I got a thoughtful letter from a friend asking about the war motif that runs through a bunch of our stuff here in Moscow. My dad’s formative book is called Principles of War. There is the Canon Press tag “Publishing Is Warfare” that we have had around here for a few decades now. There is New St. Andrew’s motto which being translated means “For the faithful wars shall never cease.” We have that darn Van Tilian antithesis underfoot all the time. I had that Collision with Hitchens. My commentary on Hebrews is called Christ and His Rivals. The cover of Future Men has a couple of boys just a rasslin. What is this, Wilson Agonistes?
I suppose it would be useless to deny that this is a common theme in what comes out of the suite of ministries here. I actually would not want to deny it — but I am most eager to frame it. Unless such a “warrior” mindset is contextualized rightly, it will soon devour itself. If men have been at war too long, they don’t know what to do when the peace treaty is signed . . . so they hire themselves out as mercenaries. The fighting must continue because that is the only skill set they have.
With that in mind, here are a few thoughts for Christians who consider themselves, as we most certainly do, to be involved in a spiritual war, in a constant, total war.
1. Solzhenitsyn rightly said that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. When you put on the breastplate of righteousness, one of the first things you learn is that there is a treacherous sneak inside the breastplate. So it is important not to fall into a simplistic approach that conveniently locates the bad guys over “there.” It is more complicated than that.
2. The point of fighting is to win the peace. The Church Militant will not be bored in Heaven, siting around with nothing to do. The Church Militant will have won through to Heaven, and will know what to do when it eventually gets there. In the words of the spiritual, “gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside.” In the words of Isaiah, we will study war no more — and this will be a blessing, not a grief.
3. With the antithesis between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent having been established by God in the first few pages of our history, we take that as a fixed given. Warfare describes the way the world is, and is not a state of affairs chosen by us. Sheep don’t have to declare war on the wolves. Were the sheep to issue such a declaration, that would not be the beginning of the antipathy between them. Given how sheep think, however, it might be the beginning of an ovine awareness of the war. Within the Church, it is far more common for flatterers and false teachers to say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, than for them to say, “War, war,” when there is no war.
4. An essential part of maintaining balance in all this is recognizing that the apostle Paul’s argument concerning body life applies to armies and navies as well. This means it applies to spiritual armies and spiritual navies. Anybody who demands that everybody “think strategically like an admiral or general” is . . . well, he is not thinking strategically like an admiral or general. You need cooks, and drivers, and mathematicians, and technicians, and mechanics, and snipers, and navigators, and to demand that everybody drop what they are doing to do what a strategist in the Pentagon is doing misconstrues the nature of war. When the bugle blows indistinctly, nobody gets ready for battle. But when it blows distinctly, thousands move swiftly to do completely different things. It is important to remember that many of the things that are done may not look like fighting.
5. But being aware that we are on a constant war footing does not create a licence to abolish all the things the enemy would love to abolish, were he to win the conflict. What would the devil love to take away from us were he to win the war? To surrender those things preemptively is actually to surrender the war. In this conflict, you can’t lose your merry warriors without losing the war. To surrender those things for the sake of beating him is actually losing to him. I refer, of course, to music on the front porch, reading to the grandkids, lovemaking, cold beer, picnics in the sunshine, rained-out picnics, green beans with pistachios in them, cigars that spread their rich aroma across the deck like a benediction, hiking . . . all of these things (and thousands more) are psych-ops for the devil. They are also psych-ops for the fussers in our own ranks. Grendel hated the glorious song of the scop that could be heard coming from Hereot. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Laughter is war.