The first world war was said to be the war that ends all wars. How sad that such a bold statement was not true. The first world war was the first time in human history such large numbers were placed on the battlefield. It was also the first time that the technology of the industrial age was applied to warfare. The horrendous result saw over 40 million casualties, both military and civilian. 20 million died and 21 million were wounded. The allies lost 5.7 million soldiers, while Germany and her allies lost 4 million. In Australia, with a population around 5 million, 416,809 men enlisted (just under 10% of the population), with 62,000 killed, and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. When you think of these figures, they convey a horror of a war that in the end seemed pointless. Run by bungling, incompetent, ill-equipped, and ignorant politicians and military leaders, who showed little comprehension of the technology they were using or the means by which it was used, millions died. Today, such politicians and military leaders would be placed on trial for war crimes, back then they were honoured as heroes and allowed to create a powder keg in Europe which gave rise to Hitler and the second world war.
War is horrific. It is something no one should yearn to be part of. At the time of WW1, it was a great adventure. Young Australian men rallied on mass and went off with a spirit of patriotism and anticipation of seeing the world. They came home scarred for life with the ongoing horror of the trenches. A horror that haunted their nights until the day they finally found rest with their comrades left behind on the battlefields of Europe. In Australia we should hold our heads high with pride over the way we treat our veterans. We don’t need to single them out in some patronising show of support, for we look after them until they die, both them and their families. No other country in the world cares for its veterans like Australia. I don’t think it is out of a sense of guilt or shame that we sent them off to war. I think it is out of a deep sense of unity and mateship that says thank you for doing that which we should never have had to ask of you, but you did it anyway. There is a deep gratitude that permeates Australian society, which stands in the heart of every town where the names of those who died stand as a permanent reminder of our national sacrifice.
We yearn for the end of war. Jesus himself reminds us that all the way to the end times there will be wars and rumour of wars. God created Israel as a hope for the world beyond the struggle and turmoil of war. He sent Jesus so that, despite the inhumanity of mankind to itself, he would endure the cross and bring a message of hope and peace that transcends our brutality and inhumanity. He calls his people to come to Him, and take rest in Him, so that we may learn of God’s ways and walk God’s path. That we may be a people who speak of peace and not war, of love and not brutality, of humanity and not inhumanity. He calls us to allow him to be the one who judges between nations, who takes their weapons of war and turns them into instruments of peace and prosperity. A God who transforms our violence, aggression, and warfare into peace and prosperity. This is a task only God can do. It is a task we as collective humanity only seem to mess up and destroy. Our sinful propensity to self-destruction always seems to overwhelm our desire for peace and prosperity. Jesus knows this, endured this, and overcome it. Only he who overcomes can transform that which we cannot.
It has become popular opinion that religion is the cause of all wars. That Christianity has caused more war and devastation than any other religious system in human history. Such naïve platitudes of hate seem to miss the reality that creates war, and in that moment, they too reveal their own participation in that deception. Sin is what causes war. The first mark of sin is to lay blame at the feet of another. That’s what we saw in the garden with Adam and Eve. It is human sinfulness, the desire for power, the desire for wealth, the desire for recognition, the desire to satisfy our inept belief that we can be like God, that creates conflict on such a global scale. In the midst of this religious fervour truth becomes misconstrued, corrupted, and blended in with the destructive forces of humanity’s inhumanity upon itself. But we who know the truth, that it is only Jesus who overcomes our destructive ways. We need to remain firmly planted in the presence of God and call the nations to learn of His peace, a peace which passes all understanding.
As we remember the centenary of Armistice, the hour the guns went silent on the battlefields of Europe, may we pause for a moment and remember those who paid the price of our sinful desire to inflict such butchery and inhumanity upon ourselves. May we as God’s people always pray for peace, calling people to the one who endured our inhumanity and conquered it with his resurrection. May we remind our politicians that war is never an option, that our young people should never be sent to inflict harm upon another, that we need to be a nation that demands peace not war. Let us learn from history so we may never repeat it, never glory it, but always remember the sacrifice it has asked. Let us be intentional to point people to the God whose presence teaches peace, and whose Son makes such peace possible.