I had the privilege earlier this summer of attending a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Army. The Governor of my state was there, and I sang the Army Song with him and about one hundred military and civilian personnel who are proud to work at Fort Leonard Wood.
I have shared in a previous article about how I personally have experienced God’s presence in government work. While I have written a good deal about faith and vocation, I have not written much on my time as a soldier. How does the soldier do godly work?
Godly People Can Disagree on Military Service
I know there are a variety of viewpoints in the Body of Christ as to whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to serve in the military. Last year, I enjoyed watching the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” which tells the true story about a conscientious objector during WWII. As a combat medic, he single-handedly saved an unbelievable number of lives in one horrific battle in the Pacific without even carrying a gun.
In a similar vein, I knew a man from my church who was a civilian employee at Fort Hood, just like I am now. Through much soul-searching and study with some believers who taught a pacifist approach, he decided to leave his job. I did not agree with his decision, but I respected him as a brother in Christ.
To say that all Christians need to avoid career fields such as law enforcement or the military is dangerous. Ironically, it is only because of the sacrifices of our military throughout our country’s history that we have kept this country free. This freedom allows us all to practice our religion, express our convictions, and choose our own career path.
The Soldier’s Work to Protect Flourishing
Thanks to William Placher’s book Callings, I discovered Martin Luther’s writing, which sheds light on the issue of Christians serving in the military:
When I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish. For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace. (From “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved”)
Romans 13:4 also provides some support for this idea as the Apostle Paul teaches the church to be in submission to authority.
for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
In response to this scripture, you may ask, “Even the secular Roman government authorities? Even the corrupt ones we have now?”
Yes. And yes.
Paul says that authorities are God’s servants. Sometimes that means taking appropriate military action to bring order out of chaos.
In his book, Placher also reminds us of what John the Baptist said at the Jordan River:
When soldiers came to him and asked what they should do, he did not condemn their office or advise them to stop doing their work; rather, according to Luke 3 [v. 14], he approved it by saying, ‘Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’ Thus he praised the military profession, but at the same time he forbade its abuse.
God at Work in One Soldier’s Story
Having served on active duty for more than 20 years, I can honestly say I am grateful to have had the opportunity. Joining the Army in 1986 was a huge answer to prayer. There were days I wondered what I was doing, but they were few and far between. Most days, I sensed God’s presence. There were ministry opportunities everywhere we were assigned. I always knew that I was at the right place at the right time to live out my Christian faith. I would not change a thing about my days of service.
I am one of the rare soldiers who did not serve in combat, so I never had to do those things Luther mentioned above. But I would have gladly deployed if I had been assigned to a unit that was ordered to go. I would have willingly laid down my life for my fellow soldiers, and would have done whatever duty called me to do in defending this great country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Serving in the military was, and is, godly work. And God is definitely present in it.
May those who have also served in the military and the families who have supported them be encouraged, and may we enjoy the freedom we have because of their service.