The war rhetoric between North Korea and the U.S. turned nuclear this week, literally. Thankfully, Christians have thought about these things before.
U.S. intelligence now believes that North Korea—currently under the rule of a despicable, evil, irrational dictatorship—has capability to mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Kim Jong Un has said he’ll never give up his pursuit of nuclear weapons, and just this week, he threatened attacks on the U.S. mainland and the U.S. territory of Guam.
In response, President Trump warned that if these threats continue, North Korea will face “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Rhetoric aside, the President does face a very grave dilemma: how to prevent North Korea from following through on its threats. The prudential and moral considerations here are colossal. He and our entire national security team need our prayers.
What he doesn’t need is bad advice. One evangelical advisor made headlines saying that the president had been anointed by God to “take out” Kim Jong Un “by any means possible.”
“By any means possible” is a Machiavellian response, not a Christian one. And I know Chuck Colson would have said so too.
Chuck, a former Marine Captain and advisor to President Nixon, was no pacifist. But he was a disciplined Christian thinker who talked frequently about “just war theory.” He knew the rich wisdom about war from those who had gone before was an antidote to hyper-emotional reactionism.
To give you a taste, here’s Chuck, from 2009:
Chuck Colson: For nearly two millennia, Christian thinkers starting with Augustine … have developed what is known as the just war theory. For a war to be seen as just, it must meet several conditions. It must be waged by legitimate authority. The cause itself must be just, as well as the intention behind going to war. War must be a last resort, waged by means proportional to the threat. We must not target non-combatants, and we must have a reasonable chance of success.
John: Let’s unpack these criteria. First, the intent of the war has to be just. Is preventing an irrational dictatorship from using nuclear weapons a just cause? Yes, but it raises other questions. Is a preemptive strike morally just? Chuck felt so in certain cases and he cited Christian precedent. But in the years after the preemptive invasion of Iraq, he admitted that hindsight showed the intelligence leading to the attack was faulty. So U.S. intelligence must be correct about the status of North Korea’s capabilities.
Second, for a war to be just, there must be a reasonable chance of success. That means success must be achievable, and it must be defined. In this case, is it the toppling of Kim Jong Un, or just removing his capability of producing and delivering nuclear weapons?
Third, is war a last resort? Are all other avenues closed? This is almost always the final hinge on which a just decision swings.
Fourth, we must not target non-combatants. A U. S. attack on North Korea should focus on their leadership and nuclear facilities. But we must also consider civilian cost to our allies. If North Korea has time to retaliate against an attack, experts warn of hundreds of thousands if not millions of South Korean, perhaps even Japanese, civilian casualties.
Fifth, is our response proportional to the threat? “Fire and fury like the world has never seen” is a vague answer to that question. Are we talking cruise missiles here, or tactical nuclear weapons?
As Chuck said back in 2009, these are tough questions for any leader. And he knew, having served in the White House at the side of a president.
So Christians, we must pray to the God of history and nations for wisdom for our leaders and for a just end to the evil regime in North Korea. And, in our words, whether we’re advising the President or own children about this situation, we must be thoughtful and morally considerate, not emotionally reactive.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.