On Living in Wartime

I have been watching a documentary series on the Second World War lately. Airing late on Monday nights, the American series chronicles in some detail this horrific conflict, and the lives of ordinary Americans caught up in it. The seven part, 14 hour series just finished last night.

As is often the case, reflecting on WWII often gets me thinking about spiritual realities. War is certainly hell, and it certainly changes things. Indeed, during wartime, everything and everyone changes. And that can be as true of those left behind, as those who have gone to the front, or overseas, to actually do the fighting.

Those living back at home have to adjust to life during a time of war. All sorts of sacrifices have to be made, liberties are curtailed, many goods are foregone, and a normal life becomes difficult to maintain. Rationing takes place, extra efforts are called for, self-sacrifice is the order of the day, and trivial pursuits are abandoned for the greater good.

The folks back home are usually happy to make such sacrifices, knowing that the boys overseas are especially making tremendous sacrifices. Many will simply not return from the fighting. If our young men can give so much to protect our freedoms, then those left behind can surely also make some radical sacrifices.

Of course when the war finishes, then life goes back to normal. That at least is true of those who stayed at home. Now they can lighten up again, live more extravagantly, and go back to more relaxed ways of living. While they were happy to live a sacrificial life for a few years, they readily and quickly revert back to normalcy when the crisis is over.

But for those on the front, those who faced the realities of warfare, coming back home is rather different. Indeed, they will often note how foreign, how odd, how unreal, ‘normal’ life is back home. After the hell they have just experienced on the field of battle, trying to readjust to normal civilian life can be a major task.

Indeed, many never do readjust. Many carry their war wounds – whether physical, mental or psychological – with them the rest of their lives. It is just so hard to go back to the way things were. Some just cannot make the transition back to life as they once knew it. Some commit suicide.

What once seemed to be so important now seems to be rather trivial and unreal. And those who have not known the realities of battle are just not able to understand what these men have endured. Returned GIs tend to find fellowship with each other.

Only those who have known the ugly realities of all-out war can understand what a soldier has gone through in his tour of duty. The civilians just do not and cannot understand or comprehend what they have been through. Reality becomes forever changed for these returning veterans.

The war may have finished, but for the soldiers, it never really ends. It is always with them, and those who have not been there will never really understand what they have been through. Government appointed social workers and psychiatrists will be kept busy for many decades with these stricken warriors.

Those are some of the concepts and images I picked up as I viewed this series of war docos, especially the final episode, when the wars in Europe and the Pacific finally came to an end. While great rejoicing took place for those on the home front, those who experienced the war firsthand had different feelings upon returning home.

All this got me thinking about the Christian life. I have written often about the warfare imagery found throughout Scripture.

The question is, what is the normal Christian life? Is it one of leisure, relaxation, fun and games, or is it one of warfare, spiritual battles, and constant fighting? It seems that for many believers there is not a war going on at all. They seem fully at home in this world, and almost act as if they don’t believe that another exists.

And they certainly don’t seem to be aware of the overwhelming spiritual battles taking place all the time, all around us. They may profess a belief in demonic powers and forces of darkness, but they live lives which seem to betray such beliefs.

They live, in other words, as if this world is all there is, and the normal Christian life is basically like that of any non-Christian. The sense of battle, of being strangers in a strange land, of being in a cosmic war, is all but lost on them. This at least is what I pondered last night, when the series concluded.

This morning some books from overseas arrived in the mail. Among them was an old 1959 classic by A.W. Tozer, Born after Midnight. Decades ago I had a copy of this work, along with a number of others. I passed them on to a friend and never saw them again. Thus I have been re-purchasing various Tozer volumes over the years.

This one seems to be out of print, but I managed to find an inexpensive second-hand copy through an American book search website. So now I proudly have a copy of this beloved volume back in my hands. And as I flipped it open today, what did I happen to alight upon, but chapter 6.

As soon as my eyes spotted the title, I thought: “Ah, wonderful, I am not alone in my musings. I am not totally mad. There are others who think like me. There are others in the ‘fellowship of the burning heart’ as Tozer once put it.” So what was the title to chapter 6? “We Live in a State of Emergency”.

Let me simply reproduce the opening paragraphs of this great chapter:

“The fall of man has created a perpetual crisis. It will last until sin has been put down and Christ reigns over a redeemed and restored world. Until that time the earth remains a disaster area and its inhabitants live in a state of extraordinary emergency.

“Statesmen and economists talk hopefully of ‘a return to normal conditions,’ but conditions have not been normal since ‘the woman saw that the tree was good for food … and pleasant’ … and ‘to be desired to make one wise’ and ‘took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.’

“It is not enough to say that we live in a state of moral crisis; that is true, but it is not all. To illustrate, we may say that war is a crisis in international relations, a breach of the peace between nations, but that is to leave much unsaid. Along with that breach comes widespread ruin, the death of countless thousands of human beings, the uprooting of families, indescribable mental and bodily suffering, the wanton destruction of property, hunger and disease and a hundred forms of misery which grow out of these other horrors and spread like fire over large portions of the earth, affecting millions of persons.

“So the Fall was a moral crisis but it has affected every part of man’s nature, moral, intellectual, psychological, spiritual and physical. His whole being has been deeply injured; the sin in his heart has overflowed into his total life, affecting his relation to God, to his fellow men and to everyone and everything that touches him. There is also sound Bible reason to believe that nature itself, the brute creation, the earth and even the astronomical universe, have all felt the shock of mans sin and have been adversely affected by it.”

He concludes with these words:

“Let a flood or a fire hit a populous countryside and no able-bodied citizen feels that he has any right to rest till he has done all he can to save as many as he can. While death stalks farmhouse and village no one dares relax; this is the accepted code by which we live. The critical emergency for some becomes an emergency for all, from the highest government official to the local Boy Scout troop. As long as the flood rages or the fire roars on, no one talks of ‘normal times.’ No times are normal while helpless people cower in the path of destruction.

“In times of extraordinary crisis ordinary measures will not suffice. The world lives in such a time of crisis. Christians alone are in a position to rescue the perishing. We dare not settle down to try to live as if things were ‘normal.’ Nothing is normal while sin and lust and death roam the world, pouncing upon one and another till the whole population has been destroyed.

“To me it has always been difficult to understand those evangelical Christians who insist upon living in the crisis as if no crisis existed. They say they serve the Lord, but they divide their days so as to leave plenty of time to play and loaf and enjoy the pleasures of the world as well. They are at ease while the world burns; and they can furnish many convincing reasons for their conduct, even quoting Scripture if you press them a bit. I wonder whether such Christians actually believe in the fall of man.”

Amen and amen. The truth is, we are not living in normal times. Everything is now abnormal, and the Christian job is to recognise that reality and start living accordingly, especially in light of the fact of our lost neighbours. “No times are normal while helpless people cower in the path of destruction.”


[1609 words]

13 Replies to “On Living in Wartime”

  1. You wrote, Bill, in an article, “When Nations collapse”:

    “Lord Macaulay (1800-1859), the English writer and historian, made a similar observation about the fate of democracies. He said that the average age of the world’s greatest democratic nations has been 200 years. Each has been through the following sequence:
    From bondage to spiritual faith.
    From faith to great courage.
    From courage to liberty.
    From liberty to abundance.
    From abundance to complacency.
    From complacency to selfishness.
    From selfishness to apathy.
    From apathy to dependency.
    And from dependency back again into bondage.
    (A letter from Lord Macaulay to an American friend, May 23, 1857)”

    This pattern not only describes the history of Old Testament Israel and Judea, but our own since the Battle of Britain, which was celebrated two weeks ago, on the 15th September. Veteran pilots of this battle from both sides reminisced and celebrated as though they were talking of the past glories of some cricket or rugby match. How can they celebrate such a battle when Europe is sinking fast under both Islamic and gay fascism?


    David Skinner, UK

  2. Thanks Bill
    Some are told that coming to Christ is to join a pleasure cruise. They are shocked and offended when they discover it’s a battle ship.
    Glenn Christopherson

  3. Thanks Bill. Of course there are a number of Christians who like the British Colonel in ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ are part of the war effort – just on the wrong side; they’re dedicated to constructing a memorial bridge for the enemy. Being focussed on a common word, they’ve forgotten what makes us distinct!
    Vickie Janson

  4. Vickie the common word is “diversity” and Glenn the analogy of contrasting the Christian walk with being in a barracks and not a five star hotel would (I hope you would agree) also fit.

    The devil is not too interested in attacking those who do not know and belong to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, because he possesses them already. Instead he tries to win back to death those he has lost through: distraction; deception; deviancy; distortion; defiance; delusion; despair and above all the denial of the Truth

    David Skinner, UK

  5. Hi Bill,

    I appreciate what you are saying about war. However I have to say that those left behind at home do not go back to living a normal life after cessation of hostilities.

    I think of two spinster sisters. One was my Sunday School Superintendent. I asked hr why she never married. Her answer: “There were not enough young men to go around after the World War I.” Theirs are not isolated cases.

    I think of my father who went off to war married and came back divorced. Within two years of being demobbed he was married to my mother. After about eighteen years and three children later my mother and two sisters were awarded a pension by Dept. of Veteran Affairs as they were living in the same house as my father. It was discovered that he was suffering from war neurosis. Yes, our family never returned to normal and when the Korean war broke out my mother lived in constant fear of my father being called up.

    The seriousness of war is just as great after the war for those at home as it is for those who were fighting.

    So war is a very serious business for everyone all the time as your article so admirably points out.

    Greg Brien

  6. My husband is a Vietnam war veteran; much of what you write he verbalised to me today in one of those rare moments where he felt safe to share; no we do not as civilians understand the eternal repercussions of those on the front line. We do revert back to complacency; he does not; he never can; the images before him daily do not allow him to function as he once did.
    Sadly though as I am interested in such topics and in politics of late eg the Canberra Declaration, a minister of note wrote about his dismay that my ministry was of concern now because I was being distracted from the gospel in favour of petitions and politics. It is no wonder believers are confused. Can we be involved in politics; according to him – a definite no!
    All that aside your gleanings on the matter of war support all I have witnessed from my dear war hero who was spat on and thrown out of the RSL clubs on his return. The unions withheld mail, the uni students spat at him and the atrocities are forever ebbed into his consciousness. He reflects in tears and I weep.
    Ilona Sturla

  7. I think we need to study, understand and live Eph. ch.6 v.10-18 nowadays, but also do our best to live in confident trust and hope. It doesn’t help matters to be overly gloomy. The One we serve, as revealed in Jesus, has plans for us “plans for peace and not disaster” we just need to “hold firm and stand fast”, prayerfully discern our own little part and do it as best we can. God can and will take care of the rest. I’m talking to myself too here!
    Anna Cook

  8. Bill, I can empathise with your musings on “the fellowship of the burning heart” and wondering if you are mad. I find some of the calls and responses in the Anglican Evensong very moving and sometimes wonder if I am neurotic when we say “O God make speed to save us, O Lord make haste to help us”.
    Also “Give peace in our time O Lord, Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou O God” but to me these are comforting and vital words. I greatly appreciate those people above who have told us of their real post-war experiences.
    Rachel Smith

  9. To Ilona, take heart dear lady, I bumped into 2 Vietnam veterans in the changeroom at my local pool once and I walked up to them, shook their hands and thanked them for all that they did. The looks on their faces showed that they were taken aback but I meant every word of my thanks. You are right to be interested in the political sphere and to my mind, any Christian who is not is a fool. I have had some of the same responses as you have and it reminds me of a famous quote by Plato – “the price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men”! And boy, can’t you see that happening now!
    Steve Davis

  10. My dad’s brother fought in the Vietnam War. Sadly, he went missing, not in action, but after he returned to ‘normal’ life in the West. Here are parts of an email my cousin wrote last year in the hope of finding her dad.
    Annette Nestor

    13 years ago, my Dad disappeared into the night…I am asking your help to find him. His name is Gregory Holmes.
    After having a gun held to his head in his news agency in Mosman Park Western Australia, he disappeared. He is a Vietnam vet, and also suffering post traumatic stress. We have not seen him since 13 April 1998.

    On 1st August 1998, my 21st Birthday, we had a phone call….there was no one speaking on the other end, but I know it was my dad. We traced the call to Geraldton WA…that was the last contact we had.

    In 2000 my dad was found by police in the eastern states of Australia under an assumed name, he indicated he was not yet ready to return to his former life. Now I think he feels it has just been too long, but it is never too late to make amends, even if we could just get a letter to him…

    He is a short man, about 162cm would probably be almost bald by now, he had a black moustache then, and may have a beard, or may be clean shaven…who knows. His build was slim to medium. He also wears glasses. He would be 64 years old now…..my Dad has only met one of his grandchildren and I would really like my kids to grow up knowing their granddad….he has 9 grandchildren……

    Thank you,

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