This article originally appeared in the January 14, 1991, issue of Christianity Today.

On November 19, in Paris, 34 member nations of NATO and the Warsaw Pact signed the European Security Agreement. After more than 40 years of East-West confrontation, the danger of the Cold War seems finally to have given way to peace.

By contrast, that same day in the Persian Gulf region, war came a giant step closer. Saddam Hussein matched George Bush's military escalation with his own announcement that he would now send another quarter-million troops to the Saudi Arabian border. Though we pray it never happens, at press time war seems imminent.

As the President struggles to make clear his case for direct action, most Americans agree Iraqi aggression must be resisted. For the U.S. and its allies to have the power to restore justice and not to do so may actually be immoral, which is why we sympathize with our President when he draws the line against Iraqi aggression. But the tremendous cost of human life that comes with war should lead us, as Francis Schaeffer suggested, to "draw the line only with tears." As Christians, we need to urge caution against chauvinistic nationalism and ethnocentric pride. We must guard against the seductive euphoria of war, especially technowar in a faraway place against a people we don't understand very well. But beyond that, what is our message to the church? And from the church to the world?

First, we must acknowledge that two major wars and hundreds of regional conflicts have not improved human nature. Individuals and nations remain locked in the iron grip of sin with all of its cruelty. The next war may protect territorial interests, but only the redeeming and transforming power of Christ will change hearts on both sides of the battle front.

Second, we must recognize that God is sovereign; his purposes ultimately prevail. His demands are mercy and justice and faithfulness to him. It is righteousness alone that exalts and preserves a nation, not military strength. Even as we are comforted that God expresses his love and mercy through his sovereign might, we must strengthen our resolve to live as he demands.

Third, we must be careful about attaching undue eschatological significance to this crisis (Matt. 24:6-7). However, to live expecting our Lord's return—whether we are at peace or war—is our reassuring privilege and inescapable obligation.

Fourth, we must exercise responsible citizenship. Profound moral and political judgments do not come easily; as we work toward settled convictions of our own about U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf, we should participate in the public debate and the political process with humility, gentleness, and grace. Regardless of our views, our troops deserve respect and support. They serve because their leaders and their country have called them. We dare not inflict the lasting damage on these military men and women that we did on their counterparts in Vietnam. As we pray for their safety we must be prepared to suffer with those who suffer, and grieve with those who grieve.

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Finally, we must call the church to prayer. It is in such times of testing and crisis that the church has often been its most effective in expressing the will and character of God. If the tanks rumble and the rockets fire, Christians everywhere ought to "pray without ceasing" for our leaders, for the safety of our troops, even for the enemy (Jesus died for Saddam, too).

War tears our souls; victory is often hollow. That is when the church's weapons of love, compassion, service, and prayer—bathed in tears—are needed most.

This article originally appeared in the January 14, 1991, issue of Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

Previous Christianity Today articles and commentary on the current war with Iraq include:

Weblog: A Nation at War—and on Its Knees | Plus: Court says kids can give out candy with religious messages, and other stories from online sources around the world. (March 21, 2003)
Peacemakers Seek to Show War from Point of View of Iraqi Civilians | Six Christian Peacemaker Team members remain in Iraq as bombs drop. (March 21, 2003)
Speaking Out: Where Do We Go From Here? | Now that the bombs are falling, we'll need to repair Iraq—and our nation's moral standing. (March 21, 2003)
CT Classic: Weeping over Baghdad | Desert Storm cost Iraq thousands of lives. At its conclusion, a Christianity Today editorial called for the church to deal with the living souls that remained. (March 21, 2003)
War Could Reduce Holy Land's Christian Presence | Palestinian bishop fears current hostilities could continue a trend that sees Christians forced out of the area altogether. (March 21, 2003)
Weblog: Will War Breed Hate Crimes Against Muslims, Christians, or Both? | Plus: PCUSA court criticizes leader but dismisses charges, and other stories from online sources around the world. (March 20, 2003)
Weblog: Clergy Respond to Bush's Ultimatum to Saddam | Plus: Banning hot cross buns, Slate says Rick Warren "does a subtle violence to the rigors of belief," and other stories from online sources around the world. (March 18, 2003)
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Standing for Peace on the Eve of War | Christian group seeks nonviolent solution in Iraq. (March 12, 2003)
Weapons of the Spirit | Regardless of their positions on Iraq, Christians have much they can do. (Feb. 25, 2003)
Just War in Iraq | Sometimes going to war is the charitable thing to do. (Dec. 10, 2002)
Keeping Their Heads Down | Vital but dwindling Christians face many pressures. (Nov. 8, 2002)
Bully Culprit | Can a pre-emptive strike against the tyrant of Baghdad be justified? (Sept. 30, 2001)
Christian Leaders Respond to Bush's National Security Strategy | The White House outlines foreign policy in a changing world. (September 25, 2002)
Is Attacking Iraq Moral? | Christian leaders disagree, too. (September 4, 2002)

A downloadable Bible study on the implications of war with Iraq is available at These unique Bible studies use articles from current issues of Christianity Today to prompt thought-provoking discussions in adult Sunday school classes or small groups.