The Beauty of the Battle Song

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This year’s Hamlet production brings with it a number of challenges, including staging the climactic duel scene at the very end. Any audience willing to sit through two hours of Elizabethan Englsh deserves either rollicking -good entertainment in Act V or some good killing.

This weekend, the high school guys started their sword training for the play.
“This early?!” you ask.
Well, remember that we’ll have two sizable guys wailing away at each other with heavy-duty broadswords in a complex fight that requires three individual bouts, an exchange of weapons (for the sake of the plot), and two injuries. Our Viking-era stage-design demands broad-swords instead of those sissy French fencing foils. None of that crab-like shuffling here. We’re talking sparks-flying, shield-wielding combat.  Oh yeah, it’s gonna rock….

So on Friday, the two principal actors plus other interested males met in a back yard to beat on one another with plastic light sabers. OK, they didn’t beat on each other…. but those Star Wars light sabers are more dangerous than you might think. Our fight-trainer Phillip is one of those mild-mannered “killing machine” kind of guys: lots of fun to be around … total and complete chivalrous gentleman … probably could cut your arm off in 1.2 seconds if he wanted to (even with a plastic light saber).  With his help, the boys started working on their high, mid, and low attacks and defenses…. and gained more than a few scrapes and bumps in the process. (Anybody got spare gauntlets lying around your house?)

There’s something beautiful about sword fighting. Even in the gory realism of a bloody battle scene, somehow the singing blade is more lovely than our gunpowder and high-powered rifles. The battle-dance lost its art some time ago, replaced by an impersonal mechanization that provoked Tolkien to ascribe such ugly yet efficient killing to the Orcs.

Don’t get me wrong — the horror of war tarnishes the beauty of the sword. A metal blade strong enough to rip a man’s torso from navel to neck. Not pretty. You don’t own swords for hunting. You own them for killing.

But I think there’s an aspect of the image of God that is missing from the education of our boys today. It’s not tied to sword-fighting, of course, but we ought to consider the metaphor.

Why should boys learn to fight and do so with effectiveness and honor?
Why is there something beautiful about a sword handled well?

God describes Himself as a Warrior. (Don’t believe me? Read the OT major/minor prophets… or Revelation.)  He talks about striding onto the battlefield of this sinful planet in all His majestic glory, clad in glorious armor, wielding a giant sword. He mocks His enemies with sarcasm that makes good-mannered folks wince. He hacks them into bits and dances on their broken armies.

Does that bother you?

War is hell. Thus said General Sherman in 1860-something. I’m sure thousands of men echoed his sentiment long before his quotation became famous. Yet war is also redemptive (see Isaiah 59). And I think it is also a powerful parable.

War shows us that salvation costs something.  

How evil is sin? 
Evil enough that people die in the destroying of it.

How costly is our wickedness? 
It wrecks families and good farmland and bodies.

What does it take to untwist our perverted souls? 
It takes a war.  And God is its Battle-General.  He leads the army.  In fact, He already won the decisive victory by destroying the power of death and sin.

Our lives evidence the marks of the mop-up operation.  But our souls somehow sit victorious (even while our flesh yearns for the old ways).  Ah, a paradox.

Men, as God’s image-bearers, stand as the protectors on this earth. They take up the sword (or M-16) to crush evil wherever it appears. Like any other human endeavor, well-intended human wars are twisted by the very sin they try to end. The invasion of Iraq seemed to start with good intentions, but things are rather messy right now. Atrocities occur on both sides. We sinful humans can’t even do good deeds without getting them dirty.

But it is right to fight evil. Even in this, we image God. The sword is a tool of redemption, not oppression.

Boys must learn to fight honorably and for the right reason … and often without their fists (or weapon). Our enemy is not of this world, nor can he be opposed by physical weapons, says Paul in Ephesians 6. A man’s task of seeing sin rooted out of the lives of himself, his wife, children, or friends is not for the fainthearted.  But it is right.

Our view of God is warped when we force boys into a pacifist, submissive, passive view of their place in this world.

The Vikings used to talk of the “battle-joy,” a euphoria that overtook some warriors in the midst of pitched battle.

Rejoice in God the Warrior. 
Praise Him for His redeeming Sword.
And teach your young men to fight.

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