I had the privilege this morning of attending a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Army. The Governor of our state was there. I got to sing the Army Song with him and about hundred military and civilian personnel who are proud to work at Fort Leonard Wood.
It is hard to believe the U.S. Army is 242 years old. This is not a typo. Occasionally I forget that the Army was established on the 14th of June, 1775, one year prior to our declaration of independence on the 4th of July, 1776. If my math is correct, in my nearly 30 years of federal service (20.5 as military; almost 9.5 working in a civilian capacity), I have been serving the Army for about 1/8 (or 12.4%) of the U.S. Army’s history. What a blessing it has been to serve!
I have shared in a previous article about how I personally have experienced God’s presence in government work. However, I do not believe I have focused much on my time as a Soldier.
I can recall many times where I experienced God’s presence and saw evidence that I was a co-worker with Him in the occupation to which He had called me. One job stands out.
In my first assignment at Fort Stewart, Georgia, I was selected to be the unit armorer. After a one-week course, I then became responsible for the maintenance of every weapon in our company arms room. I had no idea that I could learn to perform quarterly inspections, set up systems to track the status of repairs, order parts, and fix several types of weapons. God clearly empowered me with the necessary aptitudes and skills to do this job well for one year.
A couple of years later, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Soldiers in this unit deployed to Southwest Asia with these same weapons. This reinforced to me the importance of maintaining them when I had the chance.
Joining the Army in 1986 was a huge answer to prayer. There were days that I wondered what the heck I was doing, but they were few and far between. If I had the power, I would not change a thing. Most days, I sensed God’s presence. There were ministry opportunities everywhere we were assigned. I always knew that I was at the right place at the right time to live out my Christian faith.
I know there are a variety of viewpoints in the Body of Christ as to whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to serve in the military. Last year, I enjoyed watching the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” which tells the true story about a conscientious objector during WWII. As a combat medic, he single-handedly saved an unbelievable number of lives in one horrific battle in the Pacific without even carrying a gun.
In a similar vein, I knew a brother from my church who attended a Promise Keepers Conference with me about 25 years ago. He was a civilian employee at Fort Hood, just like I am now. Through much soul-searching and study with some believers who taught a pacifist approach, he decided to leave his job. I did not agree with his decision, but I respected him as a brother in Christ.
To say that all Christians need to avoid career fields such as law enforcement or the military is dangerous. Ironically, it is only because of the sacrifices of our military throughout our country’s history that has kept this country free which allows us all to practice our religion, express our convictions, and choose our own career path.
I found a quote by Martin Luther in the book Callings by William Placher that sheds some light on the issue of Christians serving in the military:
When I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish. For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace.
Romans 13:4 also provides some supporting fires on this idea, where the Apostle Paul teaches the church to be in submission to authority. You may ask, “Even the secular Roman government authorities? Even the corrupt ones we have now?” Yes. And yes. Why? Paul writes they are “God’s servant, for your good. . . He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Paul says that authorities are God’s servants. Sometimes that means taking appropriately violent means to bring order out of chaos.
Later, Placher reminds us of what John the Baptist had said at the Jordan River: “When soldiers came to him and asked what they should do, he did not condemn their office or advise them to stop doing their work; rather, according to Luke 3 [v. 14], he approved it by saying, ‘Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’ Thus he praised the military profession, but at the same time he forbade its abuse.”
Having served on active duty for 20 years, 6 months, and 17 days, I can honestly say that I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I did not serve in combat, so I never had to do those things Luther mentioned above. However, I would have gladly deployed if I had been assigned to a unit that was ordered to go. I would have willingly laid down my life for my fellow Soldiers. I would have done whatever duty called me to do in defending this great country against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
Serving in the military was, and is, godly work. And God is definitely present in it.
My prayer is that my short post will encourage those who have also served in the military, the Families that supported them, and others who enjoy the freedom we have because of their service.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.