When will the war end?
We are fighting a war in Iraq that began on March 20, 2003.
One month before that, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said “It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last 6 days, 6 weeks. I doubt six months.”
(USA Today, April 1, 2003, “Prewar Comments Haunt”)
Iraq has now continued for four years, eight months and counting.
Four days before the invasion, Vice President Cheney told NBC’s Meet the Press, “We will be greeted as liberators….it will go relatively quickly… in weeks rather than months.” (By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Saturday, March 29, 2003; Page A01)
Weeks? It has been over 200 weeks so far.
When will this war end?
It is a question that our military personnel are asking,
that parents are asking,
that our politicians are asking.
As we approach the upcoming presidential election, it is one of the key questions all Americans are asking.
When will this war end?
It is not the first time we have struggled with this question.
Many of my uncles fought in the Second World War and one of them fought at the Battle of the Bulge under General Patton. I was always proud of my uncles for their service and often begged them to tell me stories of what they did in the war. The Battle of the Bulge came just nine months before the end of the war in Europe, but if you ask my uncle what he remembers about being in that battle, to this day he will always start his answer by saying, “Throughout the entire battle, I kept wondering if this war was ever going to end.”
On June 12, 1918, the New York Times ran an article which started by quoting a letter from a German national: “Our losses in the last offensive are simply terrific. Every one must go into the front lines now, and protection is of no avail. Our sacrifices are dreadful. When will this war end?” (“Germany Is Greatly Worried Over Big Losses; Slaughter In Present Drive Admitted to be Terrific.” New York Times, June 13, 1918, page 1.)
That war would go on for just a few more months, finally ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the same year as that New York Times article – but that war, which was called the “War to end all wars” certainly was not the end of war.
Going back even further in history, in 1861, Tally Simpson wrote a letter to his sister Anna, “My dear sister, This is Christmas Day. The sun shines feeble through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of lofty pines that stand near our bivouac. I remember how one year ago, thousands of families gathered in joy and peace to celebrate Christmas. When will this war end? Will another Christmas roll around and find us all wintering in camp? Oh! That peace may soon be restored.” (http://dburgin.tripod.com/cw_xmas/cwarxmas2.html)
Little did he know that his war had only just begun, and would not end for nearly 4 more years.
In fact, go even further into history – to the biblical days.
Our Old Testament lesson was written by the prophet Isaiah.
It was some 400 years before the birth of Christ, and it was a time of war and violence. The kingdom was divided – Judah in the South and Israel in the North. There was civil war between the two. Judah was in revolt against super-power Assyria under King Hezekiah.
You can imagine the people of Isaiah’s time asking the same thing the people of our time ask, “when will this war end?”
Isaiah answered by recalling the words of another prophet, Joel, who some 2 or 3 hundred years earlier had called the people to prepare for war by telling them to beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears.
What Isaiah does is to lift that phrase out of the writings of Joel and he turns them around.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
What an idealist dream!
Imagine taking the weapons of today and recycling them as Isaiah proposed, turning guns and bullets and missiles and jets and tanks – into farming equipment, medical tools, building materials for schools.
Can there ever be a day when “nation will not take up sword against nation,” or “train for war anymore?”
When will wars end?
In our New Testament lesson, the people were asking Jesus about when the end of the age would be. That’s more than just the end of war. That’s the end of poverty, disease, injustice, racism, violence, hatred – as well as war.
And at first glance, the news is not good. Jesus looks at the disciples and gives us the straight news. “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of living through these birth pains. I want the end of the age to come, and with it, I want Jesus to establish his kingdom on this earth.
In the early years of the church, the disciples expected Jesus to return at any moment. They thought it would be “6 days, 6 weeks, probably not 6 months.”
But the months turned into years. And the years turned into centuries.
And we are still waiting.
Waiting for an end to racism. Waiting for an end to injustice. Waiting for an end to poverty and disease and hunger.
Waiting for war to end.
We’ve waited so long, that it seems almost useless to continue to wait.
Why work for peace, when wars will not end?
Why fight this war, when ten years later, another enemy will appear?
Why go to Haiti to fight disease and poverty there, when things won’t get any better? If things improve in Haiti, then those same problems will just appear somewhere else.
Several years ago I was teaching a 3rd grade Sunday School class. We were studying our New Testament lesson for this morning, from Matthew’s Gospel. The memory verse was from the lesson we read just a little while ago. “So watch, for you don’t know when the Son of Man will come.”
Geeze, I couldn’t believe it, but one of the kids memorized it incorrectly. Instead of saying “So watch,” the child thought it was “So WHAT.”
And that is the way many of us live our lives.
“So what, we don’t know when the Son of Man will come.”
“So what. We don’t know when Christ will establish his kingdom.
“So what. We don’t know when poverty, injustice, hate – and war – will end.”
You reach a point at which you feel like giving up.
“So what?” There will always be hate. There will always be crime. There will always be racism. There will always be war.
But against this, the Word of God calls us to work for peace.
Psalm 122 says, “Pray for peace.”
II Timothy, chapter 2, calls on us to pray for our nations leaders, “that we may live in peace.”
In fact, we are to do more than pray for peace, we are called to be actively seeking peace. The psalmist said that we should “seek peace and pursue it.”
Jesus promised a special blessing to those who worked as peacemakers, promising that those people would be called children of God.
But it is so easy to just say, “So what?”
It is so easy to think that things will never improve, and that things will never get better.
But to say that is to have no hope.
More than that, it is to have no faith, and to call Christ a liar. For He himself promised that he would establish peace and that he would establish his kingdom.
Today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the Christian calendar.
Advent is a time to anticipate the day when we can celebrate the first coming of Christ and to celebrate his birth on Christmas.
But Advent is also a time to anticipate the return of Christ.
The day will come like a thief in the night, as unexpected as we could possibly imagine. But it will come.
And then all wars will end. And so will injustice, and crime, and hate.
Vice President Cheney was interviewed on Larry King Live. He told America that the fighting in Iraq was “in the last throes.” That was in May, 2005. Here it is 2 ½ years later, and the end is nowhere in sight.
And when it does end, America’s military will have to rebuild and retrain for the next war, and the next, and the one after that.
Because even after this war, there will always be a threat to this nation. There will always be another possibility of another 9-11 or another Pearl Harbor. There will ways be more enemies and more wars.
But thanks be to God, that through His Son Jesus Christ, there is the promise that God will do what politicians and soldiers and diplomats and advocates are unable to do. Thanks be to God, that through His Son Jesus Christ, there will come a time when “nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore.”
Copyright 2007, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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