Nov 3, 2014
The headline on a recent Washington Post Op-Ed about the rise of the Islamic State proclaimed “The Return of Evil.” Although one was tempted to reply that evil never went away, the headline writer had a point—the post-Cold War 1990s in the United States were indeed marked by naïve optimism that the era of conflict had ended and the world could now look forward to universal peace, prosperity, and democratic governance: the end of history, in other words.
As we now see all too clearly, and should have realized all along, the persistence of evil is an enduring reality in human affairs. The reason is simple. Evil has its immediate source in the human heart. And how are we to respond to that in light of the gospel?
The Christian message is that evil is vanquished by love. But that is largely, though not entirely, in the eschatological future. Here and now it isn’t possible to love away jihadists and terrorists and others who use violence as a tool of conquest and oppression.
Wrestling with this fact, Christianity centuries ago came up with the just war theory—a schema for undertaking and waging war against aggression by to a circumscribed and carefully measured use of force. Alongside just war, however, there exists a tradition of Christian pacifism whose legitimacy has been recognized in recent years not only by so-called peace churches but by magisterial documents of the Catholic Church.