I am a warrior (albeit an unarmed one). I have lived and worked in the midst of warriors for two decades. I vigorously defend the validity of the profession of arms as a vocation for Christians. Yet I recognize that the purpose of armed conflict – in any form – is limited: to restrain evil and protect the innocent. The use or threat of force will not usher in the Kingdom of God. War always brings mixed results. It is at best a relative good and its positive effects are local and temporary. Warfare is certainly not for defending Christian prerogatives or for spreading the faith.
Christians can never forget that they serve a crucified Lord. God’s supreme self-revelation is Jesus the crucified and risen messiah. The history of our salvation includes many who were warriors of a sort – Abraham and his kin, Moses, Joshua and the judges, Elijah and some of the other prophets, David and the kings of Israel and Judah – but in none of them did God fully reveal himself as he did in Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one.
Saint Mark intends for his readers to see that Jesus’ crucifixion – and not his miracle working power – is the key to understanding God’s revelation in Jesus. Consequently, it also the key to understanding Christian discipleship. The centerpiece of Mark’s gospel is in Mark 8:27-35:
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (NIV)
The crucified one is God’s supreme self-revelation. It’s not surprising, then, that Christians view those who sacrifice their lives and resources in the service of the Christ and his Kingdom as the real heroes of the faith. Those who spend their lives freely in the service of love are the ones who make a lasting difference. Countless martyrs and faithful disciples whose names are unknown to history have kept the faith alive and vital through centuries of persecution.
Those of us in uniform, who are also disciples of Jesus, experience a certain tension in our lives. We know that temporal justice sometimes demands our services, but we also know that the effects of military actions are still far from the kingdom’s goal. We see the bad along with the good. We rely, then, not on the merit or efficacy of our deeds in uniform, but solely on the grace of God in Jesus.
It makes a difference how one sees the ultimate self-revelation of God. If one were to believe that God’s ultimate self-disclosure came through a warrior who spread the faith through conquest and the sword, then that would call for a certain response on the part of those who believe. If, on the other hand, God’s ultimate self-revelation came in the form of a crucified teacher and healer, then that calls for quite a different response. And that explains a lot.