People don't usually believe me when I say I'm in the Army. I'm not your stereotypical Army girl.
I joined the Army Reserves (Territorials) in 2008. When I signed a six-year contract then, it seemed like signing my life away for eternity! How quickly those six years have passed.
At the time, it was easy to just focus on the training and ignore the bigger picture. I love getting outside, learning new skills, and pushing myself to my mental and physical limits, and the Army provides plenty of opportunity to do this. But as my military career has progressed, I've been faced with determining my personal beliefs about the bigger picture – what I am actually training for.
In our training, we focus a lot on humanitarian aid and disaster relief. There are opportunities every year to travel around the Pacific Islands and further afield to improve infrastructure and provide medical assistance.
But as a soldier, I'm also trained in the effective use of a weapon. I'll let the definition of the word "effective" be up to you to decipher! As a combat field engineer, my role is to locate and identify landmines, booby traps and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device), use explosives for tasks like demolitions, and carry out waterborne assaults and reconnaissance.
In saying that, the New Zealand Army is primarily a peacekeeping force, working with other countries and the United Nations to promote peace and stability.
But that doesn't avoid the fact that it is an army.
Over the past six years, I've faced questions from Christians and non-Christians alike that revolve around the concept of war, and the sticky one, "Would you shoot someone?"
It's an ethical and moral debate that I have pondered many times. It's where my faith and my circumstances collide. The first time I lined up a real human being in the scope of my rifle, I'm not going to deny, it shocked me. And I was only firing blanks. Note: I've never shot anyone!
During a recent selection course, I was asked by an army psychologist, "Would you hesitate to shoot someone?" I paused. I wanted to pass the selection process so I tried to determine what I thought he wanted to hear. Did he want to know if I respected human life? Or did he want to know if I would be reliable at a critical point in the line of duty?
Over the years, I've read many articles both for and against Christians being in the military. Opinion is most certainly divided. On one hand, one cannot deny the bloodshed of the Old Testament, Jesus did not rebuke the Roman centurion for his job, or even mention it, and Paul often spoke of the Christian life using military analogies. On the other hand, how can one ever justify killing another as loving your neighbour? How can one justify the use of violence in a quest for peace?
In the Bible, we are called to love one another, yet we are also instructed to defend the oppressed.
So where's the line? These are big questions.
Integrating faith and occupation
There are many Christians in the armed forces. In fact, the current NZ Chief of Defence Force is a Christian. They've all faced these questions too –where our faith and our occupation meet.
"It has been long understood that for... military leaders there exists, indeed every day, the central challenge to integrate rightly their faith and their professional duties. The dual callings... to serve Country and to serve God, each with its own set of duties and ethics by which to live and to lead. Conflicts of loyalty, although infrequent, are inevitable in the course of a military career...There are no formulas, Christ only said: 'Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's'" (Don M. Snider, Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired; FaithandWar.org).
Through many discussions with God, I am at peace with my role in the Territorials and what it could (but hopefully won't) entail. At that critical moment, I trust God to lead me.
In my civilian career at the Bible Society, I am not really faced with moral dilemmas as one might in a secular work environment. And for that I am grateful! But every day, many Christians, maybe you included, are begging God to give them some direction in a place where their faith and their circumstances have collided.
The presence or absence of violence doesn't make an ethical or moral dilemma any easier. We throw about advice such as, "Just do what Jesus would!" or "Have you prayed about it?"
But sometimes, answering the WWJD question isn't so straightforward. There are dilemmas that just don't seem to have a right answer. And prayer? Confusion often drives me to my knees, but sometimes God doesn't give an answer, and simply asks me to have faith.
It sounds cliché, but trust God to lead you in that critical moment. If you're forced to make a decision – make one! God is strong in our weakness; he is mighty in our confusion, and wise in our foolishness. He is much bigger and more powerful than any decision made on our part, whether right or wrong.
"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?"
Psalm 8 verses 3 to 4.
First published December 30, 2014