EDITOR’S JOURNAL: Putting purpose in its place
The repatriation of today’s warriors into the normal routine of life is proving to be more difficult than originally thought by military leaders. Longer periods of adjustment are required when they arrive back home.
In some ways, this is to be expected. The shock and violence of war always exacts a tremendous price on those who are actively involved in combat. That said, the difficulties encountered by the young soldiers, sailors and Marines of today are mounting to the point that many who return from the war on terror are shocked not at what they no longer see and experience daily on the battlefield, but at what they do see when they re-enter life at home.
Increasing numbers of servicemen are uncomfortable with the fact that what they might be protecting amounts to little more than the preservation of creature comforts and movies which depict sex and violence as comedy all in the name of personal freedom.
The emptiness they encounter at home is a sense of purpose ever present in battle. Many feel that what they are doing while fighting matters greatly not only for their own survival, but also for the survival of those around them. One wrong move, and it could be their last.
Whether they are a platoon leader or a combat Marine standing watch, they are a part of something which is extremely important. They must execute to the best of their ability, because an error could well mean the end. The purpose of their lives every day, all day, is defined for them, and they had better understand it well—or else.
There is perhaps no greater theme espoused by the evangelical church in recent years than “purpose.”
Popular preachers have written best sellers about purpose, and the modern mantra of almost anyone concerned about reaching the masses is to preach on “purpose.” The injunctions rehearsed over and over again by preacher after preacher of “living life on purpose” have produced a strange phenomenon. In many quadrants, the effect of “purpose” preaching has been to fortify the self-image of people who fail to perform to the appropriate biblical standards. They feel perfectly content in the substandard execution of their duties at home, church, work or school, because they have learned from the best and the brightest of evangelical preachers that no matter how little they do or how far short they may fall, their lives are not about actually accomplishing anything so long as they see that they are people with a purpose. What that purpose is, however, often is unclear.
To be sure, the purposes of God are accomplished as a result of the mighty and absolute power of a sovereign God. Nothing escapes His gaze, and all things are working together after the counsel of His will.
This knowledge produces in the heart of every Christian a calm assurance that the world is not out of control, and every event in the life of the world is perfectly timed on God’s schedule. A Christian’s place and purpose in the execution of the good works which God has prepared for them from before the foundation of the world are being accomplished in accordance with the overruling hand of God who does not allow evil to go one inch beyond the marked territory of his sovereign purpose.
Such knowledge does not relieve the Christian of their duty to work heartily as unto the Lord in every area of life. “Purpose” preaching, as often defined by the therapeutic tenor of the modern pulpit, often accomplishes the exact opposite of what is intended. If not presented under the aegis of the biblical doctrine of sanctification, life becomes little more than a self-esteem exercise whereby Christians constantly tell themselves over and over again they are people of purpose. They seldom produce, however, any fruit in keeping with their supposed conversion to the Christ who boldly stated that the work of God consumed His every waking moment.
Jesus never structured the purposes of God around themes of self-importance or self-esteem. Rather, he spoke of taking up a cross, laying one’s life down for others, and following in the footsteps of one described as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Daily life for Jesus could seldom be described in terms of a purpose that brought no personal problems or freed him from daily spiritual battle. Purpose for Jesus meant facing opposition at every turn, enduring persecution from those closest to him, and finally submitting to the full fury of His Father’s wrath as he hung publicly before a rude and crude world.
Would such a “purpose” find a place in the bookstores of America?
This is precisely where the soldier does not understand modern preachers. Those who have seen life in all of its raw evil fail to make the connection with the “purpose” preaching of modern evangelicals. For them, the irony is absurd. In battle, they are told that their purpose is to defend freedom; to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves; to preserve a culture where the weakest among them are valued; where right and wrong are clearly known. Their homeland, without their sacrifice, will all too quickly become a memory in the civilization of the world. This is the unspoken rationale behind the order to take the hill, clear the building and take out the enemy.
When interviewed, warriors wonder why the sermons they hear each week seem so weak compared to the orders they followed on the battlefield.
Perhaps what is needed is for the preacher to learn from the soldier—literally. A trip to the ends of the Earth where a vagrant Islamic theology is at work to ruthlessly murder innocent human beings may be just what is needed to bring the American church out of her lethargy.
The daily purpose of war finds no place for an easy life or passive obedience.
When purpose is defined in these stark terms, perhaps the warrior motif will again resurface accurately before a church that is far more interested in personal fulfillment than public sacrifice for Christ.
The purposes of God stand firm, and the Christian must obey and fight the good fight at every turn whether they like the orders they receive or not. They must obey at all times, and as they do, God’s purposes will progress to the time when the Earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Douglas E. Baker is executive editor of the Baptist Messenger.