Memorial Day — A good day to read Luther’s view on soldiers.

Memorial Day is a good day.  It is a day when we remember those who have fought and died for our country.  Really it is a day when we remember how God preserves and maintains peace, through the sword, and that the use of that sword often involves a person giving up their life for their neighbor.  Recently I have seen a number of criticisms of BBQ plans and things like that online, but that is precisely a good way to honor those who have died to establish and keep peace in our land.  Their sacrifice is a God-pleasing work meant to establish and provide peace for people.  That peace enables us to have families and neighbors and friends with whom we can gather for all sorts of things, including BBQs.  With that being said I have some other thoughts about the national holiday.

A couple suggestions: it is good to give thanks to God for the work of soldiers (marines, sailors…), especially those who have given their lives in service to their neighbor.  It would also be good to pray for those who grieve the loss of their loved ones and if you know any of these folks to offer any help you can.

Another way to celebrate that I would highly suggest is to read through Luther’s work, “Whether Soldiers, too can be saved”.  This work sets up the theology behind the vocation and office of soldier.  Luther rightly discerns the correct meaning of the Fifth Commandment and explains what God does through soldiers.

Here is a notable quote:

This is why God honors the sword so highly that he says that he himself has instituted it [Rom. 13:1] and does not want men to say or think that they have invented it or instituted it. For the hand that wields this sword and kills with it is not man’s hand, but God’s; and it is not man, but God, who hangs, tortures, beheads, kills, and fights. All these are God’s works and judgments.

And another:

I can easily believe that you would like to have peace and good times, but suppose God prevents this by war or tyrants! Now, make up your mind whether you would rather have war or tyrants, for you are guilty enough to have deserved both from God. However, we are the kind of people who want to be scoundrels and live in sin and yet we want to avoid the punishment of sin, and even resist punishment and defend our skin. We shall have about as much success at that as a dog has when he tries to bite through steel.

It is always interesting how we so soon forget what we actually DESERVE.  Another quote:

To the others, who would like to keep their conscience clear, we have this to say: God has thrown us into the world, under the power of the devil. As a result, we have no paradise here. Rather, at any time we can expect all kinds of misfortune to body, wife, child, property, and honor. And if there is one hour in which there are less than ten disasters or an hour in which we can even survive, we ought to say, “How good God is to me! He has not sent every disaster to me in this one hour.” How is that possible? Indeed, as long as I live under the devil’s power, I should not have one happy hour. That is what we teach our people. Of course, you may do something else. You may build yourself a paradise where the devil cannot get in so that you need not expect the rage of any tyrant. We will watch you! Actually things go too well for us. We are too happy and content. We do not know how good God is to us and we believe neither that God takes care of us nor that the devil is so evil. We want to be nothing but wicked scoundrels and yet receive nothing but good from God.

A good quote including a prayer before battle:

This is what they ought to do. When the battle begins and the exhortation of which I spoke above has been given, they should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude. For the above exhortation is only a form for doing the external work of war with a good conscience; but since good works save no man, everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe first to you and then to my lord for your sake. I thank your grace and mercy that you have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to your will. But because I know and have learned from your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which he shed for me in obedience to your holy will. This is the basis on which I stand before you. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by your Spirit. Amen.” If you then want to say the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, you may do so and let that be enough. In so doing commit body and soul into God’s hands, draw your sword, and fight in God’s name.

There are some “hard parts” of this work of Luther, but they need to be read.  He deals with the concept of “just wars” and also talks about the dangers of greed and pride in soldiering.  Give it a read.

For a modern translation with excellent study questions, check out Lutheran Press’ version (print copies are inexpensive, digital copies are free!).  This makes a great gift for anyone in the military or entering the military.

For a follow up, you could read Luther’s piece “On Temporal Authority”.


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