Let me be very clear about one thing–I am against war. I think that war and violence are destructive to the human family. I think that war scars the psyche of combatants and non-combatants alike, in ways we still don’t understand. As the 17-18th century archbishop and theologian Francois Fenelon once observed, “All wars are civil wars, for all men are brothers.” If I truly believe that God created all humanity in God’s own image, and if I truly believe that Christ calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then I must ultimately be against violence and killing of all kinds, including war.
Having said that, I must also say that I have been working hard over the last couple of months with a wonderful group of people getting ready for this week at ONU, which has been dedicated to honoring veterans. And here’s why:
Though I am a pacifist at heart, and against war, I am not against the people who fight in wars, or who prepare for wars, or who put their lives on the line for what they believe in. I could never do that, because that would make me a hypocrite of the highest degree. I believe that it is possible to say “I support the troops” and “I don’t support war” in the same breath.
The veterans I have met during my ministry, and particularly as we have been preparing for this veterans week, have all been dedicated, respectful, prepared, and responsible people. Their military service has, in part, made them who they are today. I admire and respect them, even if I grieve over the fact that they had to serve in the military in the first place.
Now, I am enough of a realist to admit that a nation needs a military in order to protect itself–I will grant that (please don’t flood my inbox with angry arguments in favor of “just war”–I’ve heard them all before). But I also believe that it is possible for peace to exist between very different points of view. Why? Because I read it in the Bible, that’s why– in Isaiah 11: 6-9. Speaking of the coming reign of the Messiah, Isaiah wrote:
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Peace is possible–the possibility dwells within the hearts and souls of every human being, because we are all created in God’s image (though we don’t always recognize that fact!).
And yet, we live in a fallen world–a world which we have tried, time and time again, to re-create into our own image–and as a result, we have wars, and a military, and fighting between nations and cultures. And so, I pay respect and honor to those who do what others cannot, or will not, do. And I thank them for their service, even as I pray for the day that such service will no longer be needed, when human beings have moved beyond our need for violence as a way to solve our problems, when the wolf and the lamb truly do lie down together.
Happy Veterans Day!