As we approach Remembrance Day in the UK and Veterans Day in the US, Joel Furches explores whether we should be praying for our military
I was only a few years out of college when I received the email. It was a mass email from one of my college friends to all the members of our graduating class. The email began by informing us that one of our college friends – someone to whom we were all close, and who was well-liked by all – had died in action overseas.
The news was a shock, and one would expect the sender to follow this up with a homily or homage honouring our fallen friend. But the writer chose to take a different approach. In the sentences and paragraphs following the news of our friend’s passing, the author of the email launched into a screed on how the war was unnecessary and the politicians who chose to engage ought to be thrown out. The author made it clear in no uncertain terms where he stood politically, and any pretence at honouring our friend occupied a single sentence in what was a very long email.
Should we pray for soldiers?
War is never a pleasant thing, and no war has been fought throughout history which has not been the object of protest among the population who find it unnecessary, unpalatable or downright evil. When the time comes to honour and respect those individuals who have chosen the life of a soldier and died in service to their country, the bitter taste of political disagreement is liable to stand as an obstacle to this ritual.
It seems only fair to acknowledge the humanity and devotion of these men and women who have died in combat. They were, after all, human beings. They were loved by friends and family who felt the visceral pain of their loss. In one respect, Remembrance Day and Veterans Day are an opportunity to acknowledge the pain felt by friends and family of the fallen – to give them the balm of knowing that others see them in their grief.
However, is there some application of Christian principles which might inform us how to view this day? One of the rituals associated with Remembrance Day is prayer for the armed forces. As a way of life, Christianity has shrunk within the British population to the degree that less than half the UK are religious observers. And in the midst of those who do not practise religion, a significant number don’t believe there is a God to whom one might pray.
In this sense, there is a diminishing number of Brits liable to take up the call to speak to God on the soldiers’ behalf.
Perhaps you are among the number who generally object to the use of military force. Perhaps the idea of praying for combat forces makes you uncomfortable. Here are a few reasons you might consider staying the course and offering a prayer for our fighting forces:
The wisdom of warfare is a topic of some debate. But wisdom is the property of God, and one he seems entirely willing to share. St James reminds us that God gives “generously and graciously to all” who ask him for wisdom.
In this case, the request is that God bestows this wisdom on the leaders who make the choices which may cause or prevent combat.
The best condition for a soldier is that of international peace. In fact, this is a desirable condition for all.
The God of the Old Testament can seem very war-like at times, but it might surprise the reader to learn that Isaiah, the prophet whose book is largely about the judgement upon Israel brought by the Babylonians, nevertheless refers to God as “the God of peace” a number of times throughout his book. Paul equally requests that “the God of Peace be with you all” (Romans 15:33).
Perhaps most importantly, as Jesus sat upon the crest of the mount delivering his most famous sermon, he was sure to include “blessed are the peace-makers”, which suggests that prayers for peace are seen as honourable for those who choose to pray them.
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Honouring the past
Many wars seem like thinly veiled power-grabs or attempts at dominating another people group. However, we must all acknowledge that there are some battles within history which were fought for undeniably good causes, with undeniably good results. Remembrance Day, as the title suggests, is a day for remembering the sacrifices made by soldiers, and some of those sacrifices were for the cause of freedom and virtue.
We are not many years removed from a time when D-Day will be outside of living memory, but we are fortunate to still have among us a few who lived when the event occurred. Remembrance Day is but a single day of the year, but gratitude is never wasted, and the opportunity to thank God for the freedom purchased in blood is a privilege worth observing.
when a soldier falls, their death does not simply occupy a statistic – there is an entire community affected by that death. Grief is a hard road, but it is made all the harder when the griever feels that he or she is alone and unseen. Sometimes the acknowledgment of the grief being felt by the soldier’s loved one is enough to soften the path of pain.
There is biblical support for this idea, as the apostle Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
The respect of prayer
There is no verse of scripture to which one may point which demands that a person must pray for soldiers or for the military. Remembrance Day and Veterans Day were not days appointed by God, they were merely an invention of the government. There is no reason that one must observe the day or participate in prayer. But prayer for others never goes awry, and it is a conversation with God, not with parliament.
If the actions of the military or the bureaucrats who guide it are unwise or unjust, this is a conversation worth having with God. If you are among those who appreciate the work and sacrifice of the soldiers, then this is an opportunity to express that gratitude. Whatever the case, a prayer on Remembrance Day is a show of respect, and respect is liable to bear much more fruit than the alternative.
Joel Furches is an apologist, journalist and researcher on conversion and deconversion, based in the USA.