Would it be reasonable, if you are a Christian, to describe what Soldiers and Marines are currently doing in Southwest Asia in 2008 as “a task from God.” The current operation emphasizes protecting the population from the insurgents that intentionally terrorize and target them. The task in 2008 is not the same as it was in 2003. Based on the 2006 version of Field Manual 3-24, it is a mix of military power, community building and life improvement strategies. Violence is down. Communities are stabilizing. Economic life is improving. One prominent senator who opposed the counterinsurgency approach now says that “it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”
So the question is this: is protecting women and children from those who intentionally target them in markets and schools a task from God? Is it a task from God to protect people from those who want to kill them because they hold different religious beliefs? Is it a task from God to protect the institutions and structures on which people’s lives depend?
Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king and his use of power:
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor! … he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
This is both the task and purpose of what coalition forces are trying to accomplish. Is it a task from God?
People speak quite easily of feeding the hungry, caring for the ill and comforting the grieving as the Lord’s work without others suggesting that they are somehow off-balance or religiously intolerant. Protecting the innocent is the Lord’s work as well. It is not the work of the church, but it is one of God’s purposes for those who hold civil power. Armed conflict is indeed an ugly and imperfect instrument of peace and justice, but there are things that are uglier still. We can look at the sometimes violent means with regret (and try to make them better), but we should have no regrets about the task and purpose.
How do we accomplish the task and achieve the purpose? Reasonable people can disagree about strategies, tactics, competing priorities and a number of other issues that pertain to “protecting the innocent.” It would be unwise to claim an unqualified divine mandate for any particular course of action, all of which are flawed in some way. At every level, fallible people make imperfect decisions based at least partially on misunderstandings and incomplete information. There are no guarantees. The task is so important, however, that it deserves our best efforts and full attention.
And as far as the task itself is concerned, here is all I need to know. The enemy intentionally targets the vulnerable; our Soldiers and Marines protect the innocent. Is theirs “a task from God.” Darn right, it is.