Chap 11 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
The Bible, the divine revelation of the Creator of all mankind, cuts across all cultural and national peculiarities and deals with mankind universally. It was written by individuals and initially addressed to nations, communities or individuals within their historical times. However, because the Bible is a supernatural revelation from the Author and Sustainer of all history, its time-oriented-specifics may also be eternally-principled-universals.
Foreign policies or international relations practiced by nations many centuries ago may be technologically or technique-wise inapplicable to our modern world, but the principles are as valid today as they were 3000 years ago. Truth and values do not change. God is the author of all truth and all morality. In fact, God is truth and God is morality. Truth and righteousness have their source in the Divine Person — that is where they reside. Since he does not change, they do not change. They are his nature.
The Creator made man in his own image, a person whose worth is determined by the truth, righteousness, love and justice that resides in him. Man, this creature of the Divine Father, is pro-creative and social. Man has communalized himself into social structures, in response to Divine fiat and providential circumstances. The larger of these social structures are called "nations." Because God scattered his creatures, confounding human language into many diverse tongues, men have adapted themselves to many different "cultures," climates, circumstances and political contingencies. Huge masses of individuals with the same languages and cultures have come together to cooperate in political, economic and other structures to form nations. But nations are still simply massive concentrations of individuals.
Therefore, what is called "international relations" must be fundamentally approached from the perspective of individual, personal relations. Practically all the biblical truths which reveal the mind of God for individual relations may be extrapolated to the national level:
Scores of other principles concerning human relations could be cited from the Bible which apply universally and internationally. But there are also principles and illustrations in the Bible that have something to say more specifically about God's will for international relations. Some of these are as follows:
There has been only one theocratic nation, it is true (Israel). However, the law of God by which all nations are to conduct their affairs has been written on men's hearts (Rom. 2:12-16) innately, it has been written in "nature" (Rom. l:18ff) objectively, personified in Jesus Christ, historically (John l:1ff, I John 1:1-4), and revealed to mankind in human language (I Cor. 1:18-25; 2:10-13), propositionally. So that all men (and nations) are without excuse! All men of every nation have been given minds with which to think and laws of logic by which to think. Therefore, they "ought not to think" that God is nonexistent or that he is a piece of wood or stone (Acts 17:26-31). "Oughtness" implies moral responsibility. It is a self-evident truth, that all men are created, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
While no nation, including the one theocratic one, has ever conducted its international relations whole-heartedly from this principle — they are not guiltless, even though heathen, for having failed to do so. Nations are warned to give "homage" to God's Son (Psa. 2:1-12). Only the very naive unbeliever and the uninformed Christian will ever expect this principle to be made a primary factor in the foreign policies of human governments. Human governments by nature and necessity are coercive and materialistically oriented. Even the best of them are never completely surrendered to the sovereignty of God spiritually or ideologically. Some are by degrees; some not at all. But there is a plateau of relative acknowledgment of Divine sovereignty for nations that is acceptable to God. The Bible expects it! It is upon this principle, for the first time in history (except the Israelite theocracy) that the founding fathers (from the "plantation" at Plymouth to the framers of the Constitution) established the United States of America. While more and more atheistic minority groups try to undermine this as a principle of American civil government, the vigilance of Americans who still believe strongly in this principle must remain ever alert and passionate to insure that it is continued.
The principle of inviolable individual sovereignty is clearly upheld in the Bible. No individual has the right to invade another individual's domain or take his property by coercion or stealth. Unquestionably the same principle would apply nationally. God is not man that he would change. As for the land of Canaan, first, God had the right of "divine domain." He had the right to give it to whomever he chose (see Jer. 27:5ff), so in his sovereign wisdom, he "gave" it to Abraham and his descendants. Second, the many nomadic clans "squatting" in Canaan, could claim no more "squatter's rights" to it than Abraham, a clan from Ur of Chaldea, who migrated and "squatted" there just as the others had done. Third, Abraham and his descendants brought righteousness, justice, and physical improvement (relatively speaking) to the land where other "squatters" had not. Technically, Israel violated no "nation's" sovereignty when they occupied Canaan. In God's sovereign justness, the despicable clans "squatting" in Canaan had forfeited any claims they might have to any portion of the land by defiling the land with their inhuman and atrocious behavior.
In Romans 1:32, "covenant breakers" (or the "faithless" are severely condemned.
God expects vows by individuals to be kept (Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21; Eccl. 5:4-6) and that would apply equally to nations.
The prophet Obadiah commiserated about the tragedy befalling Edom due to the fact that "All your allies have deceived you, they have driven you to the border; your confederates have prevailed against you; your trusted friends have set a trap under you — there is no understanding of it" (Obadiah v. 7).
The same tragic failure of international integrity befalls Judah, according to Jeremiah (Jer. 30:14) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 16:39ff; see also Jer. 38:22).
Nahum accuses Nineveh of "countless harlotries . . . graceful and deadly charms, who betrays nations with her harlotries, and peoples with her charms ..." (Nah. 3:4).
Amos charges certain nations with inhumanity: "... they threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron . . . they carried into exile a whole people . . . cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually . . . they have ripped up women with child . . . and burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom (Amos l:3ff).
Isaiah condemns Egypt, calling her, "Rahab who sits still" (Isa. 30:7). "Rahab" is a Hebrew word meaning, "big mouth, braggart, vain-talker"; and the words "sits still" are from the Hebrew word shabath, or "resting, inert, unmoving." Egypt's word was worthless — she could not and would not keep it.
The empire of Rome is represented as having "deceived" all nations (Rev. 18:23). In her latter years, Rome lost her integrity. She would not keep her word.
At the end of his second term as President, which would be his last public service to America, George Washington, in his Farewell Address, said: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports .... In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles .... It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.... Observe good faith and justice toward all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all; religion and morality enjoin this conduct.... It will be worthy of a free, enlightened and ... a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous . . . example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence .... Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?"
The Bible says that nations must maintain moral integrity. They must, to the best of their ability, keep their word; they must not deceive for wicked purposes; they must make every effort toward international peace and harmony; and they must do good whenever and wherever they are able.
It is unequivocally true that there is no civil society which is to be equated in any way with Israel of the Old Testament or the Church of the New Testament. God has no "chosen people" now according to race, nationality, or culture. At the same time, the Bible clearly reveals that God expects all civil governments to conduct their "ministries" (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-17) though basic "natural laws" (Rom. l:18ff; 2:12-16) of goodness, integrity, and logic. That being so, the statement of Paul to the Corinthians (II Cor. 6:14-18) should be a part of that generic law of God which would apply to civil international relations — "Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity?" The fact that the majority of civil governments do not see their powers as "ministries" of God does not invalidate the Biblical expectation that they should do so!
The sagacious and godly "father of our country," George Washington, said: "In the execution of such a plan (a government observing good faith and justice toward all nations . . .), nothing is more essential than that permanent inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachment for others, should be excluded; and that in place of them, just and amicable feelings toward all should be cultivated .... As avenues to foreign influence, in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the art of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, toward a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.... Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence ... the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government.... There can be no greater error than to expect . . . real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard."
Farewell Address, September 17, 1796)
In a world whose modern technology (communications, weapons, transportation) has made all nations "next door neighbors, does George Washington's warning about "foreign entanglements" still hold true? Are the biblical principles we have been enumerating still valid for international relations? We believe they are. The Bible does not prohibit all relations between sovereign nations. George Washington advised an "amicable" balance between cooperation and non-cooperation. Biblical principles of Divine sovereignty, national sovereignty, and national integrity do not have to be compromised to promote a diplomacy of "balance" in international relations. Ronald Kirkemo, Associate Professor of International Relations at Point Loma College in San Diego, California, former employee of the U.S. Government and candidate for the California State Legislature, expounds a philosophy of "balance":
What, then, brings peace? How is peace attained and preserved? How can the world be made safe with international diversity and safe for international diversity?
Peace does not come because nations are friendly and generous with each other since then it would be gone whenever some nation wanted to be unfriendly or covetous and had the power to have its own way. To have peace requires more than just being peaceful and hoping all the other nations will be peaceful too. To have peace the nations must create the conditions that will protect it.
Peace among nations has to be built. Natural peace does not exist. But a constructed one is possible. It results from the conscious fashioning and maintaining of certain international and domestic conditions. Foreign policy, then, must not direct its efforts toward peace itself but toward the creation of balance of power, moderation in policy, legitimacy and acceptance of these by public opinion.
Balance, the first pillar of a constructed peace, is important to prevent any one nation from becoming powerful enough that it can successfully insure (through the use or threat of military and economic power) that its specific demands are met by other nations. Balance comes when nations align and realign themselves in such a way that the sum of their combined power equals or surpasses the power of the threatening nation. In this way its power and demands are either scaled down or neutralized altogether.
This process of maintaining an international balance among nations requires leaders who are adept at manipulating their countries' alignments with each other. They must be flexible, able to shift their relationships when necessary. Such manipulation means that a nation will have no or few permanent friends and enemies. As America has experienced with Germany, Japan, China, Russia, Turkey and others, enmities and friendships do not last forever. The leaders must also be willing and able to work and cooperate with nations they disapprove of, nations whose internal activities are open to criticism but whose support is necessary to prevent a general war. That can be very uncomfortable for nations and their people, but the preservation of peace usually involves neither simplicity nor an easy and permanent division of countries into good and bad.
Lastly, the balancing process may involve conflict, and nations must be willing and able to engage in limited conflict to prevent the balance from being over thrown. If this balance can be preserved, then the ambitions of nations can be resisted. Conflicts that do occur can be kept limited, or they can be isolated and contained within a geographic region before they become global and catastrophic.
The successful operation of an international balance over a long period can lead to the second element of a constructed peace, moderation. Moderation is the absence of grandiose ambitions, and intemperate actions, the presence of restraint and toleration. A nation can be induced to be moderate when other nations act together to contain and frustrate its ambitious design, and to accommodate its aspirations whenever reconciliation is both possible and safe. The process of balancing can lead to moderation but it must be coupled with efforts to bring some relative satisfaction to all the nations so that all will find it worthwhile to be moderate. An international balance itself is too fragile, too mechanical. Without the leaven of reconciliation and relative satisfaction, ambitious nations will simply bide their time until they can move and catch the others off guard.
This accommodation and reconciliation comes from negotiations and mutual compromises. We cannot expect the world to be changeless, and we cannot expect nations to be talked out of their historical aspirations and ideological convictions. But if these nations with aspirations and convictions can be balanced and contained, they can be given the choice of no satisfaction by mutual compromise. It is then in their interest to moderate their goals. That in turn makes it in the interest of the other nations to be tolerant.
This reconciliation process is not appeasement. The deals and agreements that are worked out must not be based on personal friendships or friendly atmospheres. Rather, the bargains made must be deeply analyzed and thought through to insure that all concerned are protected. This means that the first round of negotiations may not be successful because the goals have not been moderated enough for it to be safe to accommodate. But if the nations can negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement, then the factors of moderation and tolerance will be strengthened and international relationships made more stable.
The two elements of balance and moderation can construct a peace among the nations. But both are fragile and may not survive changes of leadership in key nations or the development of new issues of crucial importance to some. New leaders may not be skillful in handling the balancing process. The advantages of moderation and mutual compromise may not be self-evident to those facing important new issues. What is needed is a concept of cooperation that will transcend immediate problems and justify commitment to an international system of relative equality of nations (balance) and relative satisfaction of needs and goals (moderation). In other words, the nations need a concept of world affairs that will lead them to see a stable world as a legitimate world, a world they feel obliged to protect from disruption. With such a concept of legitimacy, mediocre leaders can be tolerated and new issues resolved without conflict. The great legitimizing principle of the second half of the twentieth century is the commitment to avoid nuclear war. What is needed now is another legitimizing principle to join it, one which would take nations beyond a commitment to avoid nuclear war to a commitment to establish conditions of greater humaneness and justice among the peoples of the world.
The fourth element in a constructed and lasting peace relates to domestic public opinion. The leaders must convey to the people how the legitimacy of world cooperation makes sense in light of their historical heritage and aspirations. They must explain why shifting national alignments and a balance of power are necessary. The importance of participation in world cooperation must be made clear. This is difficult to achieve because the need to compromise is dimly understood by a public that believes its values and policies are right and just. There is also the danger of apathy by citizens who consider shifting alignments to be too intricate or too political (and thus disgusting) to pay close attention. On the other end of the spectrum is the danger that the public will become infected with utopianism and expect far more than its leader can deliver by participation in international cooperation.
If any of these conditions occur, the regime may find its policies emasculated in an unsympathetic Congress. Or it may find itself voted out of office in the next election and replaced by a regime which promises either more "hard-headed realism" and less association with international conferences and disagreeable nations, or more grand and Utopian goals. Long-term, patient domestic support is a necessity for the establishment of an international order that provides moderation and stability as well as benefits, all without loss of sovereignty and independence.
Between the Eagle & the Dove, by Ronald Kirkemo,
pub. IVP, pp. 50-53
Would this philosophy of "balance" in international diplomacy compromise biblical principle? We do not believe it would. There appears to be biblical precedent for some political cooperation between nations with quite opposite ideological bases. David, the "man after God's own heart", entered into some international commerce with Hiram, king of Tyre (Phoenicia) (II Sam. 5:1 If) without any disapproval from God and with no disastrous results. This international cooperation continued into the reign of Solomon (I Kings 5:1-18). Solomon and the Queen of Sheba were on friendly terms (I Kings 10:1ff). But even earlier, Abraham cooperated with the king of Sodom in an international effort without compromising his faith in God (Gen. 14). The Egyptians in Joseph's time sold grain to people from all over the world (Gen. 42:5-7), and offered asylum to thousands (Gen. 47:Iff). Jacob and Esau entered into amicable "international" relations (Gen. 33). Israel tried diplomacy with Edom as she marched toward Canaan (Num. 20:14-21) but Edom would not negotiate. David, fleeing from his own king Saul, took his family to the king of Moab for his protection (I Sam. 22:3, 4). Both Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the cooperativeness of the Persians in the restoration of the Jewish commonwealth.
Many acts of international diplomacy are recorded in these two books of the Bible. Finally, the book of Esther chronicles a series of "international relations" transpiring between a nation-within-a-nation (Israel) and that nation itself (Persia).
The New Testament takes no historical note of international relations of the first century, except for the prophetic ones concerning the Roman Empire (Rev. 17-18). The very silence of the Gospels and the Epistles indicates divine latitude in international relations anticipating that the fundamental moral principles of "natural law" will prevail. The New Testament (the book of Revelation, specifically), like the Old (Daniel, especially), is revelationally realistic about human, civil government — calling it "beastly." All human governments are predatory — some more than others. It is not without significance that most nations symbolize themselves as wild animals (lion, bear, eagle, tiger, etc.). The Bible does not portray any human civil government as a paragon of godly virtue; none of them will ever be the "kingdom of God." But the Bible does expect civil governments to serve God as "ministers" to enforce the virtues of logic and natural law. On that basis, international diplomacy and commerce can be conducted from a base of "balance of power" and biblical integrity maintained. Perhaps the statement of the apostle Paul to Christians at Corinth concerning necessary relations with non-Christians would help believers resolve the pragmatics of international relations:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (I Cor. 5:9, 10).
Christians are in the world; Christians are subject to civil governments; civil governments are not "Christian" per se. The best a Christian can expect of his civil government is that it see itself as a "minister" of God to punish evil doers and reward good doers, guided by the will of God demonstrated in the natural and propositional revelation, as impartially as possible in a highly pluralistic world.
7. Finally, the Bible's highest expectation for international relations would be that of humaneness — international relief, especially when unavoidable human suffering occurs on a massive and unexpected scale.
Several biblical examples of this may be cited:
Compassion is a most God-like virtue. But no one nation should be expected to feed the whole world of starving people. No one nation should be expected to arm all the defenseless nations or fight all their battles for them. Nations must be self-centered to the extent that their first responsibility is to their own citizens. That is the primary purpose for which God ordained civil governments. The principle enunciated by Paul that those who "do not provide for their own" has disowned the faith (I Tim. 5:7, 8) is applicable here. Certainly, another principle, "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required" (Luke 12:48) should also apply internationally. America has certainly been "given much." She should be expected to extend a compassionate hand to those less fortunate. But she must not jeopardize her own economy or her own national security to do so. America's biblical mandate is to so govern her own affairs that she is "Gods servant for your (America's) good" (Rom. 13:4). She must, in the words of George Washington, "avoid passionate attachments" to any other nation. She must act in her own self interest. That is what civil governments are for. They are not the kingdom of God — they are not the church of Christ. They are servants of God in the secular world to insure a "quiet and peaceable life" for their citizens so that men may come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:1-4). Let us pray for our nation and all the nations of the world to that end.
Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler