War and Meaning

Why Do We Go To War?

“War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far
below the surface within all of us”
Chris Hedges

I have been in and near a few war-torn countries including Syria, and while the reasons for conflict might be different, the horror and devastation experienced by refugees and those displaced by war are the same. Listening to families who have lost everything and now find themselves in another city, or worse, another country, can be emotionally and spiritually taxing. One woman was in tears as she related her story when the relentless bombing started in her city. Being near a mall parking structure that hundreds if not thousands of people took refuge in was struck by a bomb killing everyone that took refuge inside. She told of running to the church for support, and along with many others, she lived in the church for weeks, often without food or water. Just getting food was a hazard, because the bombs ‘never stopped.’ Many like her have re-told the same story with some different details, but the millions of refugees now fleeing wars and ‘conflicts’ is growing, and the stories are painful. Just imagine the following facts from an April 2022 article relating to current world conflicts. There are at least 27 Conflicts in the world right now. We tend to forget about the horror of what’s going on in places such as Yemen. One Ukrainian asked me, “Is American news still talking about this war?  Have they forgotten about us?” We tend to put aside the problems of the world. Part of our human defense mechanism is to ignore the noise because it causes too much stress. We are pretty good at that; out of sight, out of mind. Another alarming statistic is that 2 Billion people currently live in areas of conflict. Children in Yemen have become so hungry, that some are eating their own hands. There have been 13 Million Syrian refugees displaced since the war began in 2011. The refugee situation is dire, and the UN is running out of money to support the millions that have lost everything. Many live in such horrific conditions, because of the overpopulation of UN camps.

The question is why? Why all the conflict? We humans have been about war, conflict, and genocide since we decided to become our own gods in the garden of Eden. Plato was right when he wrote that “only the dead see the end of war.” So why all the conflict? Embedded journalist Chris Hedges who has been upfront and close to many of the conflicts since Vietnam wrote a book entitled, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. In it, he wrote something interesting; War “can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent…war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause.”

The biblical author James gives us another look at conflict that doesn’t contradict what Christ Hedges wrote but gives it real flesh. In James 4:1-3 we see that we are all guilty of the cause…“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Ouch! When we became our own gods, we took on the burden of God, which we were never meant to do, but we arrogantly accept the role anyway. If we are truly as William Henley wrote, “The master of my fate, the captain of my soul” then we need to accept the responsibility, but in order to deal with the reality of human nature, we can’t do that, so just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we find others to blame and create meaning around our insignificance.

Sure, there should be some righteous indignation when you hear about children suffering in Yemen, and when unprovoked invasions of other countries occur, and there are times to stand against evil in forceful ways, but as Chris Hedges reminds us, we ought to do it prudently and with humility; he says, “There are times when the force wielded by one immoral faction must be countered by a faction that, while never moral, is perhaps less immoral.”  Even in the current climate of our own stresses here in America, we choose sides, and blame the other. We can hardly see the plank in our own eyes, when we vilify the ‘other.‘ I pray that even in the midst of our current culture wars here in the US, we will act with a modicum of humility, realizing that we are all to take part of the blame, and conflict is part of the human condition brought on by humanity’s rebellion against its creator.

In the midst of our domestic and foreign conflicts, and the ostensible rise in world conflict, let’s realize two things, one, this isn’t new, our situation is not unique, and secondly, let’s pray with David in Psalm 20:7 when he says, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses (Which BTW, means trusting in our military and our government), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright!”

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