Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Good Soldier

Last month I read the book Gettysburg: Day Three by Jeffry Wert. He writes about the entire third day of the battle of Gettysburg; the day that was climaxed by the famous and foolhardy "Pickett's Charge." At the beginning of the fourth chapter of the book, there is a quote from an observer of the battle (from New York state) that has haunted me ever since I read it:
"The man who made the good soldier was not the swaggering swash-buckler, not the street brawler, but the respectable plain man who at home had always done his duty, faithfully, whatever it might be."
This small quote, written soon after the battle of Gettysburg had ended, is one of the most interesting insights into the battle that I've come across. Why so? Because it goes completely against the grain of all that we are led to believe. It's not the average Joe who wins the girl and saves the day in books and film, but rather the swash-buckling, handsome young man who laughs in the face of danger and throws his life away with reckless abandon. Of course this is not a modern ideal, nor is this a particullary American point-of-view, rather it is common to man, and Americans have simply done the best job of packaging and selling this particular perception.

(One very interesting counter-example of this idea are the American super-heroes, especially Spiderman and Superman. Their creators went out of their way to show how these heroes were the most ordinary of men when not dashing around saving beautiful women from peril: Clark Kent the newspaper reporter, Peter Parker the photo-journalist and student. In a way, the duality of their natures made the characters far more interesting and appealing...)

On a real-life battlefield, the idealized male leading-man is not exactly who wins the battle, despite what we often mistakenly believe. Rather, according to this account from the observer from New York, the soldiers who won the battle of Gettysburg were simply those who stayed at their posts, doing what they were suppose to do: defend their ground against enemy attack. (The anonymous observer's comment was directed toward the Union troops he observed in the Gettysburg battle, who were on the defensive.)

Contemplating this quote for some time, I realize that what is true for real-life battle, is also true for spiritual battle. It's not the TV preachers and big name pastors who will carry the day against the forces of evil (though sometimes these leaders certainly do help) but at the end, it will most likely be the common man, who only aspires to do his God-given duty, that will be the force that made a difference.

In the culture of serious Christianity--whether it be Protestant, Catholic, evangelical or whatever--there has always been a desire to place certain people on pedestals because of their outstanding contributions to the Christian religion. Whether it be St. Patrick, Mother Teresa, Smith Wigglesworth or D.L. Moody, we often idealize those great heroes of the faith who we want to be like. Of course this is, again, common to man, and all faiths and systems have their heroes that they look to as shining stars.

Amazingly, when God came to earth, he did not come as a superstar living a plush life and tended to by one thousand servants. He did not have a fancy chariot which he rode around in, carrying him from venue to venue as he healed people and prophesied in front of large, adoring crowds.

Rather, when God came to earth, he came as a poor man, a child to rather obscure Jewish parents who were not wealthy in the least. When God began his ministry here on earth, it was that of an itinerant preacher who went around a true homeless person, counting on the hospitality of others for his food and housing.

Though he could have been high priest, king, emperor, or any other title he desired, God chose rather to not have any title at all. Though his followers called him "rabbi," it was not meant as a title, as we think of titles, but rather a simple description of what God did while on earth: teach. We give God all sorts of titles now-a-days--and rightfully so--but there is nothing about his demeanor while on earth that demonstrates he was looking for titles.

At no time did he do anything to assert his rightful authority over others, though come Judgement Day, everyone will have to bow to him! As a matter of fact, he did not even go so far as to rid himself of a traitor within his midst: Judas. His lack of control, and his complete lack of authority over men is striking when you think of it. The only thing he took authority over was demons, and then only when directly confronted. No doubt he could have rid the entire earth of demons with a word, but rather chose to limit himself to driving them out of people, and usually only those who stood directly in front of him.

The quote from the Gettysburg observer could just as easily apply to Jesus as it could to the brave Union soldiers who simply stood and did what they were told. Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson for us Christians: not to pursue the superstar world of ministry, but simply be obediant to that which we know we must do.

The quote from Wert's book reminds me of the following passage from Luke's gospel:
“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Luke 17:7-10 NIV

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