King David and Jesus - How do we relate to our enemies?

(SeanO) #1

Participation in another thread brought up this question, but I think the response I posted there was not entirely relevant. So I’m starting this thread - feel free to jump in. Why did David kill many of his enemies (not all! - he showed mercy to some interesting individuals) while Jesus said turn the other cheek? As Christians how should we relate to our enemies?

I think one important thing to realize is that King David lived in a very different world and at a time when God was working in a different way. God intended to raise David up as a King over Israel and God had commanded the Israelites to put an end to the wicked nations that surrounded them. So David was God’s King in a feudal society surrounded by violent tribal authorities that were under God’s judgment.

We, on the other hand, live in a world where God has called the Church to follow Jesus on the road to the cross. Our victory is through the testimony of Christ and we are not seeking to establish a kingdom on earth. Jesus specifically said “my Kingdom is not of this world”. As followers of God, we need to understand how God is at work in the times in which we live.

That said, the Bible leaves room for governments to punish evil men and to exact justice. As individuals, we are not meant to seek revenge. But even if governments are given authority by God to bring about justice, should Christians be involved in that process? Now we get into differences of opinion.

Here is an article from Christianity Today on five views of war:

And here are just two perspectives on war with articles to delve deeper. What are your thoughts?

Just War Theory

Here are some articles / quotes defending just war theory perspective - the idea that if we must stand up against injustice with force if necessary.

“We have been given several exceptions justifying the reluctant (albeit necessary) use of deadly force. If we exercise one of these exceptions, however, we had better make sure that we are responding to sin, rather than being yet another source of sin.” J. Warner Wallace

"So the problem is not that it looks as though Jesus is telling us to let evil steam-roll over us. The problem is that it looks like Jesus is telling us that the only way we should ever seek to overcome evil is by letting it go and responding with kindness. It looks as though he leaves no place for using force in resisting evil.

Part of the answer to this difficulty lies in understanding the hyperbolic nature of much of the Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think that Jesus is telling us never to respond to evil with force (such as in self-defense) or always to literally turn the other cheek when we are slapped any more than his command later in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:6 means that we should only pray when we are completely alone or his command in 5:29 means that some should literally gouge out their eyes. Jesus himself drove the thieves away from the temple with a whip ([John 2:15]) and Paul at times insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen ([Acts 25:11]; cf. also the interesting instance of 16:35-40). Jesus is using hyperbole to illustrate what our primary disposition and attitude should be, not to say that we should literally give in to every attempt to do evil against us. That is part of the answer.

The main part of the answer, however, lies in remembering that Jesus is speaking primarily to individuals. He is not mainly addressing governments here, but is primarily speaking at the personal level. This text, then, shows that an individual’s primary response to evil should be to “turn the other cheek,” while the other texts we have seen (e.g., [Romans 13:3-4]) show that government’s God-given responsibility is to punish those who commit civil crimes (murder, terrorism, acts of war, etc.). While it is sometimes appropriate even for individuals to use self-defense, it is never appropriate for individuals to seek to punish others. But it is right, however, for governments both to take measures of self-defense and to execute retribution.

There are, in other words, various “spheres” of life. God has willed that some spheres include responsibilities that are not necessarily included in other spheres. Personally, it would be wrong for us to execute retribution on people who harm us. But passages like [Romans 13:3-4] and [John 18:36] show that Jesus is not denying governments the right to execute retribution on evildoers. Therefore, when a Christian is under the authority of the government and authorized to fight in a just war on the nation’s behalf, it is appropriate for him to fight. For he is not fighting as a private individual, but as a representative of the government to which God has given the power of the sword." John Piper


This website has various theological perspectives on why nonviolence is the right answer. I have included the one that I found most convincing. It specifically addresses how just war theory, while helpful for wider society, is (in their opinion) not in keeping with the call to be a disciple of Jesus.

Lisa Sowle Cahill (1948- )
Key Work: Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (1994)

"Lisa Sowle Cahill is the J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology at Boston College. A Catholic moral theologian, Cahill has written widely on contemporary social issues, especially bioethics and the ethics of sex and gender, having served as president of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

In Love Your Enemies , Cahill traces the historical development of Christian pacifism and just war theory, arguing that these two traditions operate according to different logics. While Christian pacifism and just war theory both wrestle with the “problem of reconciling Christian discipleship with public responsibility” and share a presumption against violence, Cahill argues that just war theory tends to function according to a rules-based approach, and its advocates sometimes accuse pacifists of refusing to make any exceptions to the rule against taking life. In Cahill’s account, however, pacifism is not based on rules but on “the simple conviction that violence is just not consistent with the sort of person Jesus is or the life he lived, a life the discipleship community shares.” As with the Trocmés and Stringfellow, so too for Cahill, “the nonviolence of the kingdom of Jesus is not presented in the Bible as an absolute ethical system, but as a calling, as conversion, and even as beatitude.” While just war theory may have some usefulness in guiding wider society, concedes Cahill, nonviolence is the natural outflowing of an alternative Christian society with communal practices of mercy, compassion, and empathy."

(Anthony Costello ) #2


Sean, great topic. Again, you beat me to the punch; I’ve been wanting to post on this for a while. That said, this is going to be a long entry.

So first off, regarding War and Christian Pacifism, let me state right off the bat: 1) I am not a pacifist, and 2) I have thought a lot about this issue, and 3) I am planning on doing my PhD on Just War Theory and Combat Ethics.

As to my first point, while I am not a pacifist, I do think that Christian pacifism is a defensible and perhaps even desirable position to hold. I just don’t think it is feasible. So, what I would say is that Christian pacifism is a valid and biblically acceptable belief to hold, it is not however, I believe, a necessary belief to hold. I think the bible is not clear one way or the other that one must, in all cases, act non-violently. Thus, I leave pacifism or non-pacifism as a matter of personal conscience, to be decided by the individual believer as he or she allows themselves to be informed by the Spirit and the Scriptures.

To my second point, I would like to share one, personal story that I think is illustrative of how we can love our enemies, yet at the same time engage in violent action (e.g. just war or personal self-defense) against an aggressor. Here is my short narrative:

"The Taliban in the area of Afghanistan where I was deployed in 2012 did not behave well. They planted IEDs in local roads that indiscriminately killed not only our soldiers, but also local villagers. They “hired” local village boys to plant IEDs or other kinds of explosive devices, and, often times those young boys failed to properly implant the mines, subsequently blowing off a hand or two. They usually wound up at our COP (Combat Outpost) in need of immediate medical attention. Moreover, many of the Taliban in our area severely bullied and oppressed the local villagers and farmers. For example, after we had brought the local governor back into the district after a year-long absence, and began to issue government IDs to locals, our intelligence collectors began to hear reports of the Taliban busting into peoples’ homes, who they suspected of having “colluded with the Afghan government and the US.” Further reports suggested that the Taliban would behead those they found with government IDs and stuff the paper IDs in their severed heads. And so on, and so on it. Safe to say, the Taliban behaved badly. I hope we would all agree on that.

Still, for a small group of us, all Christian brothers fighting together in this district, we made it a daily practice to get up early and pray before our patrols went out. We prayed for the safety of our fellow comrades, we prayed the blood of Jesus over our base, the district and that entire blood-stained land. Most of all, however, we chose to pray for our enemies. We prayed for the Taliban we were called to face in combat. We prayed they would lay down their weapons, before we found them. We prayed they would turn themselves in, before we captured them, and that they would find peace before peace was made for them. We prayed to Jesus that he would show himself to anyone who was planning to shoot at us, to RPG us, or who was trying right at that very moment to embed or hook up an IED. We prayed they would convert and that their hearts would turn to Christ. Then, before we went out on patrols, we would pray that we would win, that our bullets would strike first, and that we would be victorious in battle. After all, we were not stupid, and we were there as Christian “soldiers” not just as missionaries.

Still, I think that by praying for such a ruthless enemy, we were able to dignify that enemy at the same time. In our prayers we were able to recognize that these were still men, who, in spite of their immoral activity, their horrendous behavior, were still image-bearers of the God who made them. So, I imagine if one can, at least to some degree, honor an enemy like the Taliban, that we here in our own country, could find it within us to honor men and women with whom we disagree on things like politics or social issues. If we cannot, and if we cannot pray for each other, then I am afraid our country and the social fabric that holds it together may not last. One verse that I memorized while in Afghanistan and that really hit home for me, especially in my efforts to love my enemy, was Ephesians 6:12, where Paul tells us clearly that we are not, we are not at war with flesh and blood, but rather we are at war with cosmic powers and principalities, and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. Our war is not with the flesh and blood person in front of us, it is with false beliefs, bad ideologies and, ultimately with the Father of lies, who is always sowing seeds of discontent. That said, it’s my prayer today that we keep the really enemy in our crosshairs, not each other."

I share this story to illustrate two points: one, I think a Christian can actually kill as an act of love. The Taliban that we are fighting against, apart from a direct intervention by Jesus Himself, were not likely to stop their violence against us or their neighbors. I think it was morally right to kill those carrying out that kind of violence, and, at the same time, I think praying for them distanced us psychologically from our enemies; allowing us not to act in hatred, but as professional soldiers carrying out a mission. Let me clarify here, so that I do not later get called out somewhere for trumping up my story. I was not an infantryman. I was an intelligence operator who patrolled with the infantry. But, I did see real, if limited, combat. The men I prayed with saw even more than I.

Finally, with regard to reading more about this topic, there are three pacifist, evangelical scholars that one needs to engage with, if one wants to develop a solid answer to Christian Pacifism (i.e. if one wants to defend Just War Theory and Just Violence). These three scholars are: Stanley Hauerwas, John H. Yoder, and Richard Hays. At the same time, Oxford Theologian Nigel Biggar, has argued forcefully against all three in the opening chapter of this book:
and, in fact, I believe he argues correctly.

Biggar’s books is an excellent piece of scholarship on Just War Theory and for anyone still confused about whether or not Iraq was a just war or not, I would recommend this book as well. Biggar handles all of the nuances of the lead-up to Iraq and, while coming to the conclusion that it was a just war, does fair treatment to all of the anti-Iraq positions.

So, long post, but this is a topic that has a lot of personal relevance to me. In sum, let me say that I do think Christians should join the military if they feel so called, and I do think there should be Christians in the combat MOS. If there were no Christians in the military and no Christians in combat positions, one might wonder what our military and our war fighters might look like. That might not be the kind of fighting force we want in a free country.

peace, and sometimes (per Augustine), “harsh kindness”


Nonviolence Requires Divine Judgment
(Lakshmi Mehta) #3

Thank you for sharing your perspective with your unique life experience. Though I may not personally relate with war, I very much relate with the subtler wars constantly playing out in Christian communities that have hurt both people in the church and outside of church. Unity in the body of Christ is so often forgotten as a deterrent to the enemy’s strategies.

(Bill Brander) #4

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.

As ex-military myself, I concur with you.


(SeanO) #5

@anthony.costello Thank you for sharing your story and perspective. I think you made a key point when you said that even if a Christian does engage as a soldier in a war, they must not do so out of hatred, but rather out of love - a fierce love that defends the weak and the powerless. I agree that both Christian pacifism and just war theory are legitimate views and that each nation/war is a unique scenario where a Christian must pray for wisdom as to whether or not they should engage. Where are you planning to do your PhD at? Have you narrowed down the topic?

(Anthony Costello ) #6


Still trying to figure out where to do the PhD. Likely it will be at one of the UK schools; family circumstances are limiting our capacity to move around too much though, so I’m trying to see where I can do some kind of distance program.

As far as the topic, I think it will be something in the area of Virtue Ethics and Christian Soldiering. If one is going to be successful in fighting war _as a Christian_then certain kinds of virtues need to be habituated early, probably long before one even steps foot in uniform. Obviously the bigger project would be to have a culture of disciplined men and women, who understand the need for war, yet who are psychologically and spiritually healthy, who can go to war and experience it in the best possibly way. War is obviously contingent on sin, and is probably, aside from egregious criminality (e.g. rape, murder), the most physically and psychologically intense manifestation of sinful human behavior. So, I’m just trying to think about how war is like, and Christians who feel called to soldiering, can develop not only a biblically informed ethic to help them make decisions while experiencing morally difficult conditions, but also how they can build certain kinds of virtues through spiritual disciplines so that when those conditions arise, they react in the most appropriate way possible. Virtues like charity, humility, compassion, courage, and graciousness need to be maintained in war. It is, however, far more difficult to display those virtues than would be otherwise under normal circumstances. A theoretical example would be a soldier shooting an armed and dangerous enemy (this could apply, by the way, to law enforcement as well) and then, upon seeing that the enemy is incapacitated and no longer a threat, then administering first-aid to the “enemy” with compassion and respect. This is certainly not unheard of in war, and again, Biggar outlines stories of “love of enemy” or at least respect of enemy in Chapter 2 of his book.

Obviously there is much more to it than this, and the kinds of circumstance that obtain in today’s battlefield environment are quite complex. But virtue in combat, especially Christian virtues, is necessary. This is one thing that may be lost on the Christian pacifist; for if there are literally no Christian men or women in uniform (either in the military or in law enforcement), then what kind of virtues are being trained, and what, if anything, is restraining the behavior of our military or law enforcement personnel? I think a military without any Christian presence in it, would be a very bad thing.


(SeanO) #7

@anthony.costello Since you are interested in this topic, what is your perspective on the attitude of the main character in the movie Hacksaw Ridge by Mel Gibson? He wanted to be part of the effort in the war, but felt it was wrong to kill (as I’m sure you are aware). I enjoyed the movie when I watched it.

Trailer for anyone who has not seen it and please everyone feel free to jump in.

(Kathleen) #8

I’m really glad you re-posted this answer, @SeanO! I was worried that we wouldn’t have the chance to respond to your thoughtful answer… Give me a second to think!

(Anthony Costello ) #9


Loved the movie! Actually got quite choked up at some points in the film, especially the scenes of the father’s struggles at home with his temper, violence and abuse, and, of course, his wife’s incredible love and patience with him…understanding what he had been through in WWI. Domestic abuse is high in the military, and there are reasons why. It doesn’t always have to do with PTSD related health issues (although it could). But that is a topic for another time.

With regard to the hero of the story’s stance, I would just say that he was exactly that, a hero. I struggle in our culture when we attribute the virtue of “courage” or “heroism” to people who are neither one nor the other. It dilutes the meaning of courage and heroism when, for example, Bruce Jenner is called courageous for altering his body through multiple surgeries so as to appear like a woman. Or, when some celebrities are called courageous for speaking out on gun control, or when famous athletes are called heroes for taking knees at sporting events. Regardless of the rightness or wrongness of these activities, to call them heroic or courageous is to me an offense to the meaning of the word and to the men and women who have displayed real courage under seriously distressful circumstances, like war.


(Kathleen) #10

@anthony.costello, thank you so much for giving us a peek into that time of your life. What an incredible story! Though I rather wish we didn’t have a need for troops to go into these places, I am thankful to have men and women like you and your team there.

I would ask a slightly broader question, as it was one I had the other day as I was meditating on Psalm 2 and the existence of enemies of God (and, of course, also twigging Eph. 6:12 and the command of Jesus to love our ‘enemies’).

Do you all think that it is right to ever (excepting in places of war and oppression, maybe) refer to another human being as an enemy?

(SeanO) #11

@KMac That’s the great part about Connect, you have all the time you need :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #12

@anthony.costello Thank you for your thoughts on the movie. Regarding the definition of ‘hero’, do you think that it is necessary for someone to be putting themselves in physical danger to be a hero? Of course we see verses such as this one from John:

John 15:13 - “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

So clearly it is an amazing and beautiful thing for someone to lay down their life for others. And I am so truly grateful for the men and women in the armed services who risk their lives so that we can be free. But is that the only type of heroism?

If we look at the Scriptures, we find two threads that seem to define heroes of the faith: living a holy life devoted to God above all and compassion for the weak and needy around them. I thought this article had an interesting definition for hero:

  • Obediently following God’s will for their life.

  • Sacrificing for their neighbor.

  • Lifting up those who are weak.

I agree that words like hero can so easily be watered down - especially when used of people who are simply walking with the current of the culture. But I also think it is useful to have a definition of hero that is broader than only a warrior, though that is certainly one category.

What are your thoughts?

(Anthony Costello ) #13


Sean, awesome question. No, certainly I don’t think that one’s physical well-being has to be threatened to be heroic, although putting oneself in physical danger for the right reasons can certainly be heroic.

I think sacrifice is the key concept here. I would say, especially these days, for example, that any man or woman who lives a faithful life as a diligent, grateful, hard-working, life-long father or mother, making the appropriate sacrifices of time, money and leisure for the sake of children AND who stays sexual pure and faithful to their spouse is acting very heroically and with a lot of courage. Especially since this kind of lifestyle is no longer valued in the culture.

Another example of courage from the movie that I think involved putting oneself in physical danger, but in a way that was dissimilar from the main character’s sacrifice, was that of the mother, who, in spite of severe physical abuse remained faithful to her husband. Now, please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying that women in physically abusive marriages should stay in them. All I am saying is that the mother’s actions were heroic, there was something courageous in her action (at least as portrayed in the film; I’m not saying that that is exactly how it was in the real life story).

I just think that in our culture we have actually flipped the meaning of heroism. Heroism or being courageous actually means for our contemporary culture, abandoning one’s moral obligations and following one’s personal, subjective desires. Somehow that has become our standard for heroism. To take two contrasting examples from professional sports, I would place the actions of certain football players who take a knee during national anthems as not heroic, since honestly, they lose nothing in doing so. In fact the entire culture and media bows to their wills. I won’t name names, but whoever they are, even if their protest is legitimate, their means of fixing the perceived problem is not what I would call heroic. It seems the heroic thing to do, for example, if one were legitimately outraged about injustice within the police community, would be to give up one’s career and become a police officer.

On the other hand there is the story of Pat Tillman, someone I think who literally did the courageous thing…and paid the ultimate price for doing it. I think God honors this kind of action. It was, after all, when David refused to go out with his troops and stay back at the palace that he wound up committing his most egregious sin.



(SeanO) #14

@anthony.costello I think that is a helpful, more nuanced approach. While I have not pondered the specific example of the football players taking a knee long enough to give a strong opinion, I would agree that if that is all that they do it is certainly not heroic because, as you said, it cost them very little. It would be similar to going to Church and doing religious things to appear holy to other people and receive their praise, but then harboring sin in the heart or not living out your faith in your family / in private - talk/show with no walk/sincerity. Certainly the safest place to be is in God’s will when we desire to live in victory over sin, though I think it is possible God could call someone to be a professional sportsman.

On another note, what about the divers who helped rescue the Thai boys trapped in a cave? The news has labeled them heroes. What are your guys’ reflections on this label in this situation?

(Anthony Costello ) #15


That is a very good question. It’s hard on the one hand not to refer to certain people as enemies. I mean, if we are realistic about what actually happens in life, it is hard to say, for example, to a Christian women in northern Iraq who has just witnessed here children raped and murdered before her eyes by a roving band of ISIS fighters that those ISIS fighters are not really her enemy. So, there are obvious kind of situations that arise, where you just might have to call a spade a spade.

However, at the same time, I don’t think that those ISIS fighters, as much as they may hate Christians and desire to see Christians dead, perhaps even tortured prior to death, are actually really enemies of particular Christians. Theologically speaking they are enemies of Christ, of whom all true Christians are images. So, I think we could say that in one sense we have no real enemies, but God does. So, I might even say, in one sense, that even people in places of war and oppression might, if they have perhaps habituated in their own soul this command to love one’s “enemies,” that they might actually begin to see even the most vicious of persons not as enemies of oneself, but as enemies of God. So, maybe its possible to get to a point where we don’t ever refer to anyone as “my” enemy. However, I think we would have to maintain the sense that some people are clearly “God’s” enemy, because if no one was God’s enemy, then all would be saved and sin would be irrelevant. But that would lead us into all kinds of heresy with regard to core Christian truth claims.



(Kathleen) #16


Thanks for these thoughts! So many good points to consider. Esp. this one (which I’ll comment on in a moment)…

Ever since I asked the question, I have been further reflecting on it all, I landed on a couple of things…

  1. The definition of ‘enemy’ (I should have started here!) is ‘a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something’, so, I suppose, on this basis, we can (and some actually do) have enemies.

  2. Furthermore, Jesus plainly tells his followers that they will encounter ‘trouble’ in this world…that people will hate them (and us) and want to destroy/kill them (and us), but to remember that, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’ (Jn. 15). So, with the working definition above, even Jesus says we will have enemies…because He had them.

  3. But then, of course, he commands us, as his followers, to not exempt our enemies from love. Again, recognition that there will be people opposed to Him and His kingdom.

  4. Yet behind every human enemy, there is a greater, ultimate Enemy, which is why, I guess, Paul can argue that our ‘enemy’ is not of flesh and blood…which is pretty much what you said above. Christians facing religious persecution in certain places may have people opposed to them, trying to kill them, but it’s ultimately because they follow Christ. So though it is on surface level ‘my’ enemy, ultimately they are God’s enemy.

  5. All humans at one point were (or still are) enemies of God. I believe this is where the humility to love others, as well as our enemies, comes from. We don’t ever get to forget that ‘such were some of you!’ (1 Cor. 6:11)

At any rate, thank you for allowing me to verbally process some thoughts!