With the American assault against the terrorists’ positions in Fallujah in full swing, my personal ruminations about what kind of people volunteer to be soldiers on the front line of life-threatening conflicts (sort of the definition of being a Marine) again came to the forefront of my musings. While pondering this, I came across a quote this morning that, while applied to things Christian, directly reflects on the nature and mission of those Marines who are placing their life on the line in Fallujah over the next few weeks.
Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell;
I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell. CT Studd
I believe it is fair to say that most of us desire to live within the sound of the chapel bell, not just religiously but also in our every day lives. This desire is represented by our choice of nice neighborhoods, reasonable security, and relatively dull days enlivened only by our own reasonably safe choices for risk. As to volunteering to put our lives on the line, either in the service of God or country, no thank you.
What I am saying is that in the same way an emboldened missionary goes to the front lines of the battle between the forces of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, typified by Studd’s statement, many in the military and especially the Marines, willingly go to the front lines of the battle for freedom against the tactical or strategic enemies of the United States.
Please understand, I am not critiquing the larger mission (war or antiwar), only the heart and courage of those prosecuting the mission. In a passage well known to Christians, Paul uses Roman military imagery when talking about arming ourselves against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-20). The Roman soldier was the Marine of his day, strong, resolute, and willing to put his life on the line for his country. He was well equipped for the battles that he faced, just as Marines are today. I know that belies the obvious fact that not all soldiers then or now are pure and noble, in the same way not all missionaries are perfect, but that is not the point, it is the accepted image of mission and purpose that matters, for that is what drives the choices and encourages the faithful.
When Paul says
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then
he is not just talking about getting the right equipment, but in calling Christians to stand your ground he is evoking the popular image of the Roman soldier to his readers, the Horatius Cocles of legend. The Lays [poems] of Ancient Rome (1842) by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lord Macaulay, 1807-73, contains the poem Horatius, which deals with legendary events set in the Rome of 550 B.C. Beginning at stanza XXVII:
Then out spake Brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?
And for the tender mother
Who dandled him to rest,
And for the wife who nurses
His baby at her breast,
And for the holy maidens
Who feed the eternal flame,
To save them from false Sextus
that wrought the deed of shame.
Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may;
I, with two more to help me,
will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
may well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?
Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
a Ramnian proud was he:
Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
and keep the bridge with thee.
And out spake strong Herminius;
Of Titian blood was he:
I will abide on thy left side,
and keep the bridge with thee.’
Horatius,’ quoth the Consul,
As thou sayest, so let it be.
and straight against that great array
forth went the dauntless Three.
Would that all Christians had the courage to take their stand within a yard of hell and guard the bridge of the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3) against the great array.
Yes, there are those in the ranks in Fallujah today that are like Horatius, willing to put their life on the line for what they believe in. Why are we Christians any less committed, any less willing about prosecuting and defending our faith?