Sundoulos - Summer 2009

Dean's Column

Wounded Warriors in Our Midst

by Dr. Dennis Dirks

Scripture juxtaposes God’s love with His use of force. Such contrasting descriptions can appear incongruent in a world that underscores tolerance and love. Old Testament prophets proclaimed that one day warfare will be forgotten (e.g., Isaiah 2:2–4). Add prophecies that the Messiah will be called “Prince of Peace,” One who would establish never-ending tranquility (Isaiah 9:6, 7), and One who will usher in a time when nations will hammer swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Combine with these images Jesus’ declaration that peacemakers, those who strive for peace, are blessed (Matt 5:9), and to the undiscerning a misrepresentation of God may result.

God’s peaceful and loving attributes are unapologetically placed alongside His use of force. Historical events such as armed conquest of the Promised Land to claim a home for God’s people, and metaphorical references such as depiction of armor as God’s protection of the righteous, frequent Scripture’s pages. David’s victory over the massive armored warrior, Goliath, is a compelling portrayal of the principle of God’s power displayed in human weakness. Yet such military images, at first glance appearing to be at odds with the picture of a loving, caring Father, may cause dissonance.

Scripture portrays God Himself as a divine warrior. He is the shield of Israel’s help, the sword of its majesty (Deut. 33:29). He continually waged war against the enemies of Israel. God contends for us, fighting those who fight us, taking up the shield, the spear, and the battle-axe in our defense (Psalm 35:1-3). God is our fortress, providing refuge (Psalm 144:2). He will ultimately cause wars to cease by breaking bow and spear, burning chariots with fire (Psalm 46:9). Similarly, Jesus is portrayed as warrior in aspects of His responsibilities as Messiah. In the end, He will defeat the forces of evil.

Jesus’ parable of the strong man makes use of military terms such as being fully armed, guarding, attacking, and overpowering. They portray a battle to defeat Satan by stripping his armor (Luke 22:21-22). Similarly, Paul pictured Jesus disarming spiritual powers and authorities by dismantling weapons and armaments (Col. 2:15). Believers are instructed to put on spiritual armor to engage in spiritual battle, donning “the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). Followers of Jesus are urged to “take up the full armor of God,” breastplate, shield and helmet, to “be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Eph 6:13).

Soldiers are employed in the New Testament to communicate principles of faithful discipleship. A centurion who appealed to Jesus to heal his servant is an example of some of the greatest faith in all Israel (Matt 8:5-13). It was a centurion, standing at the foot of the cross, who testified to Jesus’ divinity saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Cornelius, a centurion, was described as a righteous man who feared God and prayed unceasingly. This soldier was directed by God through an angel to send for Peter who declared what had been God’s mission throughout the ages: to extend His hand to Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 10).

A good soldier of Christ Jesus is one who suffers hardship (2 Tim 2:3), who refuses to become enmeshed in distractions of daily living so he can please the One who recruited him (2 Tim 2:4). Paul describes Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25) and Archippus (Philemon 1:2) as fellow soldiers in the ministry of the gospel.

Seemingly contradictory images of love and war reveal the reality of both in a fallen world. Frequent biblical attention to images of combat suggests that instructions to attend to the needs of those who suffer must include veterans in varying degrees of distress. Can we do anything less than respond with encouragement and care for the emotionally and physically scarred veteran, the wounded warrior in our midst?

Dr. Dennis Dirks is Dean of Talbot School of Theology and Professor Christian Education. He has been with Talbot for more than 27 years as a faculty member and administrator after serving on the staff of two churches.

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