Good Soldiers, Bad Wars

Today’s slice of the bread of life, the Word of God, comes from two passages. Joshua 11:6 begins as thirteen kings began to pursue Israel to annihilate it.

And the Lord said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for tomorrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt cripple their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.

(I will spare you the gore of the battles that ensued and drop down to verses 18-20:)

Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Now lets look at Matthew 8:5-13:

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a Centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The Centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the Centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

It has become commonplace for the church to talk about peace in recent years, condemning war. And this is entirely appropriate, since Christ has charged His people to be peacemakers; Matthew 5:9: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. He said this in a world weary of war.

Amid all of the verbiage of ecclesiastical pronouncements, too often the church has been nearly silent about soldiers! It’s as if we have nothing to say to or about the people who risk and give their lives. It is time we spoke about peace, not just in political or moral terms, but in human terms as well. It is time we spoke before God about good soldiers and bad wars.

Let me begin with the benefits one can gain by being a soldier.  Many of our young people are clearly helped by the direction and discipline they get in the military. They learn habits and lessons in the armed forces which serve them well for the rest of their lives. This is precisely what we see in the Roman Centurion who talks with Jesus.  You see, the Centurion’s world is governed by a chain of command.  This is also how he understands his faith. Just as a captain has authority over a private and a general over a captain, so, too, does Jesus have authority over all things, seen and unseen. Jesus is the ultimate Commander-in-Chief. Simply by issuing the order, He can heal the Centurion’s servant. The Roman soldier has learned his faith through the language and lens of the military, but the faith he has learned is true. He has learned that Jesus is Lord, a Supreme Officer to be obeyed.

Today, we live in a society which teaches us in so many ways to love ourselves and to “look out for number one.” Well, that’s not what Jesus taught, is it? And that’s not what people learn in the military, either. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and countless soldiers have done just that over the years!

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