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.”