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Thinking about war

Have you seen the poppies at the Tower of London?  Gradually, the moat is being filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies - one for each British fatality during the First World War.  The sea of red really brings home the sheer number of men killed.  At sunset each day, a roll of honour is called, reminding us that each poppy represents an individual.  I found myself wondering, as I listened, about their families, their hopes and the kinds of men they were - and could have been, had they lived.

This Remembrance Sunday, we do well to listen to some words of Jesus about war, in Mark 13:7-8.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. 

Jesus was speaking to His disciples the week before His death, and telling them what the world will be like, in the period between His first coming to earth and His eventual return.  He tells them, firstly, that wars are to be expected: Nation will rise against nation. Tragically, history seems to show that war is pretty much the default activity of humanity: because of our sinful, rebellious hearts we naturally gravitate towards fighting each other (which is why every nation needs armed forces to be secure).  “The war to end all wars”  was, of course, followed by the bloodiest century in human history.  Peace is to be prayed for, and worked for; but, given the state of the human heart, we should expect wars.

But Jesus also tells His disciples that wars should not ultimately alarm us Do not be alarmed, He says, such things must happen, but the end is still to come (verse 7).  At one level, there is nothing more alarming than the prospect of a war.  But Jesus is speaking about a deeper alarm, a sense that God has somehow lost control, that He has given up on the world, or that wars will have the last word.  On the contrary, God is still in control, and there will be a great day when Almighty God does judge the world and sort out the mess.  Looking around us at the world, there are clear and present threats to our security and stability, but we must not let that panic us into thinking God has lost control.  He will have the final word.

In fact, present wars and that great day of judgment are connected in God’s plan, for wars are the birth-pains of the end (verse 8).  Just as pain heralds the onset of labour before a birth, wars point ahead to the reality of that day.  They indicate to us plainly that ours is a world under judgment; they are allowed by God as warning signs, showing us the fruits of our sinful nature and, ultimately, that all is not well between us and our God.  They point us towards our urgent need for the Saviour.  To take C S Lewis’ famous expression (written in the context of all human suffering), “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

This Remembrance Sunday, ponder Jesus’ words.

Alasdair Paine

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