For twenty four years I have enjoyed the fruits of a free society. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe my gratitude for those who came before me to ensure our country would remain free. No matter how long I may live, I cannot do enough to repay those individuals who have found it in themselves to sacrifice everything in the name of freedom. My grandfather was a pilot in the Army Air Corp during WWII, my father served in the Navy during Vietnam. All but one of my cousins have served in one of the Armed Forces (one has even served in all but one). My best friend from high school enlisted in the National Guard, his brother gained a Commission into the Army Aviation command field and is serving in Germany. Service to my country runs through the core of my being and pulses through my veins. There is no greater gift I could give than my life to spread freedom justice. However, in the same twenty four years, I have learned of men, women and children who have been made to pay the ultimate sacrifice without enjoying that same freedom themselves. I am troubled by the travails of war and everything that results from civilizations who succumb to the temptation to resort to killing other human beings. Others have had entire families lost forever to the atrocities of war. My heart breaks every time I recall memories of the hospital my unit secured in October 2004 during Operation Baton Rouge in Sammarra, Iraq; the number of orphans sitting outside the walls of the compound, the weeping mothers, the broken and dismembered boys and girls, the black plastic body bags. I pictured my own family in those wards; my little sister crying outside the gate, my brother walking through the halls grasping at the shredded stump which used to be his elbow, my mother broken and overwhelmed by grief in the children’s ward, my father’s lifeless body wrapped in thick black plastic to keep in the smell. I cannot fathom the grief war causes to thousands upon thousands of innocent victims, or the suffering they endure for my freedom. In my confusion since returning from Iraq, I looked to God for answers. Surely, He must be able to fix this suffering, to right the wrongs of war. How was I to enjoy peace back in ‘reality,’ while others bear the burden for my comfort? How could I, as a soldier, take part in such violence, and what does it mean to be a ‘Christian soldier?’
To this day I seek to defeat terrorism, evil, and ‘extremists for hate;’ as Dr. Martin Luther King would likely describe the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center towers? There is no way I could passively sit on the sidelines and enjoy my peace while so many suffered at the hands of such mislead, confused men. How could I right the wrong perpetrated by such obviously evil acts of terror? Before I threw myself into reading the Bible, I understood that I must allow it to shape my beliefs, not allowing my beliefs to shape the Bible into something I wanted for myself or to justify myself in the eyes of God. Many months after seeking those answers, I can now be sure how he calls me to ‘fight the good fight of the faith,’ as 1 Timothy 6:12 commands.
In my study of the Bible and how it addresses war, I was surprised to find that I am, indeed, to wield weapons in the battles I am to face. God has outfitted us to be ready for the “flaming arrows of the evil one,” to “stand against the devil’s schemes.” The Sword of the Spirit is the most powerful weapon in our struggle against the “spiritual forces of evil.” To fight righteously for His Kingdom, and to defend myself spiritually, I require only the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shield of Faith, and the Helmet of Salvation. I will not trust in my own strength to wage battle, but on the strength He gives me through the Holy Spirit. To do any other would cause more harm than good, allowing me to rest not on His divine providence, but upon my own selfish ambition.
The most successful revolution in history took nearly three hundred years and cost not one unwilling victim their life. From the dawn of the early church to its adoption by the Roman Empire as a state sponsored religion, Christianity slowly won over her enemies through unconditional love and undying devotion to people of all races and creeds. ‘The Way,’ as it was called in the first centuries, wooed the rest of the Empire to the Truth and the Life through willing sacrifice and an uncompromising refusal to hate enemies. The early Christians won over the whole of the known world through nonviolent, loving sacrifice. By the end of the tenth persecution, Roman citizens no longer would allow these good people go before the slaughter simply because they would not pledge allegiance to Caesar. The common citizens were outraged that these people, who gave everything away to those in need, who loved one another before they met each other, who fed the hungry whether the hungry called themselves Christians or not, who confessed to worshipping not pagan Gods, but the Author of Love, the Prince of Peace, were being treated with such contempt and maliciousness by the Roman Empire. This revolution, led by extremists for love, reached such heights that Emperor Constantine’s own mother came to call herself a member of ‘The Way.’ He knew he could no longer subject these people to such harsh, violent treatment. In fact, on his own death bed, Constantine was baptized as a convert to this new ‘Christian’ faith. The nonviolent revolution had won over the most powerful state the world had ever seen.
I firmly believe that faith will overcome fear, that care and trust will pierce deeper into our enemy’s hearts than any bullet can reach; that Love can, and will, overcome Hate. Additionally, I am convinced that the weapons of the Gospel are the most powerful and pervasive weapons a faithful believer may wield against the powers of this dark world. Weapons of the world are so detrimental to a civil existence that the prophets Micah and Isaiah both sought to instead make them tools which would nurture life; to melt guns and bombs into gardening shears and plows. Paul also reminded the church in Corinth how followers of Christ were to wage war;
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the
contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish
arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of
God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” –
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Instead of seeking to destroy life and bringing despair to one another, we must find ways to convert tools of devastation into tools of life. I hope to raise hope, not to raze hope. Freedom and peace will be most effectively spread through such Biblical weapons. I am willing to use these weapons in the war on terror and evil in which the world is engaged daily. The Bible clearly calls those who read it and take heart to be stewards of His unfailing love and mercy. Also, as stewards of the Earth and for other people, Christians are called to care for God’s creations (both the Earth and each other) despite what others may do to destroy it. For those who may say the world is doomed anyway, the truth is that the book of Revelation is descriptive, not prescriptive; the Apostle John described how things will be, not how things should be. The Rev. Billy Graham reminds us that “God is not interested in destruction, but in redemption.” Redemption through violence and suffering perpetuated against other children of God will never be an act of love and compassion. However, neither physical nor spiritual battle comes without a toll. Paul reminds us what we can expect to encounter as agents of God’s ‘Way;’
“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in
great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings,
imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in
purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in s
sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of
righteousness in the right hand and in the left” – 2 Corinthians 6:4-7
I believe love and compassion are so powerful that they can replace rifles, pistols and cannons. I believe that violence results when creativity and considerate alternatives have been neglected or rejected. Are we beyond the limits of our own imagination? Nearly 1,700 years ago, weaponless soldiers fighting for true freedom and the dignity of Man across the world effected change without spilling a single drop of blood. To assume we are incapable of that in our day is to deny our own humanity and decency. Washed in the blood of Christ, we all have infinite value and worth, and are capable of anything through the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe in love because 1 John 4:7-21 reminds us that God is love. If love is to succeed, I must pursue it relentlessly and be prepared to take the first leap of faith. Fear of failure or rejection cannot be a deterrent, to allow that would be a denial of everything I hold to be true.
“It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace
and sacrifice for it.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I am ready to fight courageously and nonviolently for peace, and I am ready to die for love, if it must come to it. Whether it is as a weaponless soldier on the battlefield or on the streets of America, I will continually seek the path of peace which is spoken of in Luke 1:79.