When the millennium turned, I too was under the illusion that wars, at least the big ones that kill millions of people, were finally over. ‘We’ve finally grown up to the point where our governments understand that wars do not solve conflicts of interest,’ I thought to myself. Then came the attack on the United States by a non-country, what is called 9-11. Something I never would have expected—no one did, or did they?—and then I had two experiences which were totally new to me: An eerily silent sky completely void of aircraft for a few days that September (all civilian air traffic was shut down), and then for a few weeks, an almost hysterical, universal display of patriotism and solidarity where I live, in public and in private. Both experiences made me feel as though I were living in a movie.
My house sits on the edge of a plateau overlooking the Columbia River. There is a ravine directly below through which the on-ramps connecting two interstate highways flow traffic, creating a constant, low sound resembling ocean waves. There are a few more streets of houses beyond the ravine which are out of sight. All I see when I look northward is the river a few kilometers distant, the mountains, including the volcanic cone of St Helen's, and the open sky. The international airport is right on the waterfront, and I like to watch the planes taking off and landing. They usually follow the course of the river when they approach, almost never flying directly over my house. Even during the sometimes dreary winter months, the breadth of the sky can be breathtaking, but now, in summer, it’s truly awesome.
When I bought this house last year, I made my offer, and it was accepted, on Easter Sunday. Yes, I had attended the Vigil of Pascha and the midnight Divine Liturgy, but skipped the morning service, the Agapé Vespers, to meet with my real estate agent and do the paper work. Somehow it all worked out in that single day, though it took more than a week to do the other formalities, inspections, and so on. I was going to call my place ‘Anastasis House’ after the Resurrection, but after living there a short time I decided that ‘Sky House’ was a more fitting name. That’s what it feels like to live here. It is a life of peace and quiet, brightness (there are many windows), breeziness (the wind blows unabated most of the time), and welcome. Living here, I can almost forget that the world is at war. My inner battles are few.
But the world is at war, that’s a fact. As a Christian I also know, not just ‘believe,’ that this is how it is. Not just the Christian scriptures, but nearly all, either declare explicitly or describe implicitly that the state of human life on earth is a warfare, and one that cannot be completely avoided. The Bible gives us countless examples of warfare, even making God out to be the instigator, commanding the ancient Israelites to conquer and displace the original inhabitants of the Promised Land, putting them under the ban—that means ‘kill them all, take no prisoners’ (1 Samuel 15:3). The Hindu scriptures are no better in making God out to be the encourager of warfare, ‘There is a war that opens the gates of heaven’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:32). No need to mention the Quran’s stance on warfare; it’s in the daily news.
Could this be the reason that people who call themselves ‘rational’ deny God, because whatever else He is, God’s a troublemaker? Well, good for them, but denying His existence only places the blame back on miserable humanity. The scriptures, though, of most (if not all) religions do try to counteract mankind’s predisposition to warfare by exposing its source and offering remedial therapy. ‘Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill’ (James 4:1-2). And the remedy? ‘Give in to God, then; resist the devil and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer He will come to you’ (James 4:7-8). Good advice, yet people still boldly argue, ‘What devil?’
The best advice, though, comes through the blessing of Christ, of not just believing in Him but following Him and doing what He says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’ (Matthew 5:9). Can anyone hope to be called son of God who doesn’t do what Christ commands? And can being ‘saved’ mean anything other than being called son of God? Yet we see warfare all around us, much of it being waged by Christian against Christian—Russia versus Ukraine, a current example, politically; and ‘Orthodoxy or Death’ partisans, a current example, spiritually. Reconciliation seems, I’m afraid, the only remedy that God offers us to end our warfare, but like jihadists, regardless of our creeds, we insist that others surrender to us if they want peace. Atheists and theists agree on this one thing.
The world is at war, not just on the other side of the planet, or on distant horizons, but in our nation, our state, our city, even our neighborhood. I am fortunate to live in a place remote from actual battlefields, in a land that has almost never been invaded, where ‘law and order’ and ‘peace and safety’ are taken for granted. But we are at war here too, just a different kind. Its fatalities are not heaped up piles of rotting human flesh, but spiritually homeless hordes of decayed souls whose pierced and tattooed disguises hide their real disfigurements. All are victims that victimize each other in an endless recycling of bad blood far worse and more horrific than the military skirmishes that defile those distant battlefields. For death ends the suffering in literal war, in this it merely taunts to drag down captives it cannot kill.
‘To retreat is to admit defeat,’ rants with cat-calls the accuser of the brethren, to egg us on to more and greater warfare, drumming up images of our vaunted former glory, which was never glory at all, only magnified by looking back. Prophetic words of past dystopias characterize this dreadful age: War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Ignorance is Strength. It doesn’t matter whether the perennial marshals are lords temporal or spiritual, they seem to know what they were made for, to divide and conquer, to make war the universal medium of human society, to prove wrong the one fact they hate that will not go away. God did become man. He did live as one of us. He did die as we do. He did wage war, a war greater than any other. He put no one under ban, but made captives of all. He won that war, though we still battle.
Don’t we ever get tired of war?