I was in a conversation recently with a fellow military chaplain and he shared with me some disturbing news. Five of our fellow soldiers took their own lives recently. Individual soldiers, at different times, took their own lives. As a chaplain, but just as a man, a husband, a dad—as a human being—I was shaken.
As a soldier, I cannot comment on politics and government and bureaucracy, but as a minister and chaplain, I would offer what I hope most folks could agree on. Like everyone else, I have a worldview, a theology, a way of answering the big questions of life. And like everyone else, I have presuppositions.
And what I offer below is a list of some fundamentals I would long to see inclulcated into our lives as not just soldiers but as reasonable human beings:
I. Recognize that man is a spiritual creation. He is not a machine. Man is not mere matter in motion. He has a soul. He has a spirit. He has a mind and an imagination. This should be so obvious. We build libraries and art museums and we paint and write poems and plays and we watch films and ballets and listen to operas and music concerts. Why? Because we are spiritual beings. We recite hymns and raise our hands in worship and we kneel in prayer and we kiss those we love. We are spiritual beings.
II. Denying man’s spiritual nature costs lives. I was in a conference recently where the topic was spiritual readiness. Specialists in spiritual care, psychiatric care, behavioral health, chaplains of various stripes, and secular psychological approaches were all part of the discussion. A lot of talk was offered about why soldiers were being sent to behavioral health. When the behavioral health folks were asked if the soldiers were crazy or had some psychological issues, the formidable response was simple and direct. No, the soldiers were not crazy and they didn’t have psychological issues. What they were missing was connection. They often did not feel valued. They felt like spiritual orphans. They may’ve had Netflix, YouTube, and a smartphone, but they were living lives of isolation with virtual relationships rather than actual ones, and they felt like orphans.
III. Secularism fails to explain man’s nature, man’s deep need to connect to God and to other people. The secular worldview, by definition, denies transcendence. Man is seen as material, a cosmic accident, matter in motion. But every day and at every moment, we know that secularism contradicts our experiences as people. We assume our lives have meaning. We assume that our words that we write and speak have meaning. We take oaths when we are married, when we sign a contract to pay our mortgages on time, when we get a loan, when we promise to show up at work on time, etc. We tell our loved ones that we love them and we work sacrificially to provide for them. We conduct funerals and retirement ceremonies and birthday parties, etc. Why? Because we know in our bones that man’s deepest longings are incapable of being answered and/or satisfied via secularism. Man is designed to long for the transcendent and for meaningful connection to one another. Man’s well-being has several areas, of course: physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. But the failures of secularism are obvious to any honest observer.
Personal Connection: I have been a soldier for a long time and I love it. I love soldiers and being a pastor to soldiers and families. Military chaplaincy has been a wonderful blessing in my life. But if we as a culture continue down a path of secularism and paganism, it should not surprise anyone when morale falls, when generations cannot even define ethics, and cannot articulate a coherent worldview.
Contemporary Life Connection: If a generation is raised on YouTube, TikTok, and mental bubble gum, that generation’s soul is malnourished and atrophies. And a culture that atrophies is sick; it is twisted; it is missing essentials. One of the essentials is a coherent worldview that answers the deepest longing of man’s spirit. And I hope that I’m not alone in longing for a return to truth, to coherence, to a Word that comes from beyond secular bromides. As one 1st century writer phrased it, there is such truth, such coherence, such a Word.
The Biblical Worldview:
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)
Turn and Be Healed: I am well aware of the reaction of most hearers when the gospel is presented to them. Like in John’s day, they often do not receive it. They reject it because they prefer to remain in their sin (John 1:11). But the biblical worldview calls the faithful to go and herald this message of God in Christ reconciling sinners nonetheless and all the more (2 Corninthians 5:20-21). We are told that we’ll encounter resistance and rejection.
And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV)
Man is a spiritual being.
He is committing spiritual suicide by way of idolatry.
Secularism, in all its machinations and flashy ways, fails. It enslaves man to the cruelest of creatures.
But the gospel does not fail in its purpose. It is the power of God to redeem fallen and sinful creatures.
But we must turn to the One who made us and embrace his Savior, his Word, and do things his way.
If you intend to properly diagnose man’s alienation, his exile, his desperate unending pursuit of distraction instead of depth, you must understand man’s spiritual bondage to sin, his suppression of the truth of God, and of his (man’s) exile from Eden unless and until he looks to the gospel–the amazing grace and good news of what God does to rescue, redeem, and restore us fallen sinners.
That is the way to true and lasting spiritual readiness and resilience.