A Biblical View of Nukes
My first computer was the size of a VW Beetle. The monitor was high resolution green. When you printed a document you had to tear a mile and a half of perforated feeder bands off the sides of the paper. Before there was photoshop, there was printshop. You could ink "Happy Birthday" across three sheets of continuous feed perforated paper and when you looked at the graphics really close you realized the entire design (what we now call pixels) was brought to you by the letter "n." Today I am typing on a bluetooth keyboard to an iPad with no moving parts, gigs of storage, on an HD screen. The whole thing is the size of a photo and weighs about 1/2 a pound.
To look back and see where we were in the '80's and where we are now is surreal. My only disappointment is that the Jetsons turned out to be false prophets. My Xterra does not fly. Yet, there was a movie in the '80's that may have been a bit prophetic. At the very least it asked and answered a good question. What's the point of nuclear weapons? In the movie War Games Matthew Broderick hacked a computer the size of an iMax theater and almost launched America's entire arsenal of nuclear weapons. To avoid "global thermonuclear war" Broderick's character invites the rogue supercomputer to play tic-tac-toe. The lesson was simple, nobody wins. The point of nuclear weapons is to have them in hopes that no one else will fire them.
This fall congress will debate ratification of the START treaty. The treaty will call for the reduction of the U.S. and Russia's arsenal of long range nukes to 1,500 each. President Obama has proposed we cut the arsenal to zero. In his article from the 9/27/2010 edition of TIME Magazine Fred Kaplan asks if START is "a first step toward getting us there?"
Kaplan's article serves as a concise and informative survey on the nuclear arms race. In the '60's the U.S. had 30,000 nuclear weapons. I grew up in the 80’s. By then nuclear war was not a possibility, but a dreaded expectation. We just sort of knew that eventually someone was going to nuke us. The good news was that a standard elementary school lunch room table was enough to save your life. In the end, no one nuked us. We are still here. Is the nuke game almost over? Is it time to START taking our nuclear weapon count to zero? What are we going to do with all the nuclear grade lunchroom tables now?
Here is a better question for my worldview. Is it Biblical for me to say that we need nuclear weapons? Is the proper Biblical count for nuclear weapons zero? Allow me to reason this Biblical question out Biblically.
In the end Jesus will rule and there will be no nuclear weapons. The Biblical story ends in redemption and the total number of nuclear weapons in the new Heavens, Earth, and Jerusalem is zero. For the rest of eternity we will do only one thing with lunchroom tables, eat lunch. That's the good news. The bad news is that it will take a hellacious war to get there. From a Biblical standpoint this means that START will not bring lasting peace. On this side of the end a nuclear count of nothing doesn’t equate to safety. If we are naive enough to believe that disarmament actually represents a change in human nature, we are as stupid as most movies in the '80's actually were. Biblically, people are sinful and the world is an incredibly evil place. You can take every pistol out of Washington D.C. and someone will still get shot. It is not an ironic paradox, but rather the reality of living with sinners. If we trash the nukes nothing really changes. The game of war will continue.
The Biblical ethic is to desire and propagate the ideal, a peaceful world redeemed by Jesus Christ, while at the same time being wise with where we are now - living in an evil world that desperately needs Jesus. Because humans are desperately wicked; as long as the world needs Jesus it will also need weapons. On this side of redemption there will be guns. People throughout Scripture had and used weapons. David went so far as to praise God because He, "trained (David's) hands for war, and (his) fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1).” Both Biblically and practically weapons are viable tools of defense. Biblically and practically, weapons are also viable tools for accomplishing the will of God. Ask Goliath. However, an important point to note here is that the Bible teaches that no matter the size and strength of the weapons arsenal, the ultimate power at work in the world is the providential rule of God (Zechariah 4:6).
So how does Scripture address the START treaty? It teaches us that people are evil and it may be wise to be like David and carry a slingshot just in case. Goliath has friends. It would not be wise to get rid of all the nukes. They serve as a better deterrent than treaties from evil people being evil. Most evil people are very afraid to die. The Bible also teaches us that we should not be so naive to think that zero nukes represents a change in human nature. If we get rid of the nukes you can bet that we will find something else to shoot at one another. Furthermore, we should not be so naïve to assume that if the USA and the former USSR disarms, that everyone else will follow suit.
How many nukes do we need? How many do you really need to be a threat? Certainly not 30,000. Probably not even 1,500. Kaplan has some interesting comments on the gratuitous way these calculations are made. The money we are spending to maintain and/or build nuclear weapons could be put to better humanitarian use. Let’s build less, but by all means let’s build some. Being Biblical does not mean being naïve. Yet, ultimately the Bible teaches us that our faith should not rest in human plans or power. Nukes or not, this game will end. The goal of God is not temporal nuclear disarmament, but eternal redemption. The only way to assure a non-nuke world is to change the nature of man from sinner to son of God. In Jesus, God will do this. This is invitation of the gospel and its promised end. It is a world with new hearts and no nukes.
In the end, once again, we will look back and find it surreal to see how far we've come.