This week I'm going to preach about being “dressed for success” using a passage from Ephesians 6. Using a word that occurs only one other time in the New Testament, the author exhorts us readers to put on the “full armor” of God. But what kind of armor is this?
Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit? These are the articles of clothing with which we are to gird ourselves in preparation for battle with “the cosmic powers of this present darkness.” Um… don’t you have anything more … substantial? Like a thermo-nuclear device, maybe? Shoot, I’d settle for a shirt of chain mail!
The answer, of course, is no. This isn’t real “armor” we’re getting ourselves dressed in; armor is being used here symbolically. This passage is a metaphor for preparing ourselves to live the life God wants us to live, which may prove to be difficult from time to time. The author has taken overtly militaristic imagery and transformed it into what would seem like nonsense to a soldier. Surely a soldier with any sense would rather go into battle with a shield made out of metal or even wood, rather than one out of faith.
But I think that is precisely the point. God gives us what we need to prepare us to live a good life, and much of the time it’s not really what we might expect. Nevertheless, God assures us that what has been given is indeed sufficient, despite our frantic scrabbling for something we think might be more appropriate.
The above thoughts are a part of my newsletter article this week. I always write an article intended to prime the pump for the upcoming worship services, get people thinking, kind of preview coming attractions. Of course, it also reflects what I am thinking about during the week as well.
I have been thinking a bit about militaristic images in scripture, kind of as a tangent to the central theme of the week. War is something I have changed my mind about many times throughout my life. And using militaristic images to talk about faith has been something I have usually avoided, or at least not emphasized, because of this waffling.
Listening to people talk about their experiences Guatemala, ravaged by war over the past several decades, really impacted my ideas about war. Serving as a pastor in Warrensburg, with several Air Force personnel and their families in the congregation helped to shape my thoughts as well. And good friendships with a few people who have served in the Middle East and their families have also informed my opinions.
One thing that is certain: war in 2009 is so different from war in the ancient near east as to be almost unrecognizable. A soldier described in the Bible and a soldier serving today in Afghanistan have many things in common, to be sure, but also huge differences. For one thing, the level of destruction that is possible today would have been unthinkable then. Also the amount of automation along the front lines is obviously an enormous difference. And changes in communication and transportation have flattened the world so that every local conflict is instantly global.
Because of these differences, I am hesitant to incorporate militaristic imagery when talking about faith. It's just not the same world now as it was then. And out of my deep respect for people who serve in the military, and my sincere desire to support them and their families, I choose not to use military metaphors to make a theological point. I even sort of regret my off-handed attempt at humor in my newsletter article above, mentioning a thermo-nuclear device to illustrate my point. That was pretty insensitive of me, and I am sorry.
Like I said, this is a topic that I have changed my mind about before, and I'm sure I will again. I'd be interested to know what y'all think. If you feel so inclined, leave a comment and let's discuss it. Does the militaristic imagery in scripture still convey the meaning it was intended to convey?