Love of neighbor may require the use of force to protect a life. If this reading of scripture seems unique, follow me along and see if you agree. If you disagree, please add a comment to this posting.
The nineteenth chapter of Leviticus gives several examples before it states great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” Lev. 19:18. For example, when you harvest, you will leave some produce for the poor (19:9-10).
The translation of 19:16 is problematic. (To compare five different translations click here .) The New American Bible gives it this way “You shall not go about spreading slander among your kinsmen; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD” Robert Alter, in The Five Books of Moses translates it this way: ”You shall not stand over the blood of your fellow man.”
Alter uses words as close as possible to the original Hebrew, leaving it to the reader (and footnotes) to tease out what the text meant when it was written. In this case he says that most traditional (Jewish) commentators interpret “stand over the blood” as meaning to stand by without intervening while blood is being shed – literally or figuratively. (BTW, I highly recommend Alter’s translation.)
The biblical command to love my neighbor, as I understand it, means that if a life is in danger, I must do something. This may include the use of violent force. It may also mean shouting loudly, calling 911, or offering a means of escape. I might even, as Jesus did, offer my own life to protect my neigbor. Nonviolence may not be an option.
The Good Samaritan parable reminds me to broaden my perspective on who is my neighbor.
This interpretation does not necessarily transfer to Just War theory. In Chapter 11 of We Hold These Truths John Courtney Murray, S.J. cautions against applying moral principles for individuals to society at large. The world is filled with situations in which innocent blood is being spilled. Military intervention is appropriate, in my judgment, for some of them. Click here for some comments on the just war case concerning Operation Iraqi Freedom.