My Musings

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Comfort the Mourning with Lies

In front of me to my left was a simple coffin in which an honored member of the United States Army was to be buried. Surrounding it were six bearers, an officer, and a chaplain. A small group of family and friends gathered to my right facing toward the coffin. At my side was the Arlington Lady whom I was escorting. She was there to convey condolences to the family on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army, General George Casey. I stand at the perfect position of attention: feet together, head high, chest out, shoulders back, eyes pointed straight forward. My uniform, and the uniform of every soldier in attendance is perfectly pressed. The seems are sharp and crisp. We did the work on them ourselves. We know that everything is perfectly in place.

Once everyone has moved into place, the officer takes a step back and to the side signaling to the chaplain that he may now speak. The chaplain steps forward and begins to eulogize. He speaks about the great sacrifice that this man made to earn the privilege of a burial in Arlington National Cemetery. He talks about the loving husband and father that he was to his family. Then, looking the widow right in the eyes, he begins to tell of the happiness that he is now enjoying in the bliss of Heaven since that is where he now is.

It seems, based on the account of the chaplains, that every person whom they have ever buried is now enjoying God's presence in heaven. Catholic, Jewish, protestant: They are all on the road to the same place. They are, of course, unless you believe the Bible.

Day after day, my heart is torn during these funerals. I stand trapped in the prison of my ceremonial composure, locked at the position of attention, listening to a blanket of lies in the name of comfort and help. They throw out a candy of temporary comfort in exchange for eternally confusing the theology of everyone present.

Oh, Bro. Nick! It's not that big of deal. They are just trying to comfort a family during a time of grief and sorrow. No, friends, they are perverting, on a daily basis, the truth of the gospel in that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ. Salvation is not found through sacraments, through American heroism and patriotism, or through having a rabbi pray for you. Salvation is only found through Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, every white-washing of the truth and every lie that a chaplain tells to a friend or family member only helps to ensure that they do not see their need for Christ. Every compromise that is taken, every truth that is neglected can ultimately lead to eternal consequences.

Almost on a daily basis, one of the chaplains try to recruit me and encourage me to consider becoming a chaplain. Almost all of the chaplains that work in Arlington National Cemetery have sat down with me and discussed the benefits of taking that job.

The Army Chaplaincy, however, seems, much like modern evangelicalism, to be plagued with compromise and pluralism. Chaplains are not willing to take a stand for God's Word because it might offend someone or because their superiors might not approve of their actions. They are not willing to speak the truth because it may not be comfortable to hear in the Army culture.

"Consider how neat it is to have Uncle Sam paying for the work of the Lord!" a chaplain chimed in one day. "Imagine living on an officer salary and doing the work of a pastor!"

At another time, one told me that I needed to be willing to not always pray in 'Jesus Name.' He encouraged me to consider praying to 'our most gracious God.' After all, that is still praying to Christ and the father yet it won't offend someone who may be a Muslim. Besides, when Christ told us to pray in his name, he wasn't just talking about attaching some magic words to the end of our prayers. He went on to tell me that if I wanted to be a chaplain that I would have to learn a few 'tricks' like this.

They've asked me to consider the chaplaincy. I would, however, prefer to take the road less traveled. I would rather live for the truth. Here I stand. God help me.



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