“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?... Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’”  --Genesis 18.23

Abraham, our forefather, thought that it would be unjust, and thus out of keeping with God’s character to destroy a city if there were even a few righteous people in it.  Think about that.  He presumed to tell God what was just, presumably because it was obvious to him.  And God agreed, going farther even than Abraham had dared to ask, removing all of the “righteous” (even those whom he knew would apostatize) before destroying the cities.

Now before we go trying to apply such a lesson we have to make a few distinctions, if only to maintain our street cred.  A) We’re not God, so we can’t know exactly who the righteous are, nor can we as easily shepherd them out of harm’s way (although we could protect churches and the like).  B) We don’t have divine sanction for any particular military action, so we don’t know that the wickedness of a particular nation has sparked an angelic outcry such that God wants that place utterly destroyed like Sodom did.  This means that we are not in a position to presume to be carrying out some sort of divine judgement.

What this leads to is a realization that we should be very, very careful in our pursuit of war.  If we have no divine sanction, and we know that God believes that killing even a few righteous persons in an attempt to destroy a “wicked city”, much less one that simply opposes our interests, is unjust, we should be extremely cautious in our pursuit of war.  

More particularly we should certainly avoid wars that involve the killing of large numbers of innocents.  That was precisely the issue at Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham had just been involved in a battle whereby he rescued his nephew Lot, and there is no doubt from the text that many died in that affair.  But there are two important facts that help us understand the distinctions between that action and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  First, it was a defensive action.  Abraham’s nephew had been captured and Abraham sought to redeem him.  Second it was a war fought between soldiers or fighting men.

The difference between Abraham’s reaction to the battles for Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the fact that one was a defensive war between armies and the other was the destruction of a civilian population.

The lesson to be learned from this is that if you engage in war, and particularly offensive or “pre-emptive” war, in such a way that you start killing righteous people “for the greater good” it seems to me that you have to reckon with Abraham and the divine sanction of his belief that killing the righteous along with the wicked is unjust and ungodly.

Finally, I would say, that even if we pretend that the United States is an obvious force for good in the world (with her hundreds of thousands of child murders per year, Bible burnings by the military, assassinations, and wholesale embrace of statism) we must reckon with the fact that even the greatest “force for good” there is, YAHWEH himself, did not believe that “collateral damage” of the righteous in an offensive action was simply one of the cold hard realities of war that must be accepted. 

Foreign policy is not just a side issue. 

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