by Chaplain Mark J. Schreiber
The power of the military worldview to transform and change a young man or woman is similar to that which is at the center of religious experience and the power of the holy, namely, mysterium tremendum et fascinans (a fearful, awe-inspiring mystery). Combat is a test of manhood, a titanic struggle of life and death on the battlefield. The alluring, seductive power of the military mindset and corresponding worldview compels the participant to enter a dangerous world and experience of life with which relatively few people have direct contact.
William Bennett, seeking moral clarity in the war against terrorism, writes that to teach children that non-violence is the highest human virtue steals from their minds one of the oldest and noblest virtues of the human race, namely, that there are still some things worth fighting and dying for. In the book Why We Fight, Bennett quotes John Stuart Mill in support:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of a moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight–nothing he cares about more than his own safety–is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
The true warrior fights for others to establish a greater peace. Kingdoms, nations and governments rise and fall by the power of the sword but never yet in the blood-soaked history of this world has the “lion lain down with the lamb” in perpetual peace.
Our Savior said that there will be wars and rumors of wars until the end, which assumes there will be armies, fighting, death and destruction until the Final Judgment. He also promised that in the midst of all these wars, the Gospel will simultaneously prevail for the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The chaplain penetrates this military mindset with conviction and truth, carrying on the tradition of illuminating the just causes that are still worth fighting for. He is not a cheerleader for war, but he awakens the conscience and secures the moral high ground of righteousness and just cause.
The military is not an easy Gospel environment, but there are still numerous opportunities for the astute chaplain to share the Gospel. Love of the Law in the military creates immeasurable esprit de corps coupled with good order and a mutual love of discipline, strictness and even the harshness and deprivation of military life.
But this Law-oriented mindset does not bar the Gospel from doing its work. Service members respond to the Gospel rightly proclaimed as God’s universal grace for
all mankind, especially when the poignant question is asked, “How can I continue to live in sin with an ungrateful heart now that my salvation has been secured by the love of God in Christ Jesus?” The Gospel offers answers to these kinds of questions and brings comfort to the most difficult of situations, offering peace to military members in the face of battle. Because of it, they know that their hearts, minds and consciences are secure in the cross of Christ.
There are no quick answers for the Gospel to do its work in the military worldview and environment; there are only opportunities for the chaplain to see those opportunities and exercise the courage to penetrate the military culture. War is not a tidy event. Innocents die unintentionally, and the guilt of unintended loss of life can be a hellish, haunting nightmare for all who engage in war. Chaplains must listen for the pain and understand its root, waiting for the cross of Jesus Christ to complete its mission.
There is a great personal gap of experience between the one who fights the war and the one who counsels him or her. The skilled chaplain doesn’t cavalierly announce the Gospel of cheap grace and instant forgiveness, make the sign of the cross and walk away as if he has done his job. Instead, he seeks to understand the soul-numbing violence exercised in war, the certain post-traumatic stress after combat and the depth of the conflicted feelings and guilt involved in war. The chaplain walks with the service member, step by gracious step, to the cross of Christ where God meets every Soldier, Sailor, Airmen and Marine in all their warrior pride, guilt, imperfection, anger and despair. Here our gracious God in Christ speaks His firm word of unconditional love, “You are forgiven!” This is the chaplain’s eternal just cause and the heart of his ministry.
LCMS Operation Barnabas is a network of care to our nation’s military members and their families. Through this program, the LCMS:
- provides care and support to mobilized pas- tors (Reserve chaplains), their families and their congregations,
- provides training and support to Lutheran congregations who want to care for military and military families in their congregations and communities, and
- serves as a resource to other organizations that provide care to military families.
> Go to www.lcms.org/?pid=732 to watch videos, download resources and learn how to get involved in Operation Barnabas.
> Help our Lutheran servicemen and women stay spiritually strong while they serve by enrolling them in the Ministry-by-Mail program. The LCMS is the only denomination to support its members serving in the Armed Forces in such a direct way, so add a member or update an address today by calling 800-433-3954, ext. 1337.
About the author: Chaplain Mark J. Schreiber is director of theLCMSMinistry to the Armed Forces.