A soldier on deployment wakes up every day surrounded by people whom he knows would risk their lives for him, just as he would for them. This sacrificial love isn’t merely hoped for or hypothetical; it is demonstrated in mission after mission. Scripture tells us that there is no greater love than this (John 15:13), and that such a love that leads to complete joy (John 15:11). Seen in this light, we shouldn’t be surprised that soldiers experience heavenly joy even in the midst of a hellish deployment.
How might this perspective help veterans sort out how they feel about their combat experiences? First, it explains why soldiers want to be deployed. We’re not warmongers; we’re longing for another taste of heaven alongside other warriors. Second, it explains why life outside of war can seem so mundane and even meaningless. Having gone through heaven and hell, our everyday lives can feel like limbo. Third, it explains why deployments can be so disorienting. Our lives once rested on a worldview that assumed the existence of the Christian God. War forces us to wrestle with the mystery of evil. Many Americans can live happily without needing to ask questions of theodicy; veterans desperately do.
A combat deployment exposes veterans to extremes — of love and brotherhood, of fear and hatred. We’ve seen what humans are capable of, for better and for worse. Reflecting on our experiences of war, we are alternately inspired and appalled. We have glimpsed what was previously unimaginable: the happiness of heaven, the desolation of hell. And no matter what, we will be changed.
Pete Kilner is an active-duty Army lieutenant colonel serving on the faculty at West Point. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.
We want to invite conversation about the experiences of veterans. If you have a story to share, or a question to ask, direct those to Centurions Guild founder Logan Isaac at logan[at]centurionsguild.org.