How to Reconcile Military Service with Your Faith
To all those who are serving and have served, I want to personally thank you for your work. Because of your sacrifice and service, I can spread the Good News of Jesus Christ without fear of persecution. Because of you I enjoy the benefits of freedom, benefits that came at a high cost to you and those before you. I pray this post is a blessing that allows you to interact with your duty in a faith filled way.
Two years ago, I moved to a highly militarized area of the country to pastor a church, which naturally includes many current and former service members. Even though I grew up in church that was in favor of complete pacifism, I had grown out of that perspective in my adult years but hadn’t thought deeply about the tension that still may exist for those serving in the military. Multiple people have shared with me that they struggle with their duty to their country, which naturally involves engaging in warfare, and the calling of Jesus to “love your enemies.” Without going into a theological dissertation of “just war,” the difference between murder and killing, let’s just admit that it is a tough subject that has very significant personal, corporate, and global implications. While I was studying for a sermon series on Jonah, I read this statement by Tim Keller:
“When Christian believers care more for their own interests and security than for the good and salvation of other races and ethnicities, they are sinning, like Jonah. If they value the economic and military flourishing of their country over the good of the human race and the furtherance of God’s work into the world, they are sinning, like Jonah.”
While Keller’s point here is in reference to Jonah’s hate filled nationalism there are things in the story that can shed some light on how to properly interact with your faith in your military service. Let’s first briefly look at the context:
Nineveh was evil. Think Taliban, and then think worse. Jonah’s desire to run away from Nineveh was a statement of “God, take them out. Don’t give them a chance to repent. They are evil, and the world would be much better without them.” When Jonah eventually obeys God and Nineveh turns from their evil ways, Jonah becomes completely frustrated with God for not annihilating these vile enemies. In other words, Jonah prefered destruction over deliverance. It is in this moment that Keller makes his challenge, and it is in this moment that we can unpack Jonah’s attitude, God’s provision (for Jonah and Nineveh), and God’s rebuke of Jonah, to gain some insight of how to interact with your faith in your military service.
1) Jonah’s attitude revealed a sinful hatred of people over a holy hatred of evil.
Jonah did not celebrate that Nineveh turned from evil. Instead, he became frustrated that God didn’t extinguish them. God hates evil and so should we. Jonah’s disgust with Nineveh’s actions is a very good and proper thing, but his reaction shows that his heart had been drawn to the sin of hatred of people, not the holy hatred of evil. My guess is that you joined the military to participate in eliminating evil, and for that I want to encourage you in the nobility of your work and thank you for making this world a safer place. I also want to encourage you to continually evaluate your heart, asking yourself: Am I fighting a people group, a nation, or am I fighting to eliminate evil? Is my heart and motivation against people, or against evil?
2) Jonah’s prayers were against God’s compassion
Jonah had an opportunity to prayerfully engage in his work, calling out to God for the best for the people of Nineveh. Instead, his prayers were angrily against God’s compassion, wishing God to remove any thought or act of mercy. Had Jonah aligned his heart and prayers with God’s compassion (even if he didn’t feel like it), he would have been able to interact with his calling in a proper, God honoring way. As a service member how do you (or do you) prayerfully engage in your work? I want to encourage you to pray for the salvation of those you battle. Pray for the protection of collateral damage and pray for the removal of all warfare, forever… and when you don’t feel like it, pray that your heart would want the things God wants.
3) God is patient and loving and wants all to know Him.
At the end of Jonah God asks, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” God is asking Jonah to see things with His heart, and His rhetorical question is one with leaves Jonah, and you, with an opportunity to reflect on which heart is supreme in your life: Your own wants, thoughts and desires, or God’s? God has given you His Holy Spirit to guide in everything you do, including your military service. So, the last challenge I want to give you in integrating your military service with your faith is to constantly listen and respond to God’s voice, in all you do. You’re first duty is to Him, not yourself, not your C.O. This does not mean that every order you're given you say "hold on sir, you're not my boss," (Your C.O. is still in charge, and should be treated with honor), but it does mean that you are daily inputing God’s Word into your mind and striving to love like Him, so that you can serve your country in a way that first serves the Lord.
So, what does this all mean for your service? Serve well. Serve with passion. Serve with a commitment to excellence. Do your job like no one else can. Work hard to eliminate evil, to make this world a better place. Serve your country with honor. Serve in love. Serve prayerfully. Serve with compassion. Serve knowing that God is with you. Serve seeking His guidance, His heart, and His way.
THANKS FOR YOUR SERVICE!