Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I was a huge fan of the t.v. show M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital). For that matter, I’ve continued to watch the reruns ever since. I know all the characters, all the episodes, all the funny scenes, all the endings, and way, way too many of the actual quotes. No, I’m not advocating the show’s promotion of drinking and casual sex. Neither am I praising Corporal Klinger for dressing in women’s clothes in his attempts to get a Section 8 discharge for being mentally unfit. I’m just telling you that I loved M*A*S*H when I was a kid and I’ve never gotten over the fondness.
M*A*S*H ran for eleven seasons and filmed 255 episodes. One of the last episodes (episode #252) was entitled “Say No More.” It featured veteran character actor John Anderson as a gruff, no-nonsense general named Collins. General Collins gets involved with the 4077th M*A*S*H unit when his son, who is a young officer in the army, is brought to the 4077th for surgery after being injured in battle. To be close to his son, the general moves his command trailer to the 4077th and runs his part of the war from that site. He is a busy man, seemingly always on the telephone relaying troop movements and strategy to his underlings, but he makes time each day for his son’s doctor, Hawkeye Pierce, to keep him posted on his son’s condition.
As for Hawkeye, he doesn’t particularly like the general because he thinks the man is too preoccupied winning the war to care much about his own son. Nevertheless, each day he knocks on the general’s trailer door and gives an update. Even though the surgery goes well and Hawkeye expects the young man to make a full recovery, the general decides to stay at the 4077th until the son is back to full strength. In true television drama, though, the son suffers an embolism while in post-op recovery and dies a sudden and unexpected death that couldn’t be prevented.
It’s then that Hawkeye has to make his way to General Collins’ trailer and relay the tragic news. Collins is devastated, stops taking phone calls for the first time in the whole episode, and orders everybody out except Hawkeye. Then he asks Hawkeye to share a drink with him in honor of his son. Over the course of the drink, Collins tells Hawkeye how his son had always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the army. Collins had been against the decision, but the son had voluntarily enlisted on his own. Collins also fondly tells how the son climbed the biggest tree in their yard when he was young and afterward asked if they could move to a house with a bigger tree.
Hawkeye is touched by it all and begins to understand that Collins really did love his son. But as Hawkeye closes the trailer door in leaving, he hears Collins return to the phone and get right back to his job running the war. Hawkeye gives a slight grin as if he is genuinely perplexed by Collins. Was that minute’s worth of mourning all the time that Collins had to grieve for his son? Why couldn’t Collins talk to his son the way he had talked to Hawkeye about him? How could Collins continue to send young men into battle knowing that many of them would lose their lives the way his son had? It all makes for a great television scene.
I’ve thought about that scene many times as I’ve tried to make sense of why God chooses to send His beloved children into spiritual battle, battles that sometimes result in martyrs’ deaths. I am a parent myself and I can assure you that one of my priorities concerning my two boys is their safety. I don’t want to see them get hurt. I don’t want to see them bloodied and battered. I don’t want to see them fallen on some battlefield. I want to keep them OUT of harm’s way instead of sending them INTO it.
But God handles His children differently. He sends John the Baptist to confront Herod Antipas over Herod’s sin knowing that the confrontation will lead to John getting arrested and ultimately beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). He allows Stephen to be brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin council so that Stephen can deliver a powerful sermon that will result in him being stoned to death (Acts 7:1-60). He raises up James to be a leader in the early church knowing that Herod Agrippa will have him put to death by way of the sword (Acts 12:1-2). You get the idea. How can God love His children and yet still send them off to spiritual battlefields where they can get hurt or even killed?
The answer is that God isn’t just a heavenly Father, He is also a heavenly Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the Bible explicitly calls the Christian a “soldier.” The passage is 2 Timothy 2:3-4, where the apostle Paul says to the young preacher Timothy:
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
Please note those closing words: “…that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” Obviously, that is a reference to God. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 9:7 Paul defends himself for receiving financial support from churches by saying, “Who ever goes to war at his own expense?” You see, Paul understood what many Christians don’t. He understood that God sees the Christian as a soldier fighting a great war in His army. Paul returns to this theme again in 2 Corinthians 10:4 when he writes:
For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds. (The Amplified Bible)
Along these same lines, in Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul exhorts the Christian to put on the whole armor of God. That armor consists of: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the peace that comes from the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Holy Spirit. But why does the Christian need armor anyway? He needs it because he is fighting in a war, a spiritual war against Satan and the other fallen angels (Ephesians 6:11-12).
And so, you see, it is because God must play the role of heavenly Commander in Chief, in addition to the role of heavenly Father, that He oftentimes has to place His beloved children in harm’s way by sending them out to wage war against Satan and his forces. The objective of this warfare is the overthrow and destruction (the “pulling down”, K.J.V. and N.K.J.V.) of Satan’s strongholds, and you’d better know that those strongholds don’t come down without some intense fighting as Satan’s forces get downright nasty to ensure the stability of their strongholds. This fighting always results in God’s children (soldiers) getting battered and bruised in some way either figuratively or literally, and sometimes it even results in their literal deaths. That’s what happened to John the Baptist, Stephen, and James.
The good news is that the Satanic strongholds that claimed the lives of these great servants of the Lord were indeed eventually pulled down, overthrown, and destroyed. The wicked Herod family that killed John the Baptist (Herod Antipas) and James (Herod Agrippa I) eventually lost their power and influence, and God even struck Herod Agrippa dead shortly after James’ death (Acts 12:20-23). As for the Jewish Sanhedrin that claimed the life of Stephen, that council came to nothing when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple in the year 70 A.D.
In closing, let me say that God the Father being willing to send Christians out to wage potentially dangerous spiritual warfare should make perfect sense to us. Why? It’s because He once sent His beloved Son Jesus down into the battle to do just that. In two separate stories, God the Father refers to Jesus as “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5). And yet God the Father knew that the work (John 4:34, 6:38, 9:4) He was sending His Son to do would get the Son ridiculed, mocked, hated, rejected, arrested, scourged, and crucified. It was all part of the heavenly Commander in Chief’s plan.
So, Christian, the next time God burdens you to strike a blow for Him in the great ongoing spiritual war, don’t be surprised if He allows the enemy to hit you with some serious blow-back in return. That won’t mean that your heavenly Father doesn’t love you as one of His children. All it will mean is that your heavenly Commander in Chief thought enough of you as a soldier to trust you with a difficult mission.