allies and the USSR, and lastly, the Medieval Crusades until today’s Christian West versus the Islamic fundamentalists. How ironic that a popular Christian hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers, written by Sabine Baring-Gould, affords Christian individuals and groups to sing heartily, “On onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal master, leads against the foe, forward into battle see His banners go.” Shall I or shall we war?

The New Testament writer, James, explains the cause of war when he says, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war” (James 4:1, 2, NKJV). Perhaps, the mention of war sends chills up your back. However, on this side of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, history and present media outlets report that war is a present and future reality for individuals and global society.


God’s guidelines for Israel, in anticipation of encounters with non-Jewish peoples as they traveled to and later occupied the Promise Land are as follows:

  • War is with an enemy and not a friend.
  • War is a final reaction to oppressive interactions that would not respond to positive peace negotiations.
  • War, sanctioned by God, is to protect His people from the corrupting influence of the aggressor and infidel.
  • War, authorized by God, will result in salvation for His people and their land.

The Lord, maybe not some individuals and groups, loves all people—Iraqis, Palestinians, Israelis, Ukrainians, and Koreans—“For God so loves the world…” (John 3:16). God is no respecter of persons, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, gender, or social-economic status. I suggest that the President, war pundits, grieving families, and every “I” and “We” consider war according to counsel. I trust in the practice that a multitude of input is safer than impulsive reactions (Prov. 11:4).

I look forward to the day when all wars—Ferguson, MO, environmental upheaval, legislative, religious, micro and macro—will be moribund.

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:1-9, NKJV).