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What's at the Root of War?

Volumes have been written describing the root causes of war.

It has been studied, no doubt, since the first conflict erupted among human beings. The ancient Greeks felt human behavior was guided by fear, self-interest and honor— characteristics that cause war and instability. When these aspects of human nature create a crisis, the normal course of events leads to a breakdown in order, and anarchy or war is the result.

Relations among nations are likewise generally guided by self-interest. When nations' interests are jeopardized, the natural instinct for self-preservation takes over. War is often the result.

The apostle James wrote quite pointedly on this subject: "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war" (James 4:1-2).

James identifies lust, desire and covetousness as the primary sources of strife among people who cannot focus on the right relationship with God. He goes on to say: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (verse 4). Again we see that self-interest plays a dominant role in human aggression.

Left to itself, without a spiritual relationship with God, the human heart is the seat of conflict. Jeremiah the prophet observed that "the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick . . ." (Jeremiah 17:9, New American Standard Bible).

Jesus Christ confirms that "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19). The apostle Paul tells us that the natural, human way of thinking "is hostile to God" and "does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so" (Romans 8:7, New International Version).

But the Bible reveals that the real source of this hostility within human beings is Satan the devil. In a heated discussion with the Pharisees who were challenging Him, Christ labeled Satan as the source of human hostility. "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).

Paul describes Satan as controlling the "power of the air," swaying people to disobedience without their conscious awareness. Until man's nature undergoes a fundamental change, he follows after the natural "lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." He is a child "of wrath" caught up with the rest of humanity in a spirit of conflict (Ephesians 2:2-3).

It will take a change of heart along with the addition of God's Spirit to turn the human mind from pursuing pure self-interest to following the lead of God. We find this solution alluded to in a quote from Russian author Leo Tolstoy's famous novel War and Peace : "Drain the blood from men's veins and put in water instead, then there will be no more war!"

When the world comes under the covenant in which God writes His law of love on the human heart through His Spirit, we will see the end of war. Until then, we will see wars continue— and escalate in ferocity and devastation as mankind uses technological advancements to introduce ever-more-deadly means of killing other human beings.

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