Ladies and gentlemen, we lived to see a major historical milestone: 100 years have passed since the armistice which ended combat between Allied forces and Germany in World War I.
Many of us do not know much about this war, known as the Great War until its successor wrecked Europe for a second time scarcely a generation later. The war had complex causes brought to a head by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. The war saw the introduction of the airplane as a combat vehicle and the first deployment of the tank. The Ottoman and Russian Empires fell as a result of the war, and many combat tactics used for decades prior became woefully outdated. Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien fought in the war; future American president Harry S. Truman also saw combat.
The first church I ever served as a pastor had a particularly close connection with World War I. The first members of the church founded it in 1889, and they named their little church Oakdale Baptist Church after its local neighborhood in Louisville, KY. Many locals referred to the church as “The Basement Church” due to its meetings being held in a basement sort of area in the new church building. The church would grow with the neighborhood, many, if not all of its members walking from their homes to worship together. When the USA entered the war, Oakdale Baptist Church sent its young men off to war just like every other church in the country. Unusually, perhaps even uniquely, every young man from Oakdale Baptist came home from the war alive. The church then renamed themselves Victory Memorial Baptist. Though in God’s providence through history, the church became adopted by Kenwood Baptist Church, the building still displays a one-of-a-kind stained glass window picturing Jesus embracing a doughboy soldier.
While I do not appreciate the conflation of patriotism with Christianity, that stained glass window serves as an appropriate reminder of the trauma of a war on real people. My generation experienced its fair share of war with troop deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I have friends who saw combat. However, though I reached 18 years of age just after the United States invaded Afghanistan and had only aged a year when the Iraqi invasion began, I never once feared conscription into the military. The men of Oakdale Baptist Church had no such luxury. The war reached such severity so as to merit conscription. The window pictures the necessity of the Savior to carry his people through such a time.
Those men from Louisville who fought to turn back a war of conquest in Europe died many years ago. They would be near the age of 120 now. The curse of death finds everyone, whether he survives the war to end all wars or not. However, I feel compelled to offer thanks to God for his mercy to those families, Oakdale Baptist Church, and the surrounding community by preserving those men through the war. Where many men suffered excruciating deaths from weapons like mustard gas or became ripped apart by a hail of bullets as they tried to cross No Man’s Land, these men survived. The goodness of God through the horror of war does not tarnish with time. We give glory to God and return thanks to him on behalf of those saints who now presently worship their Savior, absent from their bodies and present with him.
We also recall the grief and sorrow caused by such a war lessened only because those immediately and intimately acquainted with it have also passed into death. We ourselves know the sting; we did not feel it. Yet, we observe the terminus of the war and say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Bring the day in which the wolf lies down with the lamb and the child plays over the snake’s dwelling without fear.” Just war theorist I may be, glad that scarcely ten years passed between the Wright Brothers' success at Kitty Hawk and the use of the same feat of engineering for killing people I am not. I am a firearms owner, and observing the anniversary of the great and terrible World War I prompts me to ache for the day in which a firearm does not prove a necessity for anyone anywhere.
In looking backward, look forward, Christian. Advent will arrive before long. Recall your God became a man, and he will forever be the Prince of Peace. His government will see no end. The Great War became World War I because soon after followed a World War II. We do not know if the earth will see a World War III or even IV. Even so, the progression will prove finite, for God Almighty shall one day say, “No more.”
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing
And her people for gladness.
I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people;
And there will no longer be heard in her
The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.
No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
Or an old man who does not live out his days;
For the youth will die at the age of one hundred
And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred
Will be thought accursed.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Book recommendation: To The Last Man: A Novel of the First World War
Podcast recommendation: Dan Carlin's Hardcore History- Blue Print for Armageddon I