Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vocation: A Lack of Understanding

I read this week about a "conscientious objector" who was being discharged from the military, and while I don't object to anyone taking this path, I do find his position to spring from an improper view of vocation.  Here is the summary from the New York Times article on why he is being discharged:
The question that changed Michael Izbicki’s life appeared on a psychological exam he took not long after graduating in 2008 near the top of his class at the United States Naval Academy: If given the order, would he launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?
Ensign Izbicki said he would not — and his reply set in motion a two-year personal journey and legal battle that ended on Tuesday, when the Navy confirmed that he had been discharged from the service as a conscientious objector.
I find his views to be sad - he does not understand the doctrine of vocation.  God does not expect or demand that countries not defend their territory, or that individuals not be involved in the military.  Serving in the armed services in not the equivalent of murder.  Jesus did not reprimand the Centurion for being in the military.  Even police must use deadly force at times in order to maintain order - they are a "military" force of sorts.  The idea that Jesus requires a pacifist position is completely unsupported.

It would be wrong for me to take a knife and cut someone open.  However, a physician can cut someone open when medically necessary.  Under most circumstances, it would be wrong for me to take a gun and shoot someone.  However, when a nation is threatened, or peace is threatened from within or without, it is acceptable for someone to use deadly force.  Disease requiring surgery is a part of our fallen world and violent threats against others that must be met with force are also a part of our fallen world.

This young man has no understanding of vocation - we are called to many different roles/jobs in life with unique responsibilities that would be unacceptable in other roles.  Without these necessary roles, our world would descend into chaos.

Our vocations are to serve others.  The military serves their fellow countrymen by maintaining order and fighting those who threaten.  As long as you can do your job in service to others there is no wrong.  The chef serves others by cooking meals, a mother serves by caring for her children, a doctor serves by bringing healing medicine to the sick. We each have many vocations - a few of mine are husband, father, son, filmmaker, brother, neighbor, and co-worker. These are all divine calling wherein I serve God by doing them well.  There are some jobs that people have that do not serve others and serve no God-given purpose.  The military in not one of them.  Here is one quote from Luther on vocation:
 The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor....The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor. When a Christian does not serve the other, God is not present; that is not Christian living. 

Here is the full article:


  1. My wife pointed out that we are not talking about self-defense, or one on one combat... "this is a nuclear warhead!" I understand her concerns and agree that it would be a very limited framework in which nuclear warheads would be okay. However, what size weapon is okay? We can't just declare all military to be contrary to God - Scripture just does not support this. I think the conclusion this Navy Officer came to was a position of complete pacifism. This is just not correct. I am willing to hear the other side, but I was once there, and don't think that way any more. I feel like I have matured in understanding - about man and about the nature of the Gospel.

  2. We have a duty, as Christians, to protect our neighbors.

    I think much can learned from Luther (and others) about the doctrine of Vocation, and he Two Kingdoms doctrine.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. "God does not expect or demand that countries not defend their territory,"


    What about the people?

  4. Thank you for your comment Anonymous - perhaps that line was not written so well. I appreciate your critique!

  5. Since my husband was so kind to put up my critique even though I was rather "explosive" with him, I will cut in to the discussion between anonymous and him.

    There are problems with that line, but they are not what you think they are. Reference to" territory" does sound callous when human lives are at stake, and yes when you examine the issue rationally or biblically and you get the same answer that to defend the territory IS to defend the people.

    Land ownership is equated with freedom. Lack of it is always considered a judgement or curse. Take the curse of Cain or the Jewish diaspora for instance. A people without a land with defensible borders, like the Roma or the Native Americans are doomed to being overrun, and abused.

    The larger problem is that sometimes God DOES demand countries do not defend themselves. . .

    Even the argument that a war is just, or a response is proportionate, or the means is justifiable is not enough. Take King David or Jeremiah for examples. Both totally justifiable situations for bloodshed. And yet, God would not condone it.

    David's line of succession was blessed for his steadfast refusal to kill Saul. He suffered greatly for it though. But that is what made him a man of faith, waiting for God's timing and God's means.

    In contrast, nobdody listened to Jeremiah and some tried to kill him for preaching surrender to those Nasty, world-dominating, baby killing, Babylonians. (A more justifiable war I could not think of.) Jeremiah warned that it would only increase bloodshed, since God had determined this was their just punishment for sacrificing their children in the fires of Molech and becoming worse than the nations around them.

    By refusing the consequences God had promised them, and instead, defending the homeland (and by extension the people--many of whom would die in slavery and captivity) they incurred only more violence upon themselves....

    Not a typical situation, yes, but eerily similar to the one in which we find ourselves today.