This past week has been a difficult transition as we have wrestled with the reality of our son's departure to the Marine Corps. Despite being a veteran myself and knowing what Tyler is going through and knowing the reward, I found myself suffering a wide range of emotions from immense pride to utter helplessness to a deep sense of sorrow and loss.
Thankfully, we have been overwhelmed by the many words of encouragement and support. So many families of servicemen and women along with many others have reached out to us, shared their own fears and struggles, and offered much needed encouragement. Your kindness has been such a blessing to us-thank you!
I also heard from service members who were grateful for my article because they had long struggled with whether or not their military service was compatible with serving the kingdom of Christ. In response, I feel cannot let this pass without trying to assuage those concerns and encourage those men and women who serve in our armed forces as well police officers, firefighters and all first responders who confront and sometimes must employ violence in the service of humanity.
I want to draw from one response to last week's article from a former Marine-now police officer-who cited a now famous lecture given by William J. Bennett to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997. The following is an abbreviated summary:
One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: "Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident." This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
…Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the pretty, blue robin's egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell. Police officers, soldiers and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
"Then there are the wolves," the old war veteran said, "and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy." …There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds….
"Then there are sheepdogs," he went on, "and I'm a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf." …
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath-a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero's path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
Everyone has been given a gift in life. Some people have a gift for science and some have a flair for art. And warriors have been given the gift of aggression. They would no more misuse this gift than a doctor would misuse his healing arts, but they yearn for the opportunity to use their gift to help others. These people, the ones who have been blessed with the gift of aggression and a love for others, are our sheepdogs. These are our warriors….
In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision….
For all who have entered the kingdom, this moral decision must be confronted: passivity versus action. Not that you must assume the gift of aggression but that you will actively seek first the kingdom, understanding that to do so will make you an enemy of this world, ironically a world that you long to serve and see saved, a world in which you will suffer opposition if you truly press the kingdom (see Acts 14:22).
William Hendriksen, a respected Bible commentator offers the following translation of Matthew 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom is pressing forward vigorously, and vigorous men are eagerly taking possession of it." While this passage is largely understood differently, Hendriksen offers a persuasive case for the above interpretation. He writes, "The kingdom, says Jesus, ever since the days of John's first appearance upon the scene has been pressing forward vigorously, forcefully…. Many resist the kingdom but vigorous or forceful men, people who dare to break away from faulty human tradition and return to the Word in all its purity, no matter what the cost to themselves, are eagerly taking possession of the kingdom; that is, in their hearts and lives that the kingship or reign of God and of Christ is being established."
Hendriksen continues, "Jesus is emphasizing that one cannot sleep his way into the kingdom. On the contrary, entrance into the kingdom requires earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion" (See Luke 13:24; 16:16; John 16:33; Acts 14:22). Satan and his demonic forces oppose the kingdom of God and they receive ample aid from many whose hearts are darkened by sin. Therefore Hendriksen rightly states "it takes vigorous men, men who are eager to fight and to conquer, to overcome Satan and thus to take possession of the kingdom, of all the blessings of salvation. The kingdom is not for weaklings, waverers, or compromisers" (New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, [Baker House: Grand Rapids, MI], pp 489-490).
This courage and determination is required of all who follow Christ. To America's servicemen and women, police officers, firemen and all who are first to respond in a crisis, the "sheepdogs." You cannot help but get involved when there is injustice; you yearn to make it right. You are likely aware of your capacity for aggression, maybe even disturbed by it but I agree with William Bennett; it is a gift from the Lord. This gift must only be used only to protect and defend and never to oppress and abuse. It is to be reluctantly but effectively deployed in the service of God and never one's own ego.
You hate the "wolf "in the same way that Scripture tells us to hate sin, meaning you hate the effect of evil upon God's creation and because you are sheepdogs, you are willing to give your lives to stop the wolf. It is how the Lord has made you. You are fierce when necessary but always driven by love and compassion, always ready to do what is right, to give your life if necessary for the sheep just like Jesus. Thank you!