Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.
His lament was for both of them (2 Sam. 1:23): Jonathan, who was like a dear brother to him (2 Sam. 1:26), and also Saul (2 Sam. 1:24), who tried to kill him (1 Sam. 19:1, 20:33). David lamented and was grieved over both of their deaths that occurred as a result of the fallen-world calamity we call war.
People feel pain. The loss of loved ones and even the loss of past enemies can reduce the strongest of men to tears beyond counting. And I say again, this is no small thing. War is not a trivial matter. In the words of one of my good friends: "War is a hellish death machine, an unfortunate consequence of fallen man's condition."
A hellish death machine. Is that not what it's proved to be time and time again?
So what do we do to help cope with this hellish death machine? In part, we consecrate a day of remembrance, "Memorial Day," in which we can remind ourselves of the sacrifice our loved ones (or perhaps even our enemies) have given for our sake. Many of them died so that we wouldn't have to! Certainly we ought to remember the sacrifice they gave on our behalf.
But I would say that we cannot stop there! While many of our fallen troops died so that we would not have to, many others died in battles that would have very little effect on our own lives. In other words, they did not die in our place.
And in order to truly honor those who died in battle (whether "in our place" or not) we must not only remember that they gave their own lives but also ensure that their sacrifice has not been done in vain!
To do that, though, we must first come to the realization that not all wars in which America has been involved have been wars where those who died in the battlefield died so that us civilians could live. We must come to the realization that not all wars in which America has been involved were wars of self-defense (which apart from special revelation is the only kind of war that can be Biblically justified).
Am I saying that those who died in wars that were not of self-defense have died in vain? I'm saying we are not truly honoring them and their service if we fail to learn from our mistakes and repent of our sin by sending them into a battlefield in which we did not belong. Only if we fail to correct our understanding of war and when we ought to engage will their lives have been spent in vain!
So what now?
First of all, grieve! I would say to grieve for the loss of your loved ones (or even your enemies) who have died in the battlefield. Grieve over their death, their separation from you, and if not knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, their eternal appointment at the judgment (Ezek.18:23; cf. Heb. 9:27). Friends, grieve these things!
But then, repent! I would say we ought to repent of our nation's obsession with bloodshed, with wrongly choosing sides in the world arena (Prv. 26:17), and with participating in wars in which we have no business.
Some will say, "You must not care much about your neighbor, if you don't want us to go protect them in the face of evil." To the contrary - I care very much for my neighbor!
You see, if it's not morally right - if it's not a Biblically sanctioned war of self-defense - then by advocating we don't go I'm actively caring for my neighbors who would have to give up their time, their money, their family, their blood, even their lives. I care very much for my neighbors, which is precisely why I think we should not send them or their loved ones into a battlefield in which we do not belong.
Does that mean we ought to leave other parts of the world alone when it comes to their own wars?
For a large part, yes! "Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears" (Prv. 26:17). But that doesn't mean individuals who are absolutely sure regarding who actually is and is not right in a certain conflict overseas cannot sacrifice their own time, their own money, their own blood, or even their own lives for the sake of what they see as loving their neighbor.
There is nothing in Scripture that prevents someone volunteering himself for the sake of others. Providing other factors (like taking care of your own family - 1 Tim. 5:8), Scripture in fact commands that kind of selfless love (Jn. 15:13; 1 Jn. 3:16).
But national warfare is not a matter of volunteering oneself. And I pray that this Memorial Day our nation will start to realize that. When we go to war we volunteer our neighbors and/or their children. We volunteer their time; we volunteer their money; we volunteer their separation from family; we volunteer their blood; and, too often, we volunteer their lives - and that not even for our sake or our children's, but for the sake of those whom we know little or nothing about!
My friends, forcing your neighbor to give up his time, money, family, blood, and even his own life, in order to protect the lives of others (or worse yet, "US Interests," whatever that is) is not loving your neighbor. That is bullying your neighbor into doing something that is morally questionable at best.
What does Memorial Day mean? It's supposed to mean we remember the sacrifice our military combatants gave on our behalf; that is, had they not died, we would have. But I ask you, how many wars has the United States been in where had not a military combatant died then civilians in our nation would have? If you search this out, the answer may surprise you.
If we truly understand that war is a "hellish death machine," then to honor properly those who have lost their lives in that death machine, we need to examine when, why, and how often we send our troops into such situations.
I truly pray: "God Bless Memorial Day." And what I do not mean by that is that I'm seeking God's approval of all the wars we've fought or asking Him to somehow glorify war through our patriotic memories of those who have fallen.
What I am seeking is that He will bless us in a way that will bring comfort to all who have lost loved ones on the battlefield, but also that He would bring repentance and discernment as to what He Himself has sanctioned regarding when we should even go into the battlefield.
War is not trivial. War is a hellish death machine. Let us honor those who have died in battle not simply by remembering them and their service, but also by bridling our lust for warfare and discerning when and why and how often we should send anyone into the battlefield.
May God bless our Memorial Day this year in comforting us in our remembrance, in granting us repentance for our unlawful encounters in war, and in giving us discernment for today and future generations!