Freedom, Cliches, and Christ

“Freedom isn’t free.”

The phrase has been running through my brain in these days leading up to Memorial Day.

I remember the first time someone thanked me (me!) for the sacrifices I’d made for freedom.

Me? Sacrifice for freedom?

Of course, said they. You’ve given your brothers to the cause of freedom.

Except that I haven’t really. Not much.

Both my brothers (and my sister-in-law) are proud living Marines. The price we’ve paid is small.

All three of my sibling Marines have all their body parts. The price we’ve paid is small.

Yes, their choice to volunteer in the USMC has meant that I missed my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding. It has meant that John and Kaytee will be stationed far from me. It has meant some discomfort to me. But it is a very small price.

Don’t thank me. I have hardly paid.

John, Kaytee, and Tim have paid more. They have given up a modicum of their own freedom, have submitted themselves to be at the beck and call of the USMC. They do not choose where they will go or what they will be. They do not choose how many push-ups they will do or how fast they will run. The USMC says and they must do.

Even so, their sacrifices pale in the light of many others who have gone before.

Veterans of past wars have come home scarred mentally and physically. They fought, some willingly, some unwillingly for a cause some believed in and others did not. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost. Sometimes the world was freer for their contributions, sometimes it was not. Yet they fought, they sacrificed to obtain or maintain freedom for others.

Men and women have fought and died for freedom, leaving behind their blood, their bodies, their brave deeds. They fought for a freedom they would not enjoy-freedom to live in peace in the United States, in Europe, in the Middle East. They fought against regimes that did not topple in their lifetimes, lifetimes cut short by war. They never saw the end of the central powers, of Nazi Germany, of Soviet Communism.

They paid everything they had.

Yet even their sacrifice pales in light of a great sacrifice.

Freedom isn’t free. Jesus paid a high price for it.

A soldier subjects himself to humiliation by drill instructors, by foreign enemies, by insensitive and misunderstanding brutes at home. Christ subjected himself to humiliation by becoming a part of His creation. He subjected Himself to the humiliation of being mocked by the very ones He had given life, the ones whose life He currently sustained.

A soldier is conscripted or volunteers, knowing that death is possible. Jesus volunteered, knowing that death was inevitable, necessary.

A soldier may bear the wrath of a peeved higher officer, of an angry enemy combatant, of a rabid anti-war activist. Christ bore the wrath of His own righteous Father.

Freedom isn’t free.

Jesus paid for it. He paid a price we could never pay.

I wonder, as these thoughts run through my head, if I’m not cheapening the sacrifice of our soldiers, not reducing the impact of our fallen veterans. Am I trivializing all that Memorial Day is about? I am, after all, making light of the physical sacrifices of our soldiers by comparing them with the huge sacrifice of my Savior.

But no, I realize. If anything, I make light of Christ by comparing His sacrifice with that of a soldier.

How can I thank a veteran today? How can I remember the mere men who fought for freedom?

I can thank my veterans by telling them of the freedom that transcends politics. I can remember those who fought by glorifying the one who Won.

Because he who the Son sets free is free indeed.

May I fight, may I sacrifice, may I live and die that His Sacrifice be remembered.

Does the cross promote pacifism?

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 12: Loving Our Enemies

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’m in a book club that’s reading Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation (our last meeting is tonight, boo-hoo.) Well, Boyd, who appears to be from an Anabaptist tradition, seems to be a pacifist (I’m reading the last chapter, about violence, right now).

If you’re at all familiar with my family, you know that I have two brothers in the Marines (currently, they’re “poolies”.) John leaves for training in October. Tim’ll leave in January.

And a few of you know that, over the past year, I’ve developed friendships with several people who ascribe to a basically pacifist or nonviolent position on the basis of their faith–in Christ.

It’s been an interesting process, sorting out my own thoughts in relation to pacifism and the cross and how the two relate–or if they relate.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out. I don’t have any problem with personally being non-violent (I don’t have any desire to join the military, etc.)–but I’m not sure if I’m ready to suggest that others should also subscribe to non-violence, or that I should promote non-violence as national policy, etc.

Of course, those are merely side issues compared to the big question that I’m wrestling with, that is: How does the cross inform a Christian’s involvement or non-involvement, support or opposition, approval or disapproval of war and other acts including violence? Or, to put it more simply: Does the cross promote pacifism?

Many of those within my book club (who tend towards non-violence) have said that they do believe in some concept of justified violence–that states have some authority to “wield the sword” (a la Romans 13) which results in violent acts of justice. The question, then, is whether Christians can and/or should be participants in this just violence. This has been my primary struggle.

John Stott addresses Christian involvement in state administration of justice (including via violent means) in The Cross of Christ:

“It is important to note that Paul uses the same vocabulary at the end of Romans 12 [‘do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath’] and at the beginning of Romans 13 [‘he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath’]. The words ‘wrath’ (orge) and ‘revenge/punishment’ (ekdikesis and ekdikos) occur in both passages. Forbidden to God’s people in general, they are assigned to God’s ‘servants’ in particular, namely officials of the state. Many Christians find great difficulty in what they perceive here to be an ethical ‘dualism’. I should like to try to clarify this issue.

First, Paul is not distinguishing between two entities, church and state, as in Luther’s well-known doctrine of the two kingdoms…

Secondly, Paul is not distinguishing between two spheres of Christian activity, private and public, so that (to put it crudely) we must love our enemies in private but may hate them in public….

Thirdly, what Paul is doing is to distinguish between two roles, personal and official. Christians are always Christians (in church and state, in public and private), under the same moral authority of Christ, but are given different roles (at home, at work, and in the community) which make different actions appropriate. For example, a Christian in the role of a policeman may use force to arrest a criminal, which in the role of a private citizen he may not; he may as a judge condemn a prisoner…and he may as an executioner (assuming that capital punishment may in some circumstances be justified) kill… This is not to say that arresting, judging, and executing are in themselves wrong (which would establish different moralities for public and private life), but that they are right responses to criminal behavior, which however God has entrusted to particular officials of the state.”

~John Stott The Cross of Christ

This makes a lot of sense to me–but still leaves the question open in my mind: But should a Christian seek out “official” roles in which they must perform actions that are not permissible to them in their “personal” roles as private citizens and members of the body of Christ?

The Week in WordsSince bulk of this post is an extended quote from Chapter 12 of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, I’m linking it up in lieu of my regular Week in Words post. Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

***I’d also like to clarify that we should attempt to keep our comments Christ-honoring. I know that this is a topic that can get people riled up (I do, after all, belong to a military-ish family, and you know those pacifists :-P) But let’s try to be respectful.****