A War Story
Once upon a time there was a soldier. Let’s call him Joe. He was an average soldier in most respects, as he was an average man—an easy smile, an unremarkable face, the kind of person you stand next to on the subway or in the grocery store aisle, then forget the next minute. Joe was fully trained, and this was not his first tour. He had seen his share of combat. He had done his part, he felt, and he was ready to go home.
We find Joe hunkered down in a trench, his arms around himself, wearily waiting out the shelling that is pounding the surrounding landscape. He has been in this trench for quite some time. The truth is, when the shelling stops—and a moment later it does—he is rather comfortable. He and the others in his troop have made this trench rather like home; they have a makeshift kitchen, beds, tables, and chairs, they play with a ragged deck of cards, and someone even found a guitar that gets strummed every night while Joe and his comrades raise their glasses and sing hearty songs about how they will trounce the enemy, how they are fed up with his tricks and deviltry, how they will fight the good fight and emerge triumphant.
In truth, though, while there is no talk of retreat, there is even less talk of advancement. No one wants to stick his head out of the trench, much less climb over the wall. Not when they have grown so comfortable here and it is so dangerous out there. Here, they can pat each other on the back, swap war stories, brew bad coffee, and bemoan the fact that this war is dragging on and the whole world is falling apart.
“You’ve forgotten why you’re here,” the chaplain tells them when he comes by. He is a passionate man, his eyes fiery, and they laugh him off as simplistic and naïve.
“You’re supposed to be fighting,” he tells them. “You’re not here to be comfortable.”
Joe and the other soldiers nod to the chaplain, a few tell him that he’s right, and they couldn’t agree more, and then they go right back to singing about the war.
The days pass by in the trench. Joe is starting to forget that he was ever put here for any reason other than to keep his head low, make the most of it, and wait it out. Surely anything else would be pointless, anyway. What difference could he possibly make?
Then one day, a messenger arrives with terrible news. It is about Joe’s family, who live in a nearby village that had previously been ignored by the enemy. Joe’s two older sisters and two little brothers live there.
“It’s terrible,” the messenger says, unable to meet Joe’s gaze. “The enemy has overrun the entire village. They’re taking anyone they can find, and the things they do to their prisoners… I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.”
Joe thinks of his family. He feels his heart sink within him, and the situation feels hopeless. Yet that night, in the very darkest watch, a general arrives while Joe lies fitfully sleeping. The general, his voice deep and strong, tells Joe to stand.
“I have news,” the general says. “Listen to me, because this is important. I know what has happened to your family. But you have been specially chosen to be part of the most innovative method of warfare ever developed.” The general breaks into a smile, though his eyes remain serious. “You are being given the only armor in the world able to hold up against any attack—that’s right, any attack—that the enemy can throw at you. You will be able to stand firm. Not only that, but you are being given the only weapon in the world that will defeat him, and it will defeat him every time. He will have to run from you.”
The general places the armor and weaponry in front of the soldier. “You are being sent on a rescue mission. I am sending you to the village to rescue your brothers and sisters. You will not be alone—you will have this impenetrable armor, and this unstoppable weapon, and the full support of the greatest fighting power the world has ever seen.”
The general puts his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Your family is crying out for help. You have been ordered to take the fight to the enemy. Go now.”
Joe has his orders. He has the armor, and the weapon, and the knowledge that his brothers and sisters are waiting desperately for help. So what do you think he does next?
He holds onto the armor and the weapon, keeping them in the trench with him. He never goes to the village. He does not lose ground, but he does not gain it. He is safe. He is comfortable. He sits. He waits. The armor and weapon lie unused. He learns to ignore the reports of more and more towns falling to the enemy, more and more lives lost forever. He sits. He sings songs about the war, about fighting the enemy, about making the world a better place. He nods in agreement when the chaplain speaks. His brothers and sisters fall, one by one. He sits. He sits. He sits.
May we not be that soldier.
“Many do not recognize the fact as they ought, that Satan has got men fast asleep in sin and that it is his great device to keep them so. He does not care what we do if he can do that. We may sing songs about the sweet by and by, preach sermons and say prayers until doomsday, and he will never concern himself about us, if we don’t wake anybody up. But if we awake the sleeping sinner he will gnash on us with his teeth. This is our work—to wake people up.”
– Catherine Booth
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
– Ephesians 6:10-13