[Because I could easily be misunderstood, let me start with a clarification: This post is not against veterans. I have a number in my family. While I do have a problem with the world’s political leaders who keep spinning war*, I don’t have a bone to pick with vets themselves. In fact I think we should take better care of our veterans when they come home (and that we should deploy them much less often). What I am speaking against here is using Jesus to validate war participation.]
One of the Bible verses I see most frequently referenced on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day is a line from Jesus:
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV)
Whatever else one believes about war and the Bible, I don’t think this passage is accurately applied to war (possibly in some specific situations like jumping in front of a bullet that would otherwise kill one’s buddy).
Let me explain. General Patton said the soldier’s job is to kill not to be killed. “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”** Don’t jump in front of bullets for each other; shoot the other guy first!
The soldier’s goal is to kill, not die. Jesus, on the other hand, was willing to die (even for his enemies) but not to kill (gospels + Romans 5:10). I believe this is the meaning of John 15:13.
If this verse applies to people in war, I would think it would be conscientious objectors like Desmond Doss.*** They are willing to serve and give their lives, but not to take life, a rather important distinction. This gets closer to Jesus’ meaning, but even this is conscription (generally), a forced situation. Jesus taught to voluntarily carry our cross; it is an act of free will.
May we nonviolently give of ourselves to care for others. This is love/agape.
*See War Made Easy, Why We Fight, and Manufacturing Consent. (Look for print and video versions)
**See Wikipedia, Patton’s Speech to the Third Army
***See For God and Country (In That Order): Faith and Service for Ordinary Radicals (Logan Mehl-Laituri, 2013).