Monday, April 26, 2010

Anzac Day, Conflicting Thoughts. A Confession.

I never quite know what to do with myself on ANZAC day. On the one hand, as time roles on from WW2 this is becoming the defining day of our nation. Together, New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, fought together with the Allies to overcome the threats from Kaiser Wilhelm and then from Hitler, Japan and their partners. Not to mention the other wars in Korea, Vietnam and more recently, the Middle East. There are great stories of NZers sacrificing themselves with great valour. So many died! According to NZ History on Line ( 18,500 died in WW1 and 11,928 in WW2. There were many more injured and deeply marked.

I know what was at stake in these wars. Both sets of enemies from the two great wars were hell-bent on conquest, spreading their power through Europe, the Pacific and beyond. In Just War terms, the wars were justified with the Allies standing for justice and against the spread of evil. 

I realise I live in a wonderful peaceful nation because of this sacrifice. I enjoy the life I do because these people gave their lives.

I also see all the people each ANZAC day gathering solemnly, playing the last stand, singing the national anthem, laying wreaths, remembering. It clearly means an enormous amount to many Kiwis.

Yet, if I am honest, ANZAC day doesn't get me. This actually gives me a sense of guilt as I feel that I should be deeply moved by it, yet I am not. I feel I should swell with pride as I consider how my forebears gave themselves for the cause of my freedom. They died so that I could live in this great nation not under tyranny, but in relative peace, security and freedom.

But the truth is - that sadly perhaps - it doesn't.

Rather, I am filled with questions and thoughts. My major issues are the problem nationalism and the Christ-pattern applied to life. For me, as a Christian, I find it hard to identify with my country to the degree many do. I get excited about sport, but my first allegience is to God's Kingdom. I am a citizen of heaven. My Kingdom, as Paul says in Phil 3:20, is heaven (politeuma). Jesus came to bring a new Kingdom planted in the midst of the fallenness of humanity, the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of peace and not war. It is a Kingdom of the renunciation of all such force. My allegience is to him and his way. As such, while I delight in being a Kiwi, born into this great people and nation, I can never get caught up in nationalism. Nationalism becomes an idol and the flag replaces Jesus and his reign.

I struggle to work through how our ethic of peace works out in the world. Do I live among 'them' utterly uncompromising in my refusal to take up arms? (Pacifism). Do I live among them dedicated to peace as best I can, yet there is a time to fight? The latter is what I reluctantly come to, yet I struggle to be certain of this because the path and teaching of Jesus renounces violent force.

Secondly, as a kingdom citizen I am to live by the pattern of the cross, the ethic Jesus taught us and showed us. He taught us non-retaliation. He taught us non-violence. In a world ruled by violent force, he renounced it only showing compassion, mercy and grace; he refused to resort to using violent force to win his war. Rather, he went to a cross, a victim of that violent force. It was through this utter refusal to resort to the ways of the world, that is our redemption. He taught us to do the same especially in Matt 5 and Luke 6 where he urged his disciples and all humanity to love enemies, turn the other cheek, refuse to take up arms, help invading soldiers etc. Paul in his letters does the same. In Philippians in particular, the pattern of Christ's life is our pattern. Paul in Roman prison does not even think of violent force but speaks of love, joy and peace. The conquest of God's world is through the weapons of the King and not of the world.

So when I come to war I really struggle. I keep asking myself, was there another way? I ask, God what else could we have done? Was there another path?

Then I counter argue, but sometimes in a fallen world, violent force is required as a last resort in self-defence and/or the defence of others. This is the justice of having a police force and a military to protect 'innocent' citizens. I get that. Reluctantly I end up here.

I read the OT and see that God, although he is mercy and love, resorts himself to allowing and even using violent force to shape his world. Supposedly he urged the extermination of the Caanan inhabitants, he used war to shape his own people, he raises up despots who shape the world e.g. Assyria, Babylon, Cyrus, etc. He leads and guides the Judges, David and other kings in war. Prophets come to kings telling them when and how to fight. War is integral to the pattern of God's dealings with humanity in the OT.

Yet I consider Jesus who is set against this backdrop. Surely, he came set against this backdrop of violent force shaping God's world (not to mention the Greeks, Romans) to show us another way. He came refusing such a path no matter what the threat. He died before he took up arms. He disappointed his own people's expectations by doing so. In his death he overcame sin, and he is our pattern.

So as I come to ANZAC day I am truly torn and tend to back off. I want to honour those who lost their lives. I know I should. Thanks to them all for their sacrifice. Indeed, in many ways, they mirror Christ in their selfless laying down of life. So I pray God's blessing on them and their families. Perhaps my reticence is indeed born of the fact that war has not affected me personally. I did not grow up with stories of my relatives dying in such circumstances.

Yet while their sacrifice is wonderful and I am grateful, in many ways their sacrifice is the antithesis of Christ. He died refusing to resort to such action. Should we too? Because of Jesus, I know there is another way. The way of the martyr who dies for peace refusing to resort to violence who inspires others to stand in non-violences for good. What would have happened if the whole world had stood before these marauding troops and simply refused to fight. Would they have kept going? Who knows? Perhaps I am a utopian idealist. Indeed, again, I admit it, I am.

I dream of a better world where such wars do not exist and where all weapons are converted to working tools for the good of humankind. I read the OT through the lens of Jesus not to create a theology of just war, but a theology based on renouncing this. That is why the Christ-story is utterly amazing. Not only did he rise, but he utterly reversed the way of the world. His royal non-violence is utterly unique in a world run by swords.

Yet, I reluctantly concede in a fallen world that 'there is a time for war.' I recognise that Christians should be involved in the police and the military to ensure that this justice is done in the best possible way rather than brutally or that these forces inadvertently become forces of evil and not good. Yet even as I write this, my heart betrays me, because it makes me feel queezy. Is there not a better way?

So, ANZAC doesn't get me, and I don't get it. I want it to, I want to. For all those it does get, respect! Please forgive me my struggle. It's just that I hate war, violence, death. These are God's enemies and Jesus came to end them all.

Yet I suspect that were my family directly threatened I would be on the end of a gun like almost everyone else. Either that, or we would have run. Ah, fight or flight, the creatures response to threat!

Yet perhaps this sense of tension is a healthy place to be and we can embrace both dimensions. On the one hand, we can honour those who have died in these wars. If any wars have been just, these ones were. We should remember. We should lay wreaths. We should gather and mourn and celebrate. So, to those who fought with good integrity as they did, honour, respect, well done.

On the other hand, as we gather and remember, we must use it as motivation to make sure it never happens again. We must continue to work to see such things gone from our world. Blessed are the peacemakers after all. We Christians must lead the way in showing the world another way, the path of peace. We must get involved and be salt in these dark parts of the world seeking to limit the forces of darkness which through war, seek to steal, kill and destroy. I suspect there will be more wars, more death, more violence. If I read Scripture right, there will be might hoo-er of one at the end! (is that how you spell hooer?). So a dream of a better world free of war, full of God's shalom should move us.

This is the already-not yet tension of the Kingdom. This is the struggle of being God's people in a fallen world. So I will embrace this tension. Perhaps this cognitive dissonance is right. I think next year I will go to the dawn services and make an effort to understand and remember. Yet as I do, I will pray and dream for that world that Jesus came to bring. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.


Anonymous said...

Well put.

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