The Christian Soldier


March 1, 1984

Is it possible for the same person to be a solider and a Christian? I think so, but so what? It’s possible for a drunkard, a wife-beater, a corporate president, a journalist, a Pope, a plumber, or even a public relations man to be a Christian, too. A Christian is, among other things, a person awaiting judgment in a mysterious atmosphere of dread, joy and repentance, comforted by the assurance that his Judge loves him, awed by the evidence that his Judge knows him and nevertheless loves him, and terrified (if he’s got the mental capacity of a hamster) that the Judge’s only begotten Son once screamed in horror and in vain for a Father who did not rescue him. A Christian is a person who has received, among other complex inheritances, a confusing (but compelling) account of his true home and a daunting invitation to return there by a route which every sane human being knows leads to disaster. (This particular inheritance underwrites our belief that it is possible for a man and a woman to marry and remain faithful to one another and their children for life, as Father James T. Burtchaell has recently written.)

While I believe that it is possible for a person to be a Christian soldier, I can’t imagine the sort of army which could long endure or tolerate such a madman in its ranks. A Christian soldier, to begin with, would bear an allegiance to his employer which would be vague and subtle almost to the point of being non-existent. Every order which he would be expected to obey would be subject to a much higher court (which once ruled that here we have no abiding city); his baptism would obligate him to search for Christ not only in his commanding officer but in his subordinates and his enemies as well; in the occupation of hostile territory he would be all but useless, as he would need to see his taking and keeping of prisoners of war in the light of the last fifteen verses of Matthew 25; and all of this before he’d even begun to wrestle with the extraordinary restrictions of the just war theory. Could such a man make it past a recruiting office? I hope millions have and will, but recent history suggests that conventional soldiers are the only ones enlisting these days.

Christian soldiers, and perhaps Christians generally, are not necessarily good at accomplishing things. If you want your borders secure, your economy strong and your flag feared in far off lands, you should not call upon men who believe that human life and flesh are to be revered as God’s home, who are forbidden to trust in their own righteousness (let alone that of a nation) and who are accustomed to fall on their knees before the image of a naked, broken wimp of a man nailed in failure to a tree. These men are crazy: they believe that this bizarre image of utter defeat points to a truth that has already conquered the world. They believe that far more damage befalls the killer than the killed. When they remember their Lord’s mercy towards themselves, they are severely tempted to be merciful to others, even if no very good reason for being merciful presents itself. They are the sorts of soldiers who seek out opportunities to forgive, and whose gallantry is expressed solely in laying down their own life, not in taking others’ lives. They are less interested in changing the world than in being faithful to One who has already changed the world in a way which the world has not yet recognized. They are, from the world’s point of view, disorderly, untrustworthy, inept, effeminate and dazzled by transcendence. The Harpo Marx legion.

And they will be victorious, because they have learned to live as men who are forgiven, as men who know that they are not masters of their destiny, but who know that their destiny is in the hands of a God who would die for them.


  • Michael Garvey

    When he wrote this article in 1983, Michael Garvey was a member of the Public Information office at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

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