By Dan Snyder
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
-The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 6: 10-17
Why do we fall away from the faith, here described as a shield to quench flaming arrows? More importantly, how do we train our young hoplites not to ‘drop the shield’, thereby exposing themselves and we who serve alongside them to the flanking attacks of the enemy, who is more than flesh and blood? In the days of Paul’s Rome, the inexorable Roman foot soldier fought in a variation of the ancient Greek manner, which required an almost interlocking order of shields facing the enemy in the assault. Going back in history, we have the account of Thucydides concerning the intrepid Spartan general Brasidas, who was heroically perfect in all of his combat exploits excepting the time he, being weakened from wounds, swooned and dropped his shield.
In following the logic of Paul’s picture, we notice truth girding up the soft vitals, and righteousness (virtue) protecting the heart. Notice that faith must be overcome in order to penetrate and sunder truth, or pierce to the heart of our warrior. The head, seat of awareness, and general of the fighter’s body, is protected with salvation. The feet, laced up for the transmission of the gospel are the motive force, and the power of the attack is composed of the sword of the spirit, the Word of God.
Why then do we insist on situating truth as the first defense of the warrior of faith? If we follow the metaphor, the breaching of faith is what exposes us to perversion of truth. Does it follow then that only a wooden faith, an inflexible faith that covers most of the body is the major line of defense. Yes. Why do we think sometimes that truth is an offensive weapon? We must assume that the enemy’s weapons are somehow situated as ours, with the primary danger coming from the spirit and anti-word or anti Christ of the diabolic sword. The Logos is a rhetorical force, and includes the force of communication, not just the logical concept. We parry with the sword, we ward ourselves and our adjacent soldiers with the shield, and we are protected when all else fails by the truth and righteousness. Faith, the first of the spiritual virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, is the border of friend and foe, alone serving both in their fashion. The problem then for the young student who leaves the Church is a failure in faith, letting down the companion, and letting in the enemy. Faith failed long before truth was disrupted and righteousness discarded. What happens to the fallen warrior in ancient combat? Read the Iliad; his armor is stripped from his dead body and set up as a victory trophy and as an offering to foreign gods.
This mode of combat, the tightly joined phalanx, became the new tactical gold standard with the dawning of the ‘Iron Age’, which was carried to the Mediterranean world by the new immigrants. These men, probably centered in the Greek lands, dispersed, pirate-like, to new shores in the 12th century BC, sometime around the time of the Trojan War. They may be the ancestors of a culture known as the Philistines. The Philistines, known for their ironmongery, were the technological wave of their time, making the bronze weapons of the prior age obsolete and ushering in an era of creative destruction that set the world on its ear. It was during this time that the Kingdom of Israel rose first near these warriors, followed later by King David’s growing success and Solomon’s fabulous kingdom.
What happens when the warrior must fight in single combat? A tantalizing counterpoint to the mechanical warfare of the Iron Age comes to us in the young shepherd David’s combat with Goliath, the Ajax-like champion of the Philistines. This Old Testament dark mirror of the Pauline combat metaphor reveals a property of combat that every 21st century tactician understands. We call this ‘asymmetric warfare,’ disruption of measure and countermeasure.
David knows he must fight the giant of Gath, the deadly Goliath. The honor of the Lord of Hosts is at stake as the Bronze Age Hebrews face the taunts of the iron clad killer. Saul, the irascible king of the Israelites, begins to armor David in the tools of warfare in order to counter the onslaught of his opponent in the coming one on one combat. David, finding the tools inapt, abandons them, as every Sunday schooler knows. Of course God gains the glory as the unarmored shepherd downs the giant with a river pebble between the eyes, slung from the shepherd’s sling. All of this is well known, but we seldom think of Goliath’s words upon meeting David as much more than scene setting and bravado. Here is what he is recorded saying: “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” David earlier had asked aloud of Goliath who the “uncircumcised one who challenged the host of the Living God” was. The man of war did not recognize the deadly messenger of God, the death-dealing potential to the ‘old man’, who is merely the tool-using animal. In a sense, Goliath was a dog and spiritually animalistic. David recognized Goliath better than Goliath recognized David or even himself. We might call this irony in the age of iron.
Listen to the Ajax of his age:
44 And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field. (typical Iliad language – the author)
45 Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
46 This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
47 And all this assembly shall know that the Lord slaveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.
-1st Samuel, Chapter 17
Earlier, we noticed that Paul’s soldier does not vanquish by faith or truth, but by the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. This is not inconsistent with what we learn in David’s speech and combat. How does this bear on our own day? In what ways do we prepare for the enemy that prowls our perimeter to the danger of our soul? We must know when to fight, where to fight, and how to fight.
Paying attention to motive power of the infantry, we see that our army marches on the gospel. Consider the ‘Benedictus’. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. The blessedness of the feet who bring the gospel of good news. Consider this the logistics of the army of God. The bearers of the life sustaining message, like David bearing the food for his warrior brothers, move in the incidental vicinity of battle. We, like David, are moving on our Father’s business when we find our selves in contact with the enemy, and not because we are ranging the hills looking for a fight. Do not pursue apologetics as if they were polemics. We are bringing peace to the world, but war may find us. Where may this warfare find us?
The experience of warfare in the history of man is well condensed in Sun Tzu. Generally speaking, we do not fight on the enemy’s field, but fight on the field that goes with our mission. Examples from the crusades show this well. The history of warfare in the crusades illustrates universally that when the crusaders patiently waited for the attacks of the Turks and Saracens, the battle went favorably, but when the Crusaders followed their enemies into the desert hot for the attack, they where seriously defeated. Over time, a long line of these defeats left the crucial ground of Jerusalem indefensible. On what ground do we choose to fight? Doctrines of origin or apocalypse? Science and Prophecy? There are places we have no need of to ward the animalistic Philistine off. Why contend for them? Wisdom would show us where our interests are.
Finally, the method of combat must never be an equal reaction to the methods of the enemy. As we see in David’s combat, simply because the enemy values the tools of his argument, we are not obligated to employ similar tools and equipment solely in order to demonstrate that we master them as well. Fighting out from behind the shield, we stand ‘belt to belt’, fighting in the manner of Joseph Stalin, who advocated closing with the enemy, holding him by the belt to deal close-in blows. This appears to be ‘truth to truth’, and resembles a battle of mutual annihilation.
Understand that the man of the age, in Goliath’s age the Iron Age, in ours the man of ‘fact’ and the information age, values the tools his age has produced and equates them with true humanity. This is a bit of reductionism, mistaking the tool for the man. He may blankly accept that only those who fight with those tools are actually fighting. This is not a necessary condition of victory for the enterprising warrior. Therefore, out ‘sciencing’ the ‘scienters’, out ‘moderning’ the ‘modernizers’, defeating the sophists of the age, the checkers of fact, is not taking the gospel’s power seriously. Perhaps there is one truth that may enfold us, and that is the truth who is Christ. Christ is a person, not a principle. Rather than a feverish apologetics of evidentialism and tit for tat, a battle of equal and opposite world views, we should luxuriate in the assurances passed to us in the faith heard through the gospel. In this mode, we understand the role of truth, in that it rises to meet faith, or is allowed to arise by faith, in the quest for wisdom which is the activity of a life, and not a sword at all, but a girdle for the reins and a belt encircling the core, the inward parts of man. Fides quaerens intellectum.