war metaphor part ii

The metaphors we use to describe day to day events speak deep truths about the say we approach life in general. Missed to ground work for this discussion? Check it out here: War Metaphor Part I.

We unconsciously use war metaphor to in many different facets of our lives. Already, we’ve said that sports, and science, and conflict are ripe with it. We talk about inner battles, battles of will, waging war against pick-an-injustice. For those of us that are trying to model the way that Jesus lived, is it appropriate to approach the world with this same angst? (I was about to say “spiritual world” here, but I’d rather not divvy it up like that)

“War” and “Battle” are words that are used fairly often throughout scripture. And the old testament is practically crammed with God-ordained conflicts between people that claimed the lives of thousands. But most of these references are literal references – either to actual wars or the prospect of wars if the people don’t respond in a certain way. They’re not figurative – i.e. they’re not metaphor language. The other interesting thing you see in the prophets of the Old Testament are the references to the end of war – to peace. Micah 4:3 as classic example talks about the conversion of weapons of war and destruction into weapons of provision, and that nations “will not train for war anymore.”

The New Testament talks far less frequently about these concepts. Jesus mentions war when outlining the cost of being a disciple as an illustration.

Then there’s the armor of God. Can’t forget this. This is perhaps the most blatant use of war metaphor in the Bible when the author of Ephesians says:

Be strong in the Lord and in this mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Perhaps this isn’t as metaphoric as it sounds. I’m not suggesting that there is literal armor – but I am saying that the readers and the author himself were literally being physically attacked and chained for their beliefs. They were, in fact, in a type of war scenario.

One last thing before I attempt to get far more practical with this. In this same passage we read this:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Growing up, I was very involved in a church that heavily used war metaphor to describe Christians relationship with sin. It was very much a battle, a near-literal altercation with demons and evil. Shouts of praise were often inter-mingled with battle cries. I understood that I was to be engaged in a spiritual war against an axis of evil (made up of beer, drugs, crossing “the line” with the opposite sex, smoking – up for consideration for the axis were cussing, lusting, and gambling). Looking back, it also took on the scope of “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.”

Given the significance of all things spiritual to many people, it’s not hard to understand why the fight becomes so important. All of this is very much in keeping with the use of war metaphor.

I felt as though that those who took part in any of the activities in the axis of evil were not just casualties, but they were brain-washed prisoners of war, recruited to fight the forces of good. On the one hand, I knew that I was called to “Love my neighbor as myself” but at the same time, these were “enemy forces” that had the potential to attack me. It’s shoot-to-kill time.

My biggest hang up with the use of war metaphor is that it promotes a sense of defensiveness. Even if we constantly on the attack, we feel as though at any moment enemy forces can strike. Defensive people and groups act very differently than the rest of us. There is a primal instinct that begins to emerge in even the most well-intentioned people. If at any point we feel threatened, we are liable to act out of desperation. In our figurative war, this could mean something as a comment/accusation that precipitates the alienation of a person or a group of people.

There is nothing as polarizing as war. Being at war means that opposing forces have become as diametrically opposed to one another as possible. It is the ultimate consequence to unmanaged conflict, or tension.

While it leads to alienation and destructive processes, there is a nobility to it all. In war, finding the power to continue the fight is admired. Officers are commended with medals or other awards for exceptional bravery. Conversely, there is shame is surrender, in humbling yourself to the enemy. It is a display of weakness to bow out of battle.

In the church, we have allowed this paradigm to permeate everything that we do. We have battle hymns and fight songs, chants that reinforce the diametric opposition of the forces of good and the forces of evil. And while there may be theological basis for this concept, that good cannot exist where there is evil, we are practically raining terror down on those that need our love the most. We rationalize by saying that we “love the sinner, and hate the sin” which can lead quickly to justifying our force with statements like “there’s gonna be some collateral damage,” or “it’s for your own good,” as if we have the capacity to decide what that should be. The consequences of our bloody battles are years and years of distrust, malice, alienation, and hatred.

We see this over and over. Homosexuals have long been essentially metaphorically labeled as terrorists to modern-day Christianity. We go on the offensive against abortion clinics, perversely assuming that God is smiling as we spew hateful slogans, carry placards plastered with the graphic images of aborted fetuses, or as we literally use lethal force.

Hatred for Christ’s sake is still hatred.

As long as we continue to propagate war metaphor in our churches, we will continue to falsely indoctrinate our people to believe that anyone that is “in” is good and that anyone that is “out” is the enemy.

It continues to be striking to me that Jesus’ harshest words were for the religious. A man marked by unwavering compassion across people groups and ethnicities and situations turned hostile when he looked inward towards those who were thought to be representatives of God on earth.

We could learn a thing or two from this Jesus character.

It’s also striking to me that aside from the disciples, we never hear about what happens with any of the people that Jesus encountered. We know that he was kind and loved regardless of the circumstance and never implied that he was about to bomb the enemy with righteousness and blessed sanctification. It was seldom more than a brief encounter, the beginnings of relationship, filled with understanding, compassion, and grace. If we approach life as though we’re all in this together, that we can learn mutually beneficial things from one another, that we are all part of a well-intended creation perhaps we’ll see the transformation that we’ve been trying to force for so long.

And maybe, the other people will change too.