This past Wednesday, I sent my 20-year-old son to war. As a father, I am filled with a multitude of emotions. On the one hand I am incredibly proud of the young man my son has become — a man committed to duty, honor, and country — but on the other I fear for his safety.
While there is the potential to romanticize these virtues under the rubric of nationalism or militarism, this would be improper. The proper foundation for exalting these as true virtues lies in the biblical concept of love as revealed in Christ Jesus. Contrary to popular notions, love is not an emotion but the act of placing the needs of another above your own. According to the Scriptures, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV). It is God himself who acted in history to show us the way and nature of love. This is best summarized in Romans 5:8 (ESV), which says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This and nothing less is the model that his church is to follow as we bring his love into the world.
Love rooted in the nature of God leaves us no choice but to act, even in the face of danger, and in doing so we manifest the image of God, who spared not His own Son so that we may have life. It is in this that human heroism becomes noble — worthy of praise and honor.
As the father of a Marine I wrestle with these emotions but I am reminded that convictions sometimes carry a cost. How do I balance teaching my son to love others with the possibility that doing so may require him to risk his own life in the defense of the weak and oppressed? It is here that one is confronted with the weight of his convictions. Is it possible to truly believe in these virtues if one isn’t willing to bear the full consequence of living them out? I think not. As a Christian, I must confront the reality that a commitment to show the love of God extends to the enactment of justice; in a world corrupted by sin and evil this may involve great risk.
These virtues to which Christ calls his people transcend politics and the nature of the cause to which the nation commits. The issue goes far beyond these temporal objectives. For me the question centers more on what C.S. Lewis described as “men without chests.” Will we produce men (and women) who, in this case, are willing to go when their country calls or will we instead produce people who weigh the cost and place their own comfort and safety above all else? If we succumb to the latter, there is little hope for civilization. As Christians — ambassadors of the kingdom — how will we confront evil and injustice if we are unwilling to risk our lives or even just our reputations? People devoid of convictions who do not trust in the providence of God will not cross the street to help a neighbor, much less go into harm’s way to defend the higher ideals of justice and liberty in a foreign land.
I do not believe for an instant that the war in Afghanistan remains a just war. It has become a convoluted mess — in large part because as a nation we feel a moral sense to help the Afghan people but lack the Christian worldview to properly understand the fallen world and the moral foundations that should guide our foreign policy. I think continuation of the war in Afghanistan is both futile and naive, without any achievable objectives. It is an unwinnable war and I have no confidence that our government will come to its senses.
Furthermore, I do not believe there is much we can do to change the culture of the Afghan people or “democratize” the Middle East as long as Islam remains the dominant worldview; but I dare not suggest that each man weigh the matter and determine “this cause isn’t worth fighting for.” If that were to become the case, every cause could be dismissed by its various shortcomings and no one would commit to anything involving risk.
This is where faith takes hold. The times present us with circumstances and often the justice of a national cause is or becomes unclear. However, faith in God compels us to act in the service of others — setting aside our personal safety and comfort, trusting that God is sovereign. Try as we might to avoid the reality that our lives exist in the valley of the shadow of death, our fate rests in the hands of God, not in politicians. To many these virtues seem anachronistic but because they reflect the suffering character of God, they remain essential aspirations for being a good man.
Thus I cannot teach my son to love others in the way the Bible describes and then discourage him from doing so when the matter places his life at risk. I would fail in my duty as a Christian father if I drew such a line and my son would not be the man that God wants us all to be. That being said, it is a much easier principle to follow in theory than to practice.
And so we begin this very difficult journey, trusting in the providence and mercy of God, who, for those who love him, causes all things to work together for good (see Romans 8:28). I will cling to this truth, knowing that God alone determines our days and strengthened by his grace our only duty lies in the words of the Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis — always faithful!
© 2012 S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the president of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.