Terrorism. Drones. Missiles. IEDs. Attack. Retaliation. Deployment. We read and hear these words in the news every day — words that bring concern and worry. None of these things are in our control, and that powerlessness can lead us to despair as we realize that human pain and suffering cries out and we have no human means to respond. For the World War II generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor meant that America had to enter a war and send her military into harm’s way. For the middle generations, September 11, 2001 began a “Global War on Terror” that continues to this day.
In recent days, those too young to personally remember 9/11 are confronted with the darkest side of humanity’s sin and rebellion against the Creator. Recent events in the Middle East have reminded us that the kingdoms of this world will, just as Jesus said, have “wars and rumors of war” (Matthew 24:6). Ancient lands including Iraq and Iran, known in the Bible as Babylon and Persia, remain the scene of modern conflict. Only the Lord of history knows how or when these events will conclude.
There are Christian groups that reject all participation in warfare. Some even reject self-defense in the face of evil. Lutherans have taken a different approach. The Lutheran position is that a Christian is a citizen of not one but of two Kingdoms. The Kingdom of the Right is the Church where God rules in mercy, grace, and peace. The Kingdom of the Left, however, is the government of a nation. Importantly, God rules even the Kingdom of the Left for the sake of His redeemed people, the Church.
Let’s first think about the Kingdom of the Left: the nations of the world. Paul tells us that the governing authorities are established by God and have the duty to “bear the sword” (Romans 13:1-4). Peter also teaches us to submit to the government the Lord has established (1 Peter 2:13-14). But Peter also limits that obedience in the event that the governing authority demands that we stop proclaiming the Gospel because “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). For citizens of the United States, the “sword” is wielded by a government elected by its people and given both the duty to protect us and the authority to do so.
But let us also consider where we find our first and eternal citizenship: the Kingdom of the Right; that is, the one holy, Christian (catholic), and apostolic Church. Over Her the Lord rules and within Her He has established the authority of the called and ordained Holy Ministry. But unlike the state with its kings and presidents and military commanders, the Church does not wield the sword of the world’s justice and warfare. Instead, She, the Church, wields the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).She proclaims justice fully accomplished at Calvary and announces that God is at peace with us. This sword does not bring death and destruction but life and restoration. This Kingdom does not have birth certificates issued by human authority denoting a state, province, or nation but a baptismal citizenship grounded in union with Christ in His death and resurrection and in union with all who are baptized. The Church knows no national boundaries or ethnic identity; Her citizens are of every nation, tongue, and time, called to the Blessed Sacrament at altars great and small.
A Lutheran Response
So what is a Lutheran to do as we live with words like “terrorism, drones, missiles, IEDs, attack, retaliation, deployment,” and a host of others describing the world’s conflict? First, there is no single “one-size-fits-all-Lutherans” answer. These are matters of the Kingdom of the Left and Lutherans will think and respond as citizens of that Kingdom, yet may or may not come to the same conclusions. One might support a particular military action and another might oppose it. Each must exercise citizenship by participating in the public arena in voting, speaking, writing, and, for some, holding public office. Others will choose to serve in the military and go forward into war in order to protect their nation, homes, and families.
Second, Lutherans must pray. And our “prayer list” is long! We pray for our president and elected lawmakers no matter who they are. We pray for those who serve in the armed forces and defend our nation. We pray for peace. We pray that evil might be restrained by God. We pray for our brothers and sisters in lands torn apart by conflict and in places that participate in the persecution of believers. And yes, we pray for our enemies, that God might not only restrain them but that they might hear and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. To this list you can add all that is on your mind. And together we can bind our prayers as we pray, “Lord, remember us in you Kingdom and teach us to pray.”
Finally, Lutherans must renew their dedication to the evangelization of the world. Nothing matters more than this. You see, the world is vast and filled with diverse people who share one thing in common. It is not politics, economics, geography, or language. It is the need to know the love of their Creator in the one Person in whom that love is shown: Christ Jesus, the Savior of the world. Only by grace through faith can this deepest human need be met. No political or military solution offers anything at all for what truly matters. Only the Gospel can change human beings and, since war and violence come from people, the world needs that change.
Now for a full disclosure statement. As I reflect on this, I do so as a pastor who served for 28 years as a chaplain in the United States Navy. I have known the presence of Jesus in Word and Sacrament as He comes to warriors in very dark and frightening places. Nobody detests war more than I do, having seen war and the pain and suffering it brings. But I have also seen the peace of God sustain and strengthen those of us with no other source of strength.
And so, my young brothers and sisters in Christ, be of good courage! No matter what happens in this broken world, you have something no one can take from you. The world does not give it and world cannot remove it. You have Jesus and because you have Him, you have peace with God, forgiveness, and a life that is eternal. Wars will come. Conflict will consume the nations. But remember the promise of your Savior: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Your brother in Christ and fellow pilgrim,
The Reverend Daniel L. Gard, Ph.D.
Guest Professor, Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne
President Emeritus, Concordia University Chicago
Rear Admiral, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy (Retired)