Tag Archives: War

A Very Different Time and Place

The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

Remember Pearl Harbor” was a popular phrase in the years of World War II. It was a reminder to all Americans that the United States had been attacked by the Japanese without warning or provocation. To this day, most Americans need only see the number 9/11 to raise up similar feelings of sadness, grief, disbelief and anger. While trends on twitter may come and go in minutes, there are some events for which national memory is slow to forget.

For Moses and the Hebrew tribes, the phrase “Remember Peor” may have been a similar phrase. Just a number of chapters back we read the story of how the Israelites were camped near the Midianite town of Peor. The Midianite King tried to hire a well-known seer named Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam couldn’t do it because he knew God had blessed them. So, Balaam conjured a clandestine plan to subvert the Israelites. Midianite maidens were sent to seduce Israelite men and convince them to worship their Midianite gods. To the ancient Israelites, the seduction of their men into worshipping the Canaanite dieties was more heinous and personal than a surprise military or terror attack.

In today’s chapter, Moses is at the end of his tenure as leader. His last task as leader of the Israelites is to close the loop on the Peor incident. The Midianites are destroyed along with Balaam the seer.

Chapters like today’s are difficult for 21st century readers to comprehend. We cannot comprehend the kill-or-be-killed reality of daily life in the time of Moses. We cannot comprehend living in a time when most humans didn’t live past 15 years of age, and if you were fortunate enough to make it to 15 your life expectancy was still only somewhere between 25-35 years of age.

This morning I’m gratefully meditating on the amazing time and place of history in which I’m fortunate enough to make my life journey. I’m conscious of how totally clueless I am at understanding the realities of Moses’ time, place, and culture. I’m thinking about how Jesus changed the entire paradigm of conversation. In the early chapters of human history, Moses and Aaron were all about building a nation and system of worship that would survive the horrific realities of life on earth in those days. Jesus quite consciously spoke about a very different Kingdom and urged those who follow Him to usher that Kingdom to earth through our thoughts, words, and acts of loving-kindness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

The Placement of Faith in Precarious Times

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord.
Isaiah 31:1 (NIV)

The political situation in Isaiah’s day was precarious. Assyria was a giant, regional super power bent on conquest and destruction. The Assyrian army was on the move, swallowing up every city and nation in its way. The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were now in Assyria’s sights. The Assyrian war machine was large, well-trained, well-equipped and utterly ruthless. The Assyrians didn’t just invade, they destroyed. Assyrian kings would repeatedly inscribe the phrase, “I destroyed, devastated, and burned with fire.”

If the Assyrians attacked a city and the city refused to surrender, the men leading the defense of their target would be rounded up to be publicly humiliated. Some could look forward to being flayed alive, their skins hung out for public spectacle. Others could look forward to being impaled alive on stakes or perhaps buried alive. If you approached a city in Isaiah’s day and  found a pile of dismembered limbs by the gate, you knew that the Assyrians had been there. It is no wonder that Isaiah and the people of Judah were in a bit of a panic. The political winds were blowing in the direction of Egypt, believing that an alliance with Egypt would save them from Assyrian devastation.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet questions the object of his fellow citizens faith. They were depending on Egypt to save them. They were bowing to foreign Gods in desperation for salvation. Isaiah reminds them that their trust should be in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah predicts that Assyria’s ultimate fall would not come about from a “human sword.”

Throughout God’s Message there is a recurring theme. The ebb and flow of power throughout history is subject to a larger context. There is a Great Story that is being told in an ever-expanding universe. As with all great epics, the forces of good and evil, creation and chaos, are in constant conflict. I can focus on the temporal circumstance, or I can trust the Author of Life with the storyline. Isaiah was suggesting the latter, and predicting that the Author was going to show up in a eucatastrophic climax to this particular chapter of history. It might seem a bit naive given the grave circumstances. We’ll learn in the coming week or two how things played out.

This morning I’m thinking about the very real fear and anxiety being felt by people and nations in today’s world. I listen to the feelings of people in the media, on social media, and in casual personal conversations. We are witnessing a fascinating time of tremendous change. There is a tremendous amount of fear, and fear leads us to think, speak, and act in atypical ways. It seems to me that Isaiah’s ancient message to the people of Judah resonates even today. We are living in precarious times, as well.

Where will I find hope?

Where will I place my faith?

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A Less Than Trivial Question of Direction

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...
The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackclothmade of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Revelation 6:12-14 (NIV)

Over the past year or so I have been slowly listening to Professor Corey Olsen’s series of podcast lectures on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Over the same period of time, I’ve been reading Tolkien’s letters. For me, one of the most profound things to come out of both the lectures and the letters is a seemingly minor point, which I have come to recognize as having profound implications. Professor Olsen observes that Tolkien was a medievalist, and in the middle ages the common world view was that the world and humanity were slowly getting worse and inevitably heading towards destruction. Tolkien clearly believed that our technological advances were not actually advancing society in a positive way*. You see this played out in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as the machines of war created by Sauron and Saruman are set against the powers of nature in forms of tree herds, floods of water, and eternal powers hidden in the forests.

The idea that we are moving towards destruction, of course, flies in the face of what I find to be the common world view today. We like to believe that humanity is inherently good constantly getting better. Technology and human advancement is moving us towards a better world in which peoples and nations come to mutual understanding and respect. Famine gives way to food for all. Death gives way to medical miracles. Pestilence gives way to environmental utopia. War gives way to peace as we all embrace the better angels of our nature.

As I look around me, read the headlines from around the globe, and talk to people of diverse opinions, I have come to believe that this seemingly trivial question of  which direction the world is heading isn’t really trivial at all. It’s fundamental to the way we perceive and approach life.

Today’s chapter reads like a medievalist’s nightmare. Things are not getting better, they are quickly getting worse on the Earth. The four riders of the apocalypse spread war, death, famine and pestilence across the earth. Believers are persecuted and slaughtered for their faith. And, reading like a number Hollywood disaster movies, stars fall from the sky with ensuing cataclysmic effects of nature, sending people scurrying into the mountains to escape the disaster.

I am a relatively positive person. I try to approach life with a “glass half-full” perspective, look for the goodness in others, and seek to discover the silver lining in tragic circumstances. At the same time, I look back across my lifetime. I study history. I cannot see a fundamental change in human nature. I’ve seen tremendous advances in treating symptomatic human problems, but I’ve also seen that the cures often create their own set of problems. I have not seen major shifts in addressing the underlying problems of human greed, the lust for power, hatred, selfishness, not to mention the senseless evil (the existence of which many choose to ignore) I find always at work under the surface and in the shadows.

Today, I am feeling a bit sobered. I believe that history is, indeed, an epic battle of good and evil. I believe that tragically flawed humanity is forever erecting a tower of Babel and seeking a pinnacle of god-like goodness that it can never, and will never attain. I believe that God and good is at work achieving amazing victories small and large, and I believe that the enemy, evil is at work ever thwarting, marring, and twisting for selfish, chaotic ends. I believe that Life and good will win in the end, but I also believe that today’s chapter stands as a reminder of what we instinctively know in our souls; That which resonates in our greatest epic stories: there is darkness before the dawn.

*From a letter 9 August 1945, Tolkien writes to his son Christopher: “The news today about ‘Atomic bombs’ is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men’s hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope ‘this will ensure peace’. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we’re in God’s hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.”

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“I Am With You Heart and Soul”

American Legion parade-557706-original
American Legion Parade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Do all that you have in mind,” [Jonathan’s] armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” 1 Samuel 14:7 (NIV)

While a freshman in college, my roommate Kirk and I were asked to do patriotic readings at the local Veteran’s Day festitivities at the city center. We were asked to meet at the local American Legion Hall and ride the bus with the veterans to the parade route. We walked in the parade and then did our readings as part of a long agenda of civic dignitaries.

Other than my uncle who was a ship’s cook in the Korean War, my family does not have much of a history of military service. It was a strange experience for me to enter the American Legion Hall filled with old men in their black jackets and legion caps which detailed where they served. I keenly remember the man in the white cap, signifying he had served at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. It was 10:00 a.m. and our hosts shoved a fist full of free drink tickets into our hands. Kirk and I were under the legal drinking age and neither of us were drinkers so we gave our tickets away. It struck me, however, that many of these men were not only drinking when they were our age but were dodging bullets in Europe and the South Pacific.

I will admit that my Christian good boy sensibilities were taken aback at first with all of the early morning drinking. But, I sat and observed and struck up conversations with many of the Legion members. I watched these men swapping stories. I watched them laugh together. At different times I heard songs rising up from different places in the hall as they sang memories from marching and battle. It was the first time I’d ever witnessed that kind of deep comaraderie among men.

Soon we were on the bus headed to the parade. The bus seats were positioned so that Kirk and I were facing the back of the bus and staring at the two Legion members in the seat behind us. The older gentleman before me struck up a conversation. When I asked about where he served, he began to talk about being in World War II. It began as a cheerful retelling of where he was stationed and then quickly transitioned into some of the conflicts he survived. I watched as his eyes glassed over and and his brain receded into deep, abiding memories. Within moments he was staring silently out the bus window lost somewhere on the battlefield of his distant past. Tears began to flow down from his eyes and across his cheeks. He made no attempt to wipe them away and I made no attempt to disturb his thoughts. I simply watched until finally he looked back at me.

“Don’t ever get into another war,” he said in a soft whisper. He said no more.

As I read the response of Jonathan’s armor bearer in this morning’s chapter, I thought of that cold Veteran’s Day morning twenty-five years ago. “I am with you heart and soul,” the man said to his comrade in arms. I observed and experienced the heart and soul connection of men who had shared the experience of battle in that American Legion hall. I have not served in the military, nor have I had the experience of battle. The only conflicts I have experienced are spiritual and domestic. I will not pretend to equate or confuse the two.

I have, however, experienced the comaradarie of men who have shared my journey, my struggles, my life wounds, as well as my life’s victories. I have men in my life whom I know, if I asked them to follow me into difficult circumstance, would respond “I am with you heart and soul.” There are men whom I have not regularly spoken with in years who I could call in the middle of the night in need. Today, I am grateful for each one of them as I picture their faces and offer a silent prayer of thanks for each by name.

A Very Different Kind of War

source: mkrigsman
source: mkrigsman

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 2 Corinthians 10:3 (NLT)

For most of my life, the headlines have been filled with news of one war or another. As a child, my first recollections of television news were reports on the war in Vietnam. I grew up in school hearing about the Cold War. In high school there were wars with the Soviets and Afghanistan, and there was conflict between Britain and the Falkland Islands. The U.S. had a conflict with a tiny island nation of Grenada. Then came the first Gulf War, and then the War on Terror. The second war in Iraq followed by war in Afghanistan. Now the headlines are filled with talk of war in Syria.

My experience is not unique. All of us can mark time along our life journey by the wars we remember. War has been an ever present part of the human experience. When Paul was writing his letter to the believers of Jesus in Corinth, they were living near the heart of the Roman Empire. Paul had grown up surrounded by the occupational forces of Rome and he witnessed continuous conflicts with Rome both at home and in Jerusalem. When it came time to teach the followers of Jesus about the ever present conflict being waged in the spiritual realm, the very real images of soldiers, conflict, and war were readily available to Paul as word pictures to which everyone of that day could relate.

One of the most important things I have come to realize and internalize about the spiritual conflict in which we are engaged is how different it is with the physical war to which we are accustomed. In fact, war in the spiritual realm is the very opposite of war on a human scale. In the spiritual conflict our greatest weapon is love. Our tactics are forgiveness, sacrifice, generosity, service, kindness, and grace. The result of a successful campaign in the spirit realm is salvation, peace, healing, wholeness, and restoration.

Today I am reminded that while there are similarities between war in the physical realm and war in the spiritual realm, I must never forget the stark differences between the two. I must fully embrace the contrast if I am to be successfully engaged in the spiritual conflict in which I am enlisted.

“The Weeping Prophet”

Rembrandt - Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction...
Rembrandt – Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem – WGA19091 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all these things I weep;
    tears flow down my cheeks.
No one is here to comfort me;
    any who might encourage me are far away.
Lamentations 1:16 (NLT)

Jeremiah, traditionally believed to have written this song/poem of lamentation, is widely known through history as “the weeping prophet.” Across the panacea of ancient prophets, Jeremiah got among the toughest of prophetic gigs. He was called upon to tell the people of Jerusalem that they’d better straighten up or God was going to send the Babylonians to destroy them. No one wanted to hear his message. For his efforts, he was persecuted by his own people and thrown into a well as punishment. When his prophecies came true Jeremiah appears to have been given the job of correspondent to record for posterity’s sake the fulfillment of his own words of doom.

And what a doom it was. We tend to think of sieges and ancient wars in PG-13 rated, Hollywood-like mental images. Even in today’s world we at home view war as a sort distant video-game taking place on the other side of the world. We have the Geneva convention and international treaties to ensure that the nastiest of war crimes are avoided. We naively believe that they are a thing of the past. But, in Jeremiah’s day there were no international laws. There was no expectation that war would be carried out in a human way. In fact, victory in Jeremiah’s day went to the most powerful army who could utterly destroy enemies in the nastiest ways: Starve people until they are forced to eat the flesh of their dead family members. Burn the place to the ground, rape the women and little ones. Let your soldiers pillage the place and take whatever they can find.  Hack off body parts and leave them in giant festering piles outside the city as a calling card that you were there. Take the best of the young ones as slaves and concubines, but kill all the rest in nasty ways so that you don’t leave anyone with a thought for revenge.

And, in the middle of this carnage is a little old man who foresaw it all and was unable to prevent it from happening. It is no wonder he is weeping as he pens his song of lament. Talk about having the blues.

Today, I’m soberly reminded that God does not promise us a life of luxury and ease. God is not an antidote for tragedy and suffering. In fact, God’s Message makes it clear that there are certain depths of character and spiritual maturity that can only be attained through suffering. Jeremiah weeping as he witnesses the cannibalism and carnage in Jerusalem is a case in point.

Truth is not always easy, but being difficult does not make it less true.

God is Not “Either Or.” God is “Both And.”

Hammer your plowshares into swords
    and your pruning hooks into spears.
    Train even your weaklings to be warriors.
Joel 3:10 (NLT)

I know a small host of people I love for whom the “warrior God” metaphors such as we find in Joel’s prophecy today an uncomfortable pill to swallow. I totally get it, but it’s an on-going reminder to me that God is so much more than any one of us can possibly comprehend. God’s nature, as described throughout God’s Message, is so vast that it encompasses incredible contradictory elements. God is Lion and Lamb. God is Alpha and Omega. God is Artist and Warrior. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not “either or.” God is “yes and.”

I’m reminded this morning of Meredith Brooks‘ song, B*tch. I believe God totally relates to Brooks’ very true, very raw sentiments. They’re inspired. Just as Brooks so eloquently describes the complexities and contradictions of being a woman, God is so much more than the box we try to put Him in. He is solely confined by boundaries of His own choosing, and that can be confusing for our finite understandings.

Brooks sings:

I can understand how you’d be so confused
I don’t envy you
I’m a little bit of everything
All rolled into one

I’m a b*tch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

Today I’m thinking about the oft forgotten reality that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Like all good stories, the Great Story that God is authoring throughout history is about light versus darkness, death versus life, good versus evil. It is not about what is seen, but what is unseen. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t real. When the climactic confrontation arrives in that spiritual conflict, I personally want a warrior God leading the charge of the forces of Light.

*i  😉