This weekend we celebrated Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor those who have given their lives in defense of our nation. The roots of this holiday in America can be traced to the Civil War when the graves of soldiers were decorated to commemorate their sacrifices. It kept evolving until it became a federal holiday which we now celebrate on the last Monday in May.
I remember having a heroic concept of war when I was a young boy. Watching war movies inspired me to play war games with my friends. Of course, in my mind, I was always the hero.
As I got older, I realized war isn’t as glorious as I imagined it would be or as the military propagandists claim it is. It kills and maims the soldiers who fight them. Families are destroyed and children grow up without daddy and now, in modern time, without mommy. Many times, war destroys the economies of the countries who fight them.
Countless numbers of innocent victims are killed, maimed or displaced. The military, however, realizes it isn’t wise to call them victims so we are taught to call them collateral damage. This propaganda works. It’s amazing how many people, including followers of Jesus Christ, are now desensitized and unconcerned about the number of innocent men, women and children that our bombs and bullets kill or injure. I can’t help but think that Jesus will hold us accountable for our callousness.
War also traumatizes the soldiers who fight them. I took some seminary classes with a man who fought in Iraq. He was assigned to fight with the marines during the Battle of Fallujah so he’s seen the horrors of battle. Once when he was out on patrol, an IED detonated and destroyed the vehicle he was riding in. He sustained traumatic brain injury and came home with migraine headaches and blackouts. Praise God his medical condition has improved.
The first year he was back home, he took his family to a 4th of July fireworks display. When the fireworks started to explode in the air, he curled up into a fetal position on the ground because they triggered memories of battle.
Research shows that a large proportion of the homeless in America are former soldiers who now have some form of mental illness as a result of the things they saw and did. There’s nothing glamorous about this.
Throughout most of history, kings led their armies into battle. I wonder if the politicians who send our soldiers to war today would do it as often if they had to lead them onto the battlefield. It’s easy to declare war when someone else has to fight it.
Yet everyone, including those who promote peace at any cost and those who hate our military, owes respect and gratitude to the soldiers who fight for our freedoms. Once when I was listening to a pacifist share his beliefs, he said, “Jesus says we should love our enemies. I thought, ‘Who is my enemy? I realized it’s the U.S. military.’ As I listened to him, I thought, “Do you realize the reason you can say these things about the military is because soldiers died to give you the right to condemn them? You need to acknowledge this and show them some respect.”
Still the sad truth is many of the wars our nation has fought haven’t brought true peace. Hitler needed to be stopped but then Nazism was replaced with communism in half of Europe. It wasn’t any better. North and South Korea are still technically at war. South Vietnam still fell to the communists. After two gulf wars, ISIS is the result of the power vacuum we helped create in Iraq. Let’s be honest and admit the United States helped destabilize much of the Middle East with our wars and other foreign policies.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I believe our nation has the right to defend itself or others who are in need. What I’m saying is wars can kill enemy soldiers, destroy inferior armies, remove deranged world leaders and weaken economies. The thing they can’t do is kill the evil in people’s hearts that led to the conflicts in the first place. Nazism is still alive in many parts of the world. Each generation of North Korean leaders is more deranged than the previous one. Communism is weakening but it’s still there. ISIS will eventually be defeated but the mindset of radical Islam will never die out. War will come to our nation again. We just have to hope that our economy is strong enough to sustain it and our military is good enough to destroy more of them than they can destroy of us.
As much as we love our country and are proud of our soldiers, our hope can’t be in our military or the leaders who oversee it. Our hope has to be in something bigger.
Psalm 33:1-22 says “1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.
4 For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does.
5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.
6 By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.”
This psalm is attributed to David. He killed hundreds or even thousands of men himself and led his armies to great victories over the enemies of Israel. David was a man who experienced violence and death but even he understood that a nation’s freedoms and security can’t be found in its military. It has to come from its trust and faith in God.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we should say “thank you” to our soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way. We pray for God to protect them and their families. But we also need to pray for something else.
Psalm 122:6-9 says “6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
7 May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
8 For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.”
This psalm is also attributed to King David. Notice that he didn’t say, “May our armies be strong enough to keep out any enemy that attacks us.” Rather he says, “May we have peace in our capital.” When there is peace, armies don’t have to fight, soldiers don’t have to die and civilians aren’t terrorized.
As Christians we also need to realize the message of Jesus is peace – not war.
Today, as a way of saying thank you to our soldiers and their families, let us Pray for the following:
*Peace for our nation
*God to protect our soldiers and their families
*Politicians who send our soldiers into battle
*Our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
*Jesus to work in people’s hearts to try and avoid war at all costs
(Please pray for these requests after you finish reading the next paragraph!!!)
This Memorial Day let us honor and respect the soldiers who gave everything for our freedom. Let us thank them for the sacrifices they made on our behalf. But let us also recognize our true source of freedom isn’t in the size and strength of our military. It’s in the size and strength of our God.