A Christian's Complicated Relationship With War
To be a Christian solider is to live in a paradox. It is to be both willing to die and willing to kill in the name of what is good. It is to both be the person willing to lay down their life for someone you don't even know and to be willing to kill humans, created in the image of God, who have perpetrated evil in the world at the command of politicians who are likely not guided by a Christian ethic. It is a complicated place to stand, and yet 84% of the 20 million Veterans in the united states identify with the Christian faith [source].
As followers of Jesus, these men and women have done something incredibly selfless by enlisting, but for at least the first 300 years of the Christian church, it was believed that one could not be both a Christian and a solider [source]. The main reason being that it's always more Christ-like to be killed than it is to kill. But, despite the simplicity of that statement there needs to be more nuance to it. Consider a Christian response to the evils of the Holocaust or the genocide happening the our friends in the Congo. Must we claim that it is more Christ-like to be killed by that evil than it is to destroy it in the defense of the innocent?
This is the tension the Christian Veteran stood in. They stood in a moral gray area between taking the offensive against evil in order to defend the defenseless and trusting that to truly conquer evil in the footsteps of Jesus is to lay down one's life both figuratively and literally. It reminds me of a famous Lutheran Pastor in Germany during WWII named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer knew about, though was not a part of planning, Operation Valkyrie, an attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He was taken by the Gestapo, sent to the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp, and executed there as a conspirator.
Bonhoeffer said, "God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross... He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. [The Bible] … makes quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. … The Bible directs man to God's powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help."
So what is a Christian's engagement on a day honoring those who stepped into this complicated space? How can we show honor to the selfless sacrifice without denying that Jesus himself was clear about using only non-violence and self sacrifice in the face of injustice and evil? I would like to offer 3 invitations.
1 - Thank them for their sacrifice
These men and women, by serving, have made a conscious choice to be the body in front of the bullet on our behalf. Period. We should be deeply grateful for the selflessness of that act. When anyone stands between us and harm they are revealing heavenly realities on earth in the likeness of Jesus. To take a risk like that is to suffer on another's behalf and that is something that honors Christ. So, to the Veterans reading this, thank you for your sacrifice.
2 - Offer compassion for the complicated feelings they may have about their time in the military
11-30% of Veterans who saw active duty (depending on where they served) experience symptoms of PTSD each year. These men and women have been through incredibly traumatic ordeals and often faced them without the emotional training necessary to process what they saw. For the civilians like myself among us, we cannot begin to comprehend the position they are in. What we can do is avoid pretending like we understand. We can simply have compassion that their experiences are complicated and if they honor us by sharing their stories, we can listen with curiosity and without judgement.
3 - Pray for them
God knows the heart and the mind of a veteran. The greatest thing you can do for them is to pray for them. Thank God for them, ask for their protection, for healing from their wounds physically and emotionally, and for support in their times of need. Pray that Jesus would sit beside them and be closer than ever before.
And lastly, to the Veterans at Valley Chapel. We are grateful to our savior Jesus Christ that you are a part of our community. Thank you for your service and what you've done for us.
Happy Veteran's Day.
Happy Veteran's Day.