I remember an older man from my church crying.
I was a young and stupid kid at the time—maybe five or six years old—who did not yet grasp the concept of war. Since I’ve never been in the armed forces, since my country has never been invaded by enemy forces and left me fleeing for my life, since my parents have never been overseas ghosts for long periods of my life, I’m sure that I still don’t understand entirely what war really is and means. But as a kid, I can tell you that I was truly clueless.
You see, that older man began to cry because of something I asked him. He and his wife babysat us from time to time. I recall seeing a framed photograph of him—a much younger man in it—dressed to the nines in his ceremonial uniform. I can’t remember today in which branch of the military he had served, only that he had, and he had done so in World War II.
He didn’t really like to talk about it. Combat was in his past. I don’t know what sorts of ghosts haunted those memories—only that they must have been there and must have been many.
I know that because his eyes began to well with tears, and he excused himself immediately from the room. This happened when I asked him a single, rather tactless, question.
“Did you ever shoot anybody?”
Like it was cool. Cool to run around carrying a gun. Cool to be a part of all that excitement. Cool to point the barrel of a firearm at another human being and pull the trigger. Cool to end the life of a person who was probably only fighting because some dictator had told him he would.
I’ve grown up enough to know by now that it’s far from “cool.” While many soldiers are proud to have done their duty to protect the innocent lives and the freedoms of friends and family back home, I’m sure that very few combat veterans relish those moments when they had to take the life of another person.
War is not “cool.” Maybe for little kids who run around with toy guns. Maybe for somebody playing Call of Duty from the safety of his couch.
But not the real deal.
War is terrible. "War is hell," they say.
I’m not saying that war is not, at times, a necessary course of action for a country. When tyranny oppresses, when greed overreaches, when lust for land and resources overwhelms, then those times do arise when men and women must go to arms and fight for life and for liberty.
But that does not make war any less terrible. It rips families apart—maybe for years, maybe forever. Friends, bunkmates, and comrades die, sometimes in tremendously painful or gruesome ways. Often innocent civilians are caught in the mayhem and lie dead in the streets—from little children to elderly folks. Entire cities lie in great heaps of rubble and fire and blood.
And because of what? Because of the tremendously far-reaching effects of sin—that it would even cause the shedding of the blood of man by men.
It seems so endless. From the beginning of time, the history of the world has been a revolving-door of war. When one ends, another takes its place. And so on, and so on, and so on…
King David of Israel was no stranger to war. He was not unfamiliar with the suffering and weariness that accompanied his life of conflict upon conflict. He wrote in Psalm 6:6-7, “I am worn out from groaning all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” The mighty warrior, the man who slayed the giant, the commander who had defeated army upon army—he wept the night away. Why?
Because conflict—be it war or otherwise—has a way of wearing a person down. And for those whose lives are a never-ending series of conflicts, a whole lot of tears are shed. When we go about our lives and look out into our world, we don’t see a planet of unity and harmony. We see an earth and its people who are broken by conflict. Some of that conflict is caused by our own sin. Much of it is caused by the sin of others. Some is even caused by the decay of the planet, by the death and disease and disaster that have been ushered into our creation by the sin of Adam. “The creation itself was subjected to frustration,” Paul writes in Romans 8.
It seems like it can never end.
But this is not truly endless.
Take heart, dear Christian, because a time is coming when the wars of mankind will cease, and when all the conflict of our lives—as well as the pain and tears that accompany—will be swallowed up and gone forever! A life of bitterness and sorrow is not the sad ending! Something far better awaits us just over the horizon!
Isaiah, the great gospel prophet of the Old Testament, writes concerning that peace to come: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
The image is beautiful. It can bring tears to one’s eyes—not tears of sorrow, but tears of hopeful longing. The weapons of war, the instruments of bitter conflict, being melted down and fashioned into items that symbolize prosperity and peace for all the nations. Guns, landmines, warheads being remade into gardening spades and pruning shears.
The time is coming.
The Apostle John in his Revelation writes this: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (21:3-5).
What an ending. I cannot wait for that day. My full heart can hardly stand the longing expectation.
Yet here we wait. We wait in a world full of conflict, an earth torn by war after war after war.
While we do, we continue to praise our God, who has given us the ultimate victory through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus. We continue to proclaim his name before all the world with our gospel shouts of joy.
We thank God also for the brave souls of men and women, who, by their dedication to country and countrymen, serve in the armed forces. It is by not only a few sacrifices that our freedom to worship God is preserved, along with all the other many liberties given us under the flag of this nation.
May we never take this for granted. May we never take those veterans for granted. May we never take our armed forces for granted.
Thank those you know who have given so much of themselves in service for you. They are more than deserving of that honor and respect.
Mostly, may we all—civilian and serviceman alike—thank our Savior, who on his cross fought the greatest battle against sin, death, and the devil. For although we live in a world at war, it is by Jesus’ blood that we have concord with God—not only in this life, but all the way to the other side of eternity.
Rest from all labor. Peace from every conflict. Joy from all suffering.
And an everlasting armistice from war, where old men will weep no more over the horrors they have seen.
How my heart yearns within me for that day.