In order of how much our sensibilities might be offended, it would go something like this: 1) soldier who disobeys orders to rest when offered rest, 2) soldier who is found lollygagging while on active duty, 3) soldier who actively works against the mission of his or her unit. Yet what might be most egregious of all is a soldier who acts us though he is a civilian, somehow ignorant to the fact that in fact he is in the middle of a war and ought to be in uniform and at the ready.
Whether it is my innate ambitions, my immigrant and upper-middle-class upbringings, or the common mores of American society, I am constantly tempted to forget that I am not a civilian but am in fact a soldier in a great war for souls. And I am not alone in my wandering. Evoking the words of God in the book of Ezekiel, I wonder if the Almighty is searching in vain for someone to "stand in the gap" for the sake of His name, His kingdom, and His values.
He will find many of us who pay lip service to Him, who may even draw the admiration of the world around us for good deeds and overall righteousness, but who are far too often detained by the routine pulls of life: advancing in our careers, striving for our kids to do well in school, having a good laugh with friends and family over the whatever happens to pass for the entertainment du jour. We go through the motions of good moral behavior and church attendance, but our actions and attitudes are of civilians or of off-duty personnel, not those of soldiers in the thick of combat.
And what is this war I speak of? Is it a jihad of militant proselytizing and converting? Is it the culture wars? Is it tarring certain sides of debates and certain types of people with the staining brush of villainness and then spewing vitriol about them? To define the battles in this way is a sure way to give oneself a false sense of devotion and bravery and rightness.
Consider instead Jesus, the supposed manifestation of God in human body. Note that He did not pull punches with the hypocritical religious establishment. He was purposeful in who He sought out and was sure to make every interaction a fork in the road for those He encountered. He called a spade a spade, but instead of making the smug feel smugger and the downtrodden more downtrodden, He did the reverse.
Ultimately, His fight was won at the very beginning and at the very end. Upon being baptized by John the Baptist and proclaimed by God "my Son, who I love; with You I am well-pleased," He was thrust into the wilderness and into hunger and solitude. The devil tempted Him with a shortcut to glory. Jesus turned Him away.
Jesus would be tormented again, on the cross. Again He did not shrink away from that which He was tasked to do. The writer of the book of Colossians calls the moment of Jesus hanging on a cross, the humiliated victim of a perverse Roman torture, the very moment in which He was parading in victory over dark forces and demonic authorities. Unlike all of us most of the time, and most of us all of the time, Jesus was singularly focused on His mission; in His case, His mission, His fight, His victory, was in dying.
What about us? Are we ready to fight, or have we checked out of the battle? Are we ready to die, or are we conveniently avoiding the subject lest we become paralyzed by its fearful finality? When we rest, is it the rest of the soldier commanded to have down time to be refreshed for further deployment, or is it the entitlement of the civilian oblivious to the war raging all around? When we strive, is it the striving of one asked to sublimate himself to contribute to a great cause, or is it the pursuit of selfish gain and personal acknowledgment?
Let there be no doubt that, swirling around us, are great harm and greater harmers. We can be gripped with fear by them and live impotent lives, denying our Maker the glory of doing mighty deeds through even us. We can buffer ourselves from the sharpness of life, only to be ashamed when we are asked at the end to give an account for whether we stood up to evil when given the chance and can only sheepishly reply that we ran and hid. Or, we can, being careful to put on courage and peace and hope and love as provided to us by a great God, strike a decisive blow against the evil one and for the side of good, and one day join with fellow soldiers in a parade far more glorious than we can even imagine, following in step behind One who once went before us and who now is far more glorious than we can even imagine.
It is promised that that victory and parade will come one day. Saints and soldiers for centuries have been sustained, in the midst of the fights of their lives against forces seen and unseen, by that promise. Let us claim it anew, shedding our drowsy existences, and being activated for a great work by a great God.