Let me show you a soldier of God during a battle.
See a field, stripped of its beauty and groaning from the pain of suffering. The dawn’s morning glow is subdued through the cloud of smoke from recent attacks. Walk through this battlefield and you’ll find it tells its own story of blood, sweat and tears of survival and perseverance. The further you walk, the more you hope to find some form of life.
In the distance, you hear the fight continuing faintly—shots being fired and the yelling of commands. But here, there’s a sort of peace and quiet for those who are weary and have retreated to catch their breath.
Suddenly, you come upon a figure resting—an injured soldier, alone. He sits on the ground with his head collapsed in his hands. As you survey him, you notice a fresh wound on his shoulder—deep, but not deadly—painful, but not fatal. Undressed of his protective armour, he wears a uniform stained with blood. A badge clipped to his chest declares his rank as a corporal. His hands and arms are marked with a range of scars: some wear a raw shade of pink; others have faded and flattened after years of healing; and others are raised like hills on his skin from disrupted recovery. His weapons sprawl on the ground around him, his shield of faith alongside his helmet of salvation.1 Each piece of his armour has been battered by the strikes of the enemy.
A book lays open at his feet, wearing a worn-out spine and frayed edges, its silver-toned pages resembling the colour of a sharp, doubled-edged sword.2 Despite the lack of light making its way through the clouds, the pages create their own brightness, shining in the darkness.
Beyond this book lies another—a magazine as equally frayed as the book of light. Its pages are blurred for anyone but its owner’s eyes, images of women sprawled through it, displayed in positions designed to excite the lust within and pull the desire of the beholder into its darkness. It’s a magazine to be opened only behind closed doors, a vice chained to the soldier’s waist. Looking closely at the chain, you can see marks from desperate attempts to cut it off, yet it remains securely attached.
Suddenly a voice from the smog speaks, catching your attention. “Come to me,” it whispers to the soldier. “I can stop the pain for you.”
The soldier turns to find the source of the voice singing sweetly to his ear.
“Leave your armour behind,” the voice continues. “You can put your old clothes on again, and stop fighting a losing battle.”3
With each note of temptation the voice sings to the soldier, he cries out in pain, one hand grabbing his wounded shoulder, the other reaching for his ear to block out the enticing invitations. But the voice doesn’t give up calling to the soldier.
In agony the soldier weeps, now with both hands covering his ears, his eyes tightly closed. Rocking back and forth, he cries, “Leave me alone!”
But the voice doesn’t stop; it moves closer and demands the soldier “Come.”
He flinches, keeping his eyes closed, and, fumbling, tries to find the book of light by his feet. The soldier opens the book and his eyes simultaneously, searching for the words that will take him away from this moment.
“Why not read the other book you have?” the voice interrupts, knowing his thoughts. “There’s a woman on page 16 who will help take away the pain you feel right now”.
The soldier looks down at the magazine chained to his waist. His eyes begin to glisten at the thought of the woman. The hairs on his arm slowly rise, recalling the feeling of her touch, and his heart begins to beat faster.
The soldier drops the book of light and picks the other book up, flicking through to page 16. He’s entranced by the sight before him, captivated by the licentiously posed woman and the curves of her body. But while his focus is drawn to this silhouette, yours is drawn to the less desirous part of her body: her face. She wears eyes of fright and fear, and her lips are tense with forced submission. This “woman” is adorned with smooth skin too young to be posed in a manner such as this. A sick feeling rises in your stomach. It’s enough to make you turn your face away.
Meanwhile, the soldier looks, tears silently dropping from his cheeks onto the page that has entrapped him.
Suddenly there comes a louder voice, addressing the soldier: “You don’t have to stay there forever.” You cannot see where this voice is coming from, but it’s clear and gentle. “I know you’re afraid. I know you’re in pain. But rest. Help is coming.”
The soldier drops the woman in the magazine and returns his head to his hands, his body still. The damage done, his fresh wound starts to bleed again.
But a dark figure moves closer, speaking in a deeper voice: “They won’t be able to help you. Look at your wounds. Look at the state of you. The battle is over. You’ve lost. Admit defeat, and join me and the others.”
The soldier looks down at his armour and sees his wounds and scars, which remind him of his struggles.
The first voice speaks louder with more urgency: “Soldier! Look instead at the book at your feet. Read its pages. See the bread it offers,4 the water that will quench your thirst5 and the saviour who is giving these things to you. Read first and then move your feet. Come, O weary soldier!”
Then there is silence.
Amid the smoke, you hear new weeping. A woman and a child stand before the soldier a little way off. You notice that the child’s face resembles a younger version of the soldier. The weeping woman holds the child’s hand as they look longingly towards the man on the ground.
You are not alone in noticing their presence: the soldier stands to face the woman and child. A long thread tied to her ring finger traces along the ground from where she stands to the soldier and his ring finger.
The woman’s eye flick to the man’s vice, tied to his waist, and her eyes well with tears, forcing her to look away, her face disheartened. She too bears the weight of objects: she juggles numerous bags. One she carries on her back—a small backpack with a picture of a train containing toys, teddies and clothes belonging to the child clinging to her side. A briefcase is strapped across her body, bulging with paperwork and bills. Her other hand clutches a photo—a captured memory of the three of them standing together, joined in a smiling embrace, bearing less scars and no red eyes. Even in the midst of her juggling act, she holds everything together. But scars hidden under bandages also mark her arms, and the make-up she has applied does not mask her tear-stained eyes.
Swiftly the hovering smoke begins to blow, covering the woman and child and causing them to vanish from view.
As their figures fade, the soldier again groans loudly and returns to searching the ground for the book the voice told him to read. Before he’s had a chance to open it, three other figures disturb his concentration. They draw towards him, but also keep their distance, choosing only to observe him, not engage. The soldier, aware of their presence, lifts his face towards them.
The first of the three is well-dressed and speaks intelligently. He looks a lot like an older version of the soldier, and he remarks to the others, “That soldier is perfectly capable of getting up and walking to safety. I don’t see why he just doesn’t move his feet and walk this way. The man is simply weak”.
The second turns to the soldier, fingers shuffling through x-rays of the soldier’s head, heart and soul, and says, “He needs help. If he comes to me, I can give him a 12-step guide to follow.”
The third man wears a clerical collar and is reading. He glances up from his book, looks over at the soldier and says, “It’s not his fault; he just can’t help himself” before returning his eyes to his page.
The whole time they have been speaking, the soldier’s wound continues to bleed.
The three have gone. The soldier, now stretched out on the ground, weeps alone again.
After a while, in a tattered voice, he begins to sing—a hymn of hope for those who have wandered from the frontline. There are no more words for him to groan, but the spirit within him moves him to pray and, at last, cry for help.6 The tune he sings is familiar, however the words are different:
Come on fountain of all giving, hustle please I’m out of tune.
Life has left me barely breathing, feeling miles away from you.
Teach me if there be a chorus, one unfalse and lacking death.
Then I’ll sing, throat raw and bleeding. I will offer all that’s left.
Suddenly a war cry echoes through the battlefield, followed by a melody of lament. A lone figure appears, striding across the field. He comes right up to where the soldier lies. You can’t help but notice that this man seems different to all who have come before: a light emanates from him. With each step he takes, the dull ground regains its vibrant colour of life. The distant noise of the ongoing battle is slowly drowned out by the new sound of birds chirping as they fly by. The air loses its mustiness and becomes crisp and fresh as a breeze picks up.
The man kneels before the soldier, takes the worn book in one hand and gently lifts the soldier’s head with the other. Scars mark his hands: he is one who has also felt pain.
As the soldier lifts his eyes, his expression changes. His eyes glisten from the light radiating from the figure, and in that moment, you see both fear and joy cross his face.
The man brings the soldier’s attention to the book—to particular words on a particular page. He does not speak, nor does the soldier, and yet they seem to be talking with each other.
After reading words about the love from which he cannot be separated,7 the soldier turns his head to his helper and falls into his embrace, tears that never seem to cease running down his face. But his tears are no longer telling a story of desperation; rather, they are the tears you cry with a familiar friend—one who will stay until your tears dry and are no more.
The soldier directs his gaze to the magazine chained to him. His pupils do not dilate, nor do the hairs on his arm rise. His heartbeat remains steady as he contemplates his next move. He sees it’s just a magazine, nothing more. He still feels its pull, but it’s no longer as strong.
After the soldier has caught his breath, he resumes singing:
Oh, to be set free from owing, to believe my ledgers black.
Goodness tie and then surround me. Given space, I won’t come back.
Reputation as a leaver, prone to cheat like breathing in,
I would rather never wander. Help me cringe at where I’ve been.
How your kindness yet pursues me! How your mercy never fails me!
Till the day that death shall lose me, I will sing. Oh, I will sing.
As the soldier sings these last words, he prepares to rise. He grabs the armour lying beside him, and begins to redress for the fight. But suddenly the man grabs him and urges him to stop.
“You don’t need to move. The battle’s won; the fight is done. It’s okay to take your time. I’m never going to leave your side.”
Slowly the fog of the field begins to disperse and many figures appear. They surround the two on the ground. There are others wearing fresh wounds and chained vices just like the soldier. They seem to be healing. They too are not alone, but are accompanied by others.
These others, standing with the wounded soldiers, are dressed differently: they don’t bear armour, nor fresh wounds and chains, and yet they are not untouched by battle. Their everyday clothes are stained by hard work, their hands are rough from the weight of many burdens, and their eyes are raw and red from sleepless nights spent in prayer. And yet in spite of this, they wear smiles of love and kindness that shine with the same light as the man who sits next to the soldier.
Suddenly, one of these figures approaches the soldier. Taking some tools from her kit, she reaches for the soldier’s shoulder and begins to clean his wound.
The time has passed quickly. You almost do not notice the sun which, once hidden by the smoke of war, is now seen clearly.
The night is nearly over. The new day is almost here.8
Caitlin Ogg has just completed her first year at Moore Theological College.
If you enjoyed this article, check out others like it in the CCL annual.
1 Eph 6:10-17.
2 Heb 4:12-13.
3 Ephesians 4:17-24.
4 John 6:48-51.
5 John 4:13-14.
6 Rom 8:26.
7 Rom 8.
8 Rom 13:11-14.