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On Love and War: A Father's Struggle with Sending a Son to War

March 19, 2012
S. Michael Craven
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This past Wednesday, I sent my twenty-year-old son to war. As a father I am filled with a multitude of emotions. On the one hand I am incredibly proud of the young man my son has become—a man committed to duty, honor, and country—but on the other I fear for his safety. 

While there is the potential to romanticize these virtues under the rubric of nationalism or militarism, this would be improper. The proper foundation for exalting these as true virtues lies in the biblical concept of love as revealed in Christ Jesus. Contrary to popular notions, love is not an emotion but the act of placing the needs of another above your own. According to the Scriptures, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV). It is God himself who acted in history to show us the way and nature of love. This is best summarized in Romans 5:8 (ESV), which says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This and nothing less is the model that his church is to follow as we bring his love into the world.

Love rooted in the nature of God leaves us no choice but to act, even in the face of danger, and in doing so we manifest the image of God, who spared not his own son so that we may have life. It is in this that human heroism becomes noble—worthy of praise and honor.

As the father of a Marine I wrestle with these emotions but I am reminded that convictions sometimes carry a cost. How do I balance teaching my son to love others with the possibility that doing so may require him to risk his own life in the defense of the weak and oppressed? It is here that one is confronted with the weight of his convictions. Is it possible to truly believe in these virtues if one isn’t willing to bear the full consequence of living them out? I think not. As a Christian, I must confront the reality that a commitment to show the love of God extends to the enactment of justice; in a world corrupted by sin and evil this may involve great risk.    

These virtues to which Christ calls his people transcend politics and the nature of the cause to which the nation commits. The issue goes far beyond these temporal objectives. For me the question centers more on what C. S. Lewis described as “men without chests.” Will we produce men (and women) who, in this case, are willing to go when their country calls or will we instead produce people who weigh the cost and place their own comfort and safety above all else? If we succumb to the latter, there is little hope for civilization. As Christians—ambassadors of the kingdom—how will we confront evil and injustice if we are unwilling to risk our lives or even just our reputations? People devoid of convictions who do not trust in the providence of God will not cross the street to help a neighbor, much less go into harm’s way to defend the higher ideals of justice and liberty in a foreign land. 

I do not believe for an instant that the war in Afghanistan remains a just war. It has become a convoluted mess—in large part because as a nation we feel a moral sense to help the Afghan people but lack the Christian worldview to properly understand the fallen world and the moral foundations that should guide our foreign policy. I think continuation of the war in Afghanistan is both futile and naive, without any achievable objectives. It is an unwinnable war and I have no confidence that our government will come to its senses.

Furthermore, I do not believe there is much we can do to change the culture of the Afghan people or “democratize” the Middle East as long as Islam remains the dominant worldview; but I dare not suggest that each man weigh the matter and determine “this cause isn’t worth fighting for.” If that were to become the case, every cause could be dismissed by its various shortcomings and no one would commit to anything involving risk. 

This is where faith takes hold. The times present us with circumstances and often the justice of a national cause is or becomes unclear. However, faith in God compels us to act in the service of others—setting aside our personal safety and comfort, trusting that God is sovereign. Try as we might to avoid the reality that our lives exist in the valley of the shadow of death, our fate rests in the hands of God, not in politicians. To many these virtues seem anachronistic but because they reflect the suffering character of God, they remain essential aspirations for being a good man.

Thus I cannot teach my son to love others in the way the Bible describes and then discourage him from doing so when the matter places his life at risk. I would fail in my duty as a Christian father if I drew such a line and my son would not be the man that God wants us all to be. That being said, it is a much easier principle to follow in theory than to practice.

And so we begin this very difficult journey, trusting in the providence and mercy of God, who, for those who love him, causes all things to work together for good (see Romans 8:28). I will cling to this truth, knowing that God alone determines our days and strengthened by his grace our only duty lies in the words of the Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis—always faithful! 

© 2012 by S. Michael Craven

Michael's commentary, Truth in Culture, is published on Crosswalk.com, Christianity.com, and The Christian Post. Subscribe via email or RSS.   


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Responses
Response from : Tom Pryor  

March 19, 2012 8:41 AM
 

Michael,
Thank you for sharing what is in your heart and head. We met only briefly for coffee last year but your blog helps me know you better and better.

I share your view of Afghanistan. The US achieved the goals President Bush initially defined 9 years ago. Then nation building crept into the picture. The people of Afghanistan, however, need change but don't want it. At least not what America has proposed, spent billions and given lives for.

I have and will pray for your son every Monday morning until he returns.

Tom


 
Response from : Bob Soule  

March 19, 2012 9:02 AM
 

Mike-

My prayers are lifted up for your sheepdog for a safe return and a resolution to get our people back home. I agree with your evaluation regarding Islam and democracy.

Semper Fi! (1975-1979)


 
Response from : KJQ  

March 19, 2012 9:16 AM
 

Hello Michael: Thank you for your candor at this difficult time in your life as a parent. My family and I will uphold you and your son in our prayers.

I have to agree with you on your comments regarding Afghanistan. I just wanted to add that our problem in foreign affairs stems from a false conception of why America and other western countries were so prosperous for so long. It was because these nations were predominantly Christian. In the current era, we think it's "democracy" that gave prosperity. So here we are in countries around the world putting democratic trappings into place and then wondering why that doesn't work. We need to be sending missionaries to Afghanistan, Iraq etc., not soldiers.


 
Response from : Wes Wright  

March 19, 2012 10:27 AM
 

I want to thank you for you thoughts as the father of a Marine. I such a father myself, having gone through similar mental and emotional and spiritual deliberations, I understand your angst. I love my son, and could not be more proud of the man he is. I know him to be a man of deep faith with a deep sense of honor, courage, and commitment. I pray for him often, and by the grace of God, look forward to a time when he might be granted a more peaceful existence. At present, he is willing to sacrifice everything for those and for what he believes. That, I think, marks him as a man.


 
Response from : Adam  

March 19, 2012 10:55 AM
 

Wow, thanks for sharing this heartrending, soul-searching ramification of personal faith you've had to wrestle with. My 19 year old son has been considering the military as a career, (we are British) and while I applaud his courage, and I am also safe in my own mind and heart that the military is a fine calling, both permissible and honourable in the sight of God, I cannot in all good conscience encourage my son to sign away his life and limb to a statistically likely early death. I would feel I had betrayed and murdered my baby boy if I just told him "okay, join the army, good choice, follow your heart, it's fine with me". I agree that somebody must fight, and I too despise this modern world in which "people devoid of convictions who do not trust in the providence of God will not cross the street to help a neighbor, much less go into harms way to defend the higher ideals of justice and liberty in a foreign land", but while military service remains voluntary, I do not think I possess the grit or the gift to give up my only begotten son. If the draft returned, I would offer to go serve in the stead of my son, or sign up to fight shoulder to shoulder alongside him if we had to, but I cannot permit myself to send him alone.

http://twitter.com/menkilleddinos

 
Response from : Adam  

March 19, 2012 11:09 AM
 

@KJQ "So here we are in countries around the world putting democratic trappings into place and then wondering why that doesn't work. We need to be sending missionaries to Afghanistan, Iraq etc., not soldiers."
Absolutely, KJQ, the last time we had anything like world peace, when the sun never set on the British Empire, was in the days when every colonial settlement ship carried a complement of missionaries. Saved souls, not commodities, were the wealth of nations. The system WORKED. Then after WW2 we gave all those nations their 'independence' back, dropped public support for Christianity as a nominal expression of ideal and exportable national culture, and within twenty years, all these nations were bankrupt, killing each other and their own citizens, and blaming Britain and America for 'exploiting' them in the colonial age, and sadly, the new atheist liberal worldwide culture just sucks this koolade up.

http://twitter.com/menkilleddinos

 
Response from : Kelly Hixon  

March 19, 2012 1:13 PM
 

Wow! I am the mother of a Navy Corpsman, who, at 20 was sent to Afghanistan to provide medical care to his unit of Marines. My son saw combat. He literally held the lives of some of his buddies in his hands, and kept them alive. He was in mulitple explosions, but he came back physically whole. Its the wounds to his soul that are deep and are taking a toll on him. I sent the Navy my boy, and they have given me back a man who has seen things I never wanted my boy to see. I have been struggling with my patriotism, and this war in Afghanistan. This war my son has said is futile, and can not be won. I needed to read this article. I believe God sent it to me right when I needed it, as He always sends just what I need when I need it. God bless you, and your son. And for the service he is doing because he is a man of God.


 
Response from : Beverly Bressler  

March 20, 2012 7:50 AM
 

I agree with your comments up until you said that we need to send our children to fight when we don't think the war is a moral war. I think that is where we in this nation have gone beyond what God calls for. David always prayed and asked God. Should I go up and fight. God always answered with directions; yes or no, and if yes this is how. Our politicians enter us into wars and they don't even ask God Anymore! Can we assume then that God has sanctioned that war and will be with our solders?? I Think not. We must always ask God first. If he says no it is foolishness not valor to send our sons and daughters into the fray!


 
Response from : Mark Cannon  

July 12, 2012 2:27 PM
 

Wow! Thanks for sharing this. God is faithful in spite of dangerous times for your son.

http://www.mark-cannon.com

 

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