Veteran Problems; Gospel Solutions
By: Brian O’Day
“Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for veterans under the age of 45…” (Source)
Being in the Military is a dangerous job and, it turns out, being a Military Veteran is a dangerous job.
I am a military veteran under the age of 45. Statistically speaking, the second most likely way that I will die in the next few years is by my own hand. The thousands of men and women that I served with for the past 20 years are also in this boat with me.
I appreciate that I am wandering into a very complex problem. There are literally tens of thousands of people, entire government departments, countless nonprofits, and a host of great people who care and are attempting to tackle this very complex problem.
On this Veteran’s Day, I propose to you just a few of the deep-rooted reasons that military veterans take their lives, and I want to show you the solutions that the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides to those deep problems. I have ordered these to get deeper into the heart of the matter as we go.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide and needs help, resources, or someone to talk to, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 988 and pressing 1 for veterans. People are available to talk to 24/7.
Loss of Community
Most of us join the military to belong to something great. We see the camaraderie that exists in the military and we long for it. We hear the veterans we know talk about the bond they had with their unit, and we realize that the bond they are describing far exceeds the bonds we have experienced with our high school or college friends. So, we join the military seeking that community.
And, to an extent, we find it. There is a bond in the military that is deeper than any other human institution. We bond through shared hardships that the rest of the world will never quite understand.
But then, what happens? In one day, that community that we longed for and found is gone. We walk into an administrative office, pick up our DD-214, walk out the door, drive out of the gate, and it’s all over. Whether a veteran leaves with fond memories of his military service or a bitter taste in his mouth, the community is gone in an instant. He’s no longer in. He’s now out.
No job will ever fill that hole. No employer will be able to fabricate the community we had in the military with “team building” exercises. No veterans’ organization will ever quite get there either. No amount of alcohol or drugs will ever wash away the sense of loneliness–instead, they will make it worse. Spouses who haven’t served “don’t get it”. None of our civilian friends “get it”. We’re in a downward spiral that we just can’t seem to get out of.
Enter the Good News of Jesus Christ. In Christ, we find forever community with the One True God of the Universe and all of His people. Ephesians 2:11-22 captures this Gospel reality beautifully. Apart from Christ, we are described as separated, alienated, strangers, having no hope, and without God. Then, the big shift in the passage happens in verse 13: But now in Christ…
The Good News is that God through Christ erases the alienation and separation. In Christ, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. You are brought near, you have peace, you are one with God and Christians, there is no dividing wall of hostility, you are one new person with others, the hostility has been killed by Christ, and you have access to God the Father through His Holy Spirit.
The Good News of Jesus Christ fills the void that the Department of Veterans Affairs and other well-meaning and helpful organizations will never be able to. True, lasting, eternal community is found in Christ and His people.
Loss of Mission
But the problem goes deeper. We don’t just want friends; we also join the military because we want to spend our lives for a worthy cause. We want our lives to matter. We want the energy we spend in our youth to mean something in our old age. Or, if we die in our youth, we want our death to matter.
And, to an extent, we find that mission in the military. We raise our right hand and vow to “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic”. This is a massive mission, and we know that those words carry with them the implication that we are willing to die for such a cause.
But then, it’s all gone. While the mission we signed up for isn’t over, our participation in it is. No longer will I be deployed to “every clime and place” like I sing about in the Marines’ Hymn. I will instead sleep under the “blanket of freedom” that others provide. We stood up, raised our right hand, and joined a great and noble mission… and now we sit on the sidelines.
If we linger in this reality, we will lose all sense of purpose in life, and we will become one of the horrifying statistics.
But there is Good News: You and I were created for a glorious purpose! We were created to worship the One True God and encourage others to do likewise! And the awesome thing about this mission is that in Christ this mission will be accomplished. In Revelation 5, we read about that glorious day when people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” will worship the Lord before His throne. We will live out the exact purpose God created us for… forever.
Loss of Identity
But we have one more loss that we must address with the Gospel. And this one runs deep. It is our loss of identity.
Most of us in the military not only found a job, community, and purpose–it defined us. “I am a United States Marine.” That’s an identity statement. It’s not just something I do; it is who I am.
And the military tries to feed us propaganda like, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” (The Marine Corps has been doing this the loudest in my lifetime, but the other services have started to follow suit.) While I appreciate the sentiment, it’s just not true in any tangible way. I don’t do any Marine stuff anymore. I don’t wear the uniforms I used to wear. I don’t shoot 155mm howitzers anymore. I don’t walk for miles on end with a giant backpack and a bunch of people who all decided to wear the same clothes that day. I don’t sit in those awful annual training “classes” each year typically led by an uninspired teacher. I don’t even clean shave my face anymore. In every way that actually affects my daily life, I’m no longer a Marine. It turns out that “Always a Marine” is merely a sentiment. And sentiments just don’t work on my darkest days.
So, if I’m not a Marine what am I?
This question (and similar versions of it) plagues most veterans. Frankly, it has taken me many years to wrestle through it.
But I want you to know the Good News. In Christ, we are not only joined to a heavenly family, and given a heavenly task, we are given a new identity. Ephesians, Chapter 2, again for the point. In verse 10, we’re told that we who are in Christ are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. Elsewhere in the Bible, those who are in Christ are called children of God; we are told that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made; we are a member of the body of Christ; we are part of the Bride of Christ; and we will have a new name in eternity that the Lord God will give us. In Christ, our identity is in Christ, the Son of God.
Further, this identity is sealed by God forever. It can never be taken away. It can never be stripped from me.
On this Veterans’ Day
So on this Veterans’ Day, look at the things that cause you to lament and mourn the reality of your military service that is now in the past, and look to the Good News of Jesus Christ to find what you have been desperately looking for. Join one of our churches or reach out to us and we’ll help you find a church in your area.
If you are a Christian Veteran, join us in our efforts to bring this Good News to military communities all over the world.
There are deep problems in and among our Veteran Community, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ meets us with eternal hope in each and every circumstance.