War – What is it Good For?

Veteran’s Day is coming up here in the States this Friday. I must admit that I have some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I have a great respect for all those who have served our country and, especially, for those who have paid a high price in suffering to do so.

On the other hand there is an underlying idea behind Veteran’s Day, and war in general, that troubles me. We often say something like this:

We owe our freedom, and even the good life we have (economic and otherwise), to those who have served in our armed forces.

We usually focus this sentiment on the sacrifice they made to protect our way of life. But there is another side to it as well – not only what they sacrificed to protect our society but also what we asked them to do on our behalf. Not only have brave men and women laid down their lives for us but we have also called upon them to take the lives of others.

This is my question: is killing hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings the only way for us as a society to preserve our freedom and protect our prosperity? Or, is there another way, a way rooted in the Christ who has included all humanity – even our enemies – in his life with the Father?

I honestly don’t know, but I do think that we owe it to our Veterans during this time of remembrance to acknowledge that we not only asked them to lay down their lives (as Jesus did) but also to take the lives of others (as Jesus did not). That tension between who Jesus is and what we have asked of our Veterans creates a profound moral question that our society – and especially Christianity – needs to seriously wrestle with in the years to come. It is especially urgent that we wrestle with this question if we do not want to repeat our mistakes in places like Vietnam and Iraq.

~ Jonathan Stepp

7 comments so far

  1. Jeannine on

    I am with you 100%, Jonathan. I used to view was as a glorious thing – I even said once that if my son grew up and chose to be a soldier, that I’d be really worried about him, but proud. That was about 5 years ago – I don’t feel that way at all anymore and I refuse to glorify war in any way to my children. I do feel that most soldiers are incredibly honourable people – but you have only to read a book like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (told from the perspective of a young German soldier fighting in the trenches during WWI) to see that war is ALWAYS brother against brother. That can never be right.

    I think it’s ok to fight to defend your own home/family – but even then – what kind of life are we preserving if it requires killing others (who are children of God just as we are)?

  2. Jane Hinrichs on

    Thank you Pastor Jonathan for a thought-provoking post. I don’t know the answer. I served in the military. My husband served in the military. My stepson is now training to be a soldier. And we’ve known many others. I have a dear friend who is an army chaplain, colonel rank. I see much ministry go on in the military. That is where my husband got right with God. I know God often uses the life and death situations to bring people closer to him. A lot of great good does come out of war, not because of the war but the consequence of it in people’s lives. That doesn’t mean it is good though. It does mean God can use anything to bring people closer to Himself. I don’t know. My husband loves the Lord, is a lay preacher and is a warrior at heart, a warrior for Jesus is what He would say in the way of feeling the need to protect people. It isn’t an offensive move, more like a defensive stance.

    Jesus wasn’t a soldier. Neither was John the Baptist but John the Baptist and Jesus didn’t preach against soldiers. John told them to be content with their wages.

    Maybe the thought that God does use soldiers to protect but when the role goes beyond protection, to an eagerness of killing or ..IDK! What a hard question with no easy answers.

  3. Terri Koopman on

    As a veteran and the widow of a career Air Force officer, I have mixed feelings, as well. My husband died as a result of his military service. He served in Viet Nam on gunships. He maintained that the trucks blew up but that all the people escaped. He could not justify taking a life. What a conflict.
    Jesus said love is the answer not violence. Violence begets violence. The concept of “just war” is not a Jesus thing. Yet, I respect and honor those in the military. It is a conflict.

    Thank you Pastor Jonathan for causing me to consider, yet again.

  4. John Geerlings on

    Thanks Jonathan
    This is a difficult question! Here are some thoughts to add to the conversation! God spoke all things into being and it was very good, this includes all humanity in Jesus as complete and finished. However the illusion of our own darkness in trying to comprehend or overcome light the very life of men will cause death, no matter its form, in the here and now. Now is the time for plowshares!

  5. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Jeannine, it sounds like you and I have been on a similar journey regarding this issue in recent years. Jane and Terri: thank you for sharing your unique perspective as those who have served! John, I agree that our own darkness is a main piece of the issue. It seems that what we’re all seeing here is that these are hard, complicated questions. We have a sense of the ideal but our fallen human condition makes it difficult to see how to reach towards that ideal. Thankfully we know that Jesus is the one who will bring us through the struggles of this life, including the struggle to sort out complicated moral issues such as this. Thank you all for being willing to wrestle with it!

  6. Boyd Merriman on

    This reminds me of the old story from 1914, Christmas in the Trenches.
    The men who fought one another probably and most likely, really didn’t want to. That night they realized that the person they are pointing their rifles at has a family, friends, children, and may not go home after that night.

    See this:

    I have to fight tears every time I hear this song.


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