This was a timed essay. I was given 10 minutes in which to write it. As such, it will be somewhat rough. Any criticism or ideas for improvement will be very welcome.
Lieutenant General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson once said, “War is the greatest of all evils.” As Major General William Tecumseh Sherman simply put it: “War is hell.” Yet, if war is evil, then why does it so often stir up emotions of grandeur in us? Why do we often see war as some glorious thing? In this essay, we will examine, first the negative effects of war, secondly the glorious effects of war, and finally, we will see how this one thing, war, can have such different effects.
Any examination of war immediately reveals the many negative effects of war: the misery and suffering that is brought by it. We read of the loss that family must deal with as a father, brother, or son, falls, never to return home from the battle. We are told of the terrible suffering of peoples as opposing armies march through, ravaging land and homes. The pain and anguish of men wounded, their scars never to entirely heal. The savageness of men caught up in the spirit of war, killing for the sole sake of killing, as occurred at the battle of Cold Harbor during the Civil War. The humanness of men seems to leave them as they turn savagely upon their fellow men, the cruelty of war. War divides families and friends, and ravages nations.
Perhaps a more humorous effect of war can be found in the worst sport in the world. So terrible a sport is this, that whether it should even be considered a sport is in debate. The sport I speak of is golf. This terrible sport, we find, has its origins in war. J.R.R. Tolkien writes of these origins in his book, The Hobbit. In Tolkien’s account, we find that this sport originated when Bullroarer Took smote the head of the chief goblin with a great club, sending it rolling into a rabbit hole. As we can see, the negative and gruesome effects of war are diverse and terrible.
Yet this same war has resulted in the stirring of heroic feelings, of mighty glories. Indeed, the greatest song to be written is inspired by war. Reginald Heber writes, “The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain. His blood red banner streams afar, who follows in His train? Who best can drink the cup of woe, triumphant over pain, who patient bears His cross below, He follows in His train.” We are bid to ready ourselves for war, to “take up the whole armor of God.” The battle cry has been sounded, and we have been commanded to join, to join this “noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid” (Reginald Heber, "The Son of God goes forth to War") We cry to our King, “Lead on, O King Eternal, the day of march has come; henceforth in fields of conquest Your tents shall be our home. Through days of preparation Your grace has made strong, and now, O King Eternal, we lift our battle song.”*
How can such different effects come from war: the greatest song, the worst sport, feelings of misery and despair, thoughts of glory and grandeur? The answer to this question is found when we examine the two different wars that result in such different effects. The war that causes misery, suffering, and terrible sports such as golf, is a material war. This war, in and of itself, will never produce glory. The war that we are called to join in, however, is not a carnal war. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
We do not use sword or spear, M16 or AK 47. As Paul writes, “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10). As Ernest W. Shurtleff put it, “not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums, with deeds of love and mercy the heav’nly kingdom comes.”* We are called upon to demolish strongholds, casting down arguments and any high thing that “exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10).
This, then is the fundamental reason for the extreme differences we saw in the effects of warfare: one warfare is carnal and brings misery and suffering, the other spiritual, bringing glory. Let us then remember the words of Charles Wesley, who wrote:
“Soldiers of Christ, arise and put your armor on, strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son; strong in the Lord of hosts, and in His mighty pow’r, who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more the conqueror.
“Stand then in His great might, with all His strength endued, and take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God; from strength to strength go on, wrestle and fight and pray; tread all the pow’rs of darkness down, and win the well-fought day.
“Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul,; take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole. That having all things done, and all your conflicts past, ye may o’er-come through Christ alone, and stand complete at last.” ("Soldiers of Christ Arise")
The question then that must be asked is, “are you among that noble army of Christ who ‘climbed the steep ascent of heav’n through peril, toil, and pain'?” Let us pray, as did Reginald Heber, who wrote,
“O God, to us may grace be giv’n to follow in their train!”
*"Lead on O King Eternal" by Ernest W. Shurtleff