We’ve been reading the Norman and Saxon sagas of history in our studies. Being that I have girls, I didn’t count on much interest in that subject this year, so it was a surprise to recently overhear our eldest chiding a sister with, “Would you quit being a Norman baron?” …and then misunderstand a conversation between my husband and I, butting in with, “Wait, the Normans came to our door today? No wait, that can’t be right, they would have busted it down.”
It gave us a good laugh, but also has me thinking over all the conversations these stories have prompted–why the discomfort of war is necessary to history and literature alike.
There’s the point of freedom not being free, of which the sacrifices of war never fail to remind us. But wouldn’t the justices and injustices of daily life teach us this as well?
Then there’s the well-known point in Churchill’s warning that, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” But again, why through the gruesome details of the rise and falls of nations, the disagreements and atrocities of war?
There’s Right and There’s Wrong
We all know the old story of Joshua and the epic battle of Jericho, right? Remember the part where an armored man comes to Joshua beforehand? There’s something important to note there. When Joshua greets the man with, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” he responds with, “neither” (Joshua 5:13-14). This warrior of the Lord was not there to deliver a neutral message though:
“Look, I have handed Jericho… over to you” (Josh 6:2, italics are mine).
The point? There’s right and there’s wrong. There’s good and there’s evil. And ultimately, there’s being on God’s side and being God’s enemy. As we work through historical and literary battles, there’s a lot of room for going back and forth over which side is right or wrong. The greater value here is the opportunity to recognize that there is a right and wrong. Placing both at edge of a sword or facing the barrel of a gun tests them at an extreme that forces us toward an authority for discerning between the two (Scripture). In our growing culture of neutrality and self-defined truths, this extreme seems necessary to cut through to the truly pressing question: Are you for God or against Him?
An Honorable Battle Comes of Love and Loyalty, Not Love of the Fight
Conflict is a reality we all face daily, and I’m sure fellow parents will be all too familiar with this. It’s just a matter of time before another battle turns the living room upside down, war cries tear through dinner prep, or a barbaric raid on sibling treasure is conducted. We might wonder, “Where is the dignity, where is the honor?”
This point may take some wrestling out, but war stories can go far in teaching us how to discern honorable battles from the dishonorable ones.
Consider Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. Possibly not the greatest example of honor since they did love a good fight, but bear with me. When Sparta was threatened by more Persians than these guys could count on their combined fingers, Leonidas and his men didn’t hesitate to march to what they knew would be their death. Why? Even if they did buy time or knock down a few Persians, it was a suicide mission and they knew it. The inscription on the monument to these men answers for them:
“O stranger, tell the Lacedaemonians that here we lie, obedient to their laws.”
Rather than surrendering their freedom, the Spartans chose to fight and die for what they stood for and loved, for what they believed was good and right.
It’s true that the Spartans held different values than we do, but we can still draw from their example. If a battle is honorable and worth fighting, then victory will be less in who won and
more in whether we’ve stood by what’s good and right–doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). This kind of honor answers its foes as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did to the rage of King Nebuchadnezzar,
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:16-18).
While this can be taught through the ins and outs of daily living, there is nothing like testing it by fire in the extremes of war, as in the case of the Spartans.
Hope Always Survives
The American Civil War was a nasty business. It was humanity pitted against economy, need against truth, brother against brother. I think I recall reading that many described it as hell unleashed on earth. But then again, I’ve also read that in description to World War I, II, and so on. As my husband remarked the other day, war could very well be the greatest obscenity and most haunting reminder of how broken our world is. At the same time, the sacrifices made for the sake of preserving what’s good and right are an echo of the greatest sacrifice made by Christ on the cross. Can there be a more poignant segway into gospel hope?
Our hope is in a God who fought the Greatest Battle for our preservation; who experienced suffering and death, but conquered them; who is now building His forever-kingdom of peace where final and complete healing will be achieved. We hope in a God who will someday come as the victorious King that he is, riding the heavens to gather His people home.
Stories of war reflect the seriousness of our daily battles and the ongoing war for our souls. They’re uncomfortable, but so are all human and spiritual conflict. We need this discomfort because it keeps our longing heavenward, hoping always for that glorious day when battles are finally quieted and wars cease.
“Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” (Eph 6:10-12)
Featured image from Gettysburg Cyclorama
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Nice article! It reminded me of the Tolkien quote: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” (The Two Towers)