By Ken Sehested
Pictured below is my Dad’s “Heart Shield” Bible, a copy of the New Testament on to which a metal plate front cover has been attached. The engraved cover, now smudged by corrosion, reads “May this keep you safe from harm.” It was sold by the Know Your Bible Sales Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, manufactured by the Whitman Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin, and was designed to fit into a soldier’s uniform shirt pocket. Multiple stories exist of soldiers reportedly spared serious injury when bullets struck this tiny piece of body armor.
An inscription inside the cover indicates that Dad’s sister, my Aunt Juanita, gave him this gift. No date is listed, but it was sometime before Dad landed with the first wave of soldiers storming Omaha Beach in the June 1944 Allies’ D-Day invasion on the French coast in World War II. Dad was among the fortunate survivors, though he carried for the remainder of his life a piece of German artillery shrapnel embedded in bone behind his right ear.
I pause on this D-Day anniversary to ponder a number of questions (listed below). These in no way disparage the courage of my father, among countless others—fathers, mothers, children and siblings—before, during and since that particular day in 1944. Jesus truly and rightly said that greater love hath none than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In fact, as a pastor, I am envious of the military’s success in coaxing from its ranks the willingness to go into harm’s way for the sake of something greater than personal fortune.
My questions are not with soldiers’ moral capacity or disciplined devotion. Rather, they are about the object and point of reference of such capacity and devotion. My argument—where it arises and modest as it is—is about whose promises are more reliable and whose provisions are more decisive. These are questions about to whom the future belongs and about the footsteps toward that future.
I assume neither merit nor reproach for myself or any other in responding to these questions, for there is wideness in God’s mercy that no mortal mind can tell. Even so, I believe the questions demand our attention and discernment.
- Does the Way of Jesus preserve a vision sufficiently large and convincingly reliable to forego alliance with, and dependence upon, the redemptive promise of bloodletting resolve?
- Does the Word require our protective wrath to ensure the holiness of God?
- Was, after all, the blood of Jesus too anemic to insure salvation’s fulfillment?
- Is it true that Divine Honor (even that reflected as human freedom) does yet require appeasement by human sacrifice?
The profound desire to make things right—of soldiers and civilians alike, by people of faith and conscience of every sort—is a God-breathed virtue. The debate hinges on what that looks like.
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Ken Sehested is curator of prayerandpolitiks.org, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action.