Facial Hair and the Retiring Warrior—a Critical Decision

A multitude of decisions confront me as I approach retirement. Do I want to buy into Tricare Prime? What about life insurance? Do I sign up for VA healthcare? Where will I work? What will I do with my GI Bill?

Another decision has been keeping me up at night.

What kind of facial hair will I cultivate in retirement?

As I’ve observed with increasing interest the actions of post-retirement soldiers, I’ve noted that this decision oftentimes shapes the very nature of the retirement itself. The lengths to which many go to grow the correct facial hair speak to the importance of the decision.

A Chromed Dome

Thankfully the good Lord removed one aspect of my decision-making. Years ago, He forced me into a corner as my receding follicles necessitated first a buzz cut, followed by a full-on shave.

This hurt. I mustn’t lie. For years I sported a slightly-out-of-regulations do, slicked back with copious amounts of product. I used hair gel—literally molding my hair into a brittle wave—as I cultivated my rebellious image, rebellious as long as I wouldn’t get into actual trouble. Think James Dean minus the attitude.

Annually, as more of my scalp began to appear, I came to grips with reality and transitioned, via a Lloyd Christmas bowl-cut, to my current coif. At some point, I began to covet what I previously had and attempted a re-grow. Ami quickly put the kibosh on that.

Today, my only decision in this regard is razor or clippers. I went with the clean shave for a few months but always felt I looked a little like the cyborg version of Peter Weller in RoboCop without his metallic helmet. I’ve settled on the trusty #1 all over for now.

The Lord also blessed me with a fairly normal looking melon, a curse tempered by a blessing as it were. Some poor dudes lose their hair only to reveal a lumpy or strangely shaped skull.

Which brings me to my dilemma. With expanded options comes additional stress.

The Beard

Maybe I’ll just do it, go full lumberjack, or full operator, depending upon your context. I think I qualify in either regard.

I can change a tire, the oil in my car. Last year, I learned from YouTube how to notch a tree and I subsequently felled a large oak in my backyard that had been struck by lightning. The surrounding situation required it fall in a very specific area. Nailed it. I own a red, wheeled toolbox and possess not one, but two pick-up trucks. All I need is a table saw to complete my qualifications. I’ve always felt the bearded, millennial with minimal man-skills was a slightly pretentious creature.

I’m no operator though, but for years I’ve admired their beards around the gym, TOC, or the back of my helicopter. There’s something satisfying about a fully-kitted dude sporting Viking-like facial hair getting ready to deliver some death and destruction.

Last year, I deployed with the unit for the first time in a few years, having spent some time in Division. As I sat in my first meeting with some of the ground force, reveling in their beards and tats I made a strange observation. I looked, and more than a few of them had their heads down, eyes fixed, thumbs banging on, you guessed it, smart phones. The characteristic posture, they were millennials! I chuckled and wondered if they could drive a stick. Their beards were glorious.

The beard brims with manliness.

I’ve always cultivated at least the appearance of toughness. Ever since this kid shoved me in 7th grade home room, I’ve hit the weight pile in an attempt to generate the appearance of formidability and I must say, I’ve been fairly successful. Since 7th grade, not even a shove or a push. I’m no Arnold—I thought to update the reference but do kids even lift these days?—but I have come a long way since I tipped the scales at 98 pounds in 9th grade. 

But the beard. The beard trumpets toughness. My son-in-law is a large man with a great beard and fairly long hair on top that he pulls back into a samurai-looking type thing. He looks like a big, tough dude. I’m not sure if he actually is tough; he is a millennial.

But the beard even provides some options. I could keep it trimmed up a bit, think Arn Anderson—I know, dating myself again—or I could go full ZZ Top with this thing. Could I one day put a braid in it?

Would the chicks dig it?

Aside from cultivating the appearance of toughness, this is always a consideration. Allow me to contextualize.

Would Ami dig it?

I’ve always wondered about food though, and snot. As much as I liked the way a beard makes a man look, would Ami be more apt to rub her face and hands across my smoother cheek. And what about food and snot? That must be dealt with.

Another concern, could I even grow a beard? The longest I’ve been without shaving has been a week and let’s just say the results didn’t inspire confidence.

The Not-so-Great Compromise

The goatee speaks to constrained recklessness tempered by a cultivated civility. The versatility of the goatee makes it an entirely attractive option. The goatee performs admirably under a myriad of conditions. With it, I could join a biker gang as readily as I could a barbershop quartet. I could get in a fistfight as readily as I could attend a PTA meeting.

A man sets his gaze upon me and he must move on because he just doesn’t know. “Guy’s got a goatee. He could be tough or, he could be a soccer dad. I don’t wanna find out.”

Stone Cold Steve Austin. What else must be said.

Yet, I am bound by associations. At my church, one of the other pastors is also a middle-aged bald white man…who sports a goatee. I haven’t approached him about changing up his routine to accommodate my decision, but I do believe that having two of us on staff might be untenable. Additionally, our other pastor sports a goatee with hair. I feel that three goatees on staff would be asking for trouble.

A Troubling Option

In considering the mustache, we delve deep into some risk analysis and really, risk avoidance issues.

Very few men can pull off the mustache without looking like a douche.

Let’s clarify. The Army mustache is a truly horrid affair. Bound by regulation, it can neither encroach upon the upper lip nor the surface area outside a vertical line drawn upward from the corner of the mouth. (AR 670-1, Paragraph 3-2a2(b)) What that translates into is an utter catastrophe. The only service-members I’ve seen with acceptable mustaches consistently flirted with the regulations. Think Warrant Officer.

Years ago, the DAP pilots all sported out-of-regulation mustaches. At one point, they convinced their platoon leader to grow out his own. As he wasn’t a Warrant Officer, he had to keep it within regulations and it was horrible, one of the worst things I’ve seen. A friend intervened and demanded he remove the offending follicles.

Now though, I’ll not be constrained in such a fashion.

I could go George Hackenschmidt or Dan Severn. Classy, but dangerous. I could even go Fu Manchu, that bastardization between a goatee and a mustache. Is it a goatee with a shaved chin or an out of control mustache? Paul Teutulesque.

With so many options, one thing is becoming clear. I had best make a decision soon.

Status Quo

Maybe I should just stick with what I’ve got. I don’t mind how I look clean-shaven. I’m just tired of shaving every single day for the last 26 years. It’s like Buffalo Wild Wings stress. I like the Teriyaki wings and stick with them, but the innumerable other options consistently murmur that there might be something I like better. Yet, I don’t want to waste a shot at wings on an unknown entity. So, I stick with what I know and like.

The Answer?

In my fledgling dalliance with facial hair, I consulted the source of all wisdom, Google. I googled, “cool facial hair for men,” and Google didn’t let me down as I happened upon an interesting option.

The #1 all over…hmmm.

Maybe this is it. As I’ve run the #1 over my scalp for all these years and I don’t desire to shave every, single day, what if I just applied the same procedure to my face as I do to my head. Hmmm. Simple. Easy.

The bit of scruff coupled with the no-nonsense up top speaks to a man to be reckoned with. I could go troubled-dreamer or blue-collar, David Beckham or Bruce Willis. As I’ve only another few weeks until I start terminal leave, I need to decide soon. The gravity of this decision is truly starting to weight on me.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

THE 413 REPORT

If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

Wartime Reflections: No Surrender in the Heart of a Warrior

I hope to never mistake one of our soldiers for a choir boy.

I want our fighting men to be a brash, rough-and-tumble bunch. Since it all started, militaries sought to foment the fighting spirit in its warriors. Over the centuries, we’ve honed the craft in extracting the exact measure of refined aggression from our young men.

We build them into hyper-actualized images of themselves. How else would one storm an enemy foxhole under withering fire or pull a wounded comrade to safety? These traits we harness find a home on the battlefield.

Yet, as we inevitably come face-to-face with the Almighty, we quickly find ourselves at odds with many of these same traits.

We’ll start with the easiest first.

A Slave of Time

I am dominated by time and an awareness of time.

I was raised to be punctual, attended military college where punctuality was demanded, and for nearly two decades, have served in the most time centric organization in the history of the universe. Our entire existence revolves around time and timeliness.

As I am soon to be retired, I’ve little left to do but out-process and attend some appointments. My time has come back into my control. And what do I do? I’ve made a calendar and scheduled my time, all of it. I’ve even induced stress upon myself in attempting to meet the requirements that I have scheduled…for myself!

God calls us to rest, in Him.

Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a)

God calls us to be still before the presence of God. The busyness of military life can cloud our minds and spirits whereby we lose sight of why we were doing things in the first place. We become slaves to the calendar, to the ticking hands of the nearest clock. The pace and demands of military life rarely afford a man the opportunity to merely rest in Him.

Self-reliance

In a time of distress, I rely upon myself and my teammates. The Army is in the business of shaping events, molding outcomes, bending the will of men. Amid chaos, I am taught to establish and apply order, as I deliver disorder unto the enemy.

Training and combat generate focus, unparalleled focus. From Napoleon, “I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body. I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves.”

The issue of control dominates the military mind…and we aren’t ashamed of it. We will readily tell you that we seek to shape events, control those around us.

From the Command Master Chief in G.I. Jane (Yes I saw it and yes, I hated it, but this is a great quote) “The ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides, the drift of the continents, the very position of the sun along its ecliptic. THESE are just a FEW of the things I control in my world!”

God calls us to the opposite, to relinquish.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

So tight a grip I maintain on my reality that the idea of allowing God to direct my life is a difficult thing, aside from the silly notion that God needs my permission to do anything. After coming to faith in Christ in 2005, God steadily expanded His purview over my life and as He steadily took control, at one point I shouted at Ami in frustration, “It can’t all be about God can it!?” It seems that God had quite a different idea about the nature of things than I did.

Shaming Weakness

During some training once, one of the ground force fell from the fast rope, about 20 feet, and hurt his back. One of the guys came in with a downcast countenance and reported it to the sergeant major.

“He’ll live, get back to training.”

“Sergeant Major, he’s hurt pretty bad.”

“I went down the rope and didn’t fall. Maybe he’ll hold on a little tighter next time!”

Perhaps Secretary of Defense Mattis epitomizes the bluster best. In speaking to a group of sailors he extoled them, “You’re not some **** sitting on the sidelines.” Previously, when speaking of anti-war protestors, he urged those who meet one to wink at his girlfriend, “because she knows she’s dating a ****.”

The military eschews weakness, despises it. We seek to root out weakness, to identify it, and then to eliminate it, suppress it, remove it. From basic indoctrination into advanced training and into the units, the military exhorts soldiers to be brave, courageous. Never show weakness. Ever.

God shows His strength in our weakness.

Concerning the thorn in his flesh, Paul writes, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) The weakness of Paul’s flesh displays the power of God.

I had a friend ask me once about the type of people God used in the Bible. He was surprised that God would lean upon a coward or an adulterer or a prostitute. That is the amazing thing about God. He takes our weakness and shows His strength.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

No matter how tough I may be, I’ll always come across someone tougher. My bluster, no matter how legitimate, at some point rings hollow. God is glorified, His power manifest, in my weakness.

Never Surrender

Surrender is not in our creed. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist. We will ever accept defeat. We will fight and we will win our nations war…valiantly, proudly, audaciously.

Our language drips with this credo. Even in the face of overwhelming enemy, we never retreat. We retrograde. We delay. We retire a position.

Our heritage exalts those who’ve fought against insurmountable circumstances, those who’ve stood in the face of imminent death and fought fiercely, refusing to surrender. From Valley Forge to COP Keating, we’ve seared refusal to surrender onto the collective conscience of the force. Death before dishonor.

Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that at some point, every knee will bow before Jesus. Every knee will bow in surrender, either willingly or driven by the wrath of a righteous God.

God calls us to surrender to Him, to surrender all things to Christ.

Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (James 4:7a) The believer lives a life of submission starting with our initial surrender unto Christ. In sanctification, God calls the believer to submit in a number of ways: submit to church leadership, submit to governing institutions, submit to parents, wives submit to husbands.

Submission, closely tied to humility, governs the Christian walk. John the Baptist exclaims, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

In humility, the Christian life is a life of daily surrender. We are not what is important. I exist solely unto the glory of God. My glory matters not.

In many ways, the bravest thing a man may do is surrender.

I’ve known some true heroes over the years, men who’ve looked death in the face and stood their ground, men who’ve literally laid down their lives for their friends. I’ve seen men march headlong into the fray without hesitation, but the bravest men I’ve seen are those who’ve walked a life of faith, a life of surrender, every single day.

I call some of these men my fathers.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

THE 413 REPORT

If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

Wartime Reflections: The Homecoming—a Sometimes Bitter Affair

It’s been a week and I still haven’t made my wife cry.

The military homecoming is a cherished ritual full of pageantry and joy. It is a time of reunion and renewal, a time of hope and love. Unfortunately, for many this season of joy inevitably turns sour.

The Expectation

For her, he’ll return and joyously sweep her off her feet and they’ll instantly reconnect—emotionally, spiritually, physically. Things will be amazing, instantly as the pangs of separation fade.

For him, she’ll be waiting in the well-ordered home, with the well-behaved children, ready to accommodate him physically and surrender her role leading the home just as soon as he checks the mail and chills out for a bit.

Reality quickly tempers expectation.

The Reality

For Ami and me, reality happens like this. For a day or two, we’ll live the fairytale, all smiles and cheer. Gradually, I’ll notice things not to my satisfaction. I’ll initiate with some probing passive-aggression.

“Did you move the couch into the other room?”

“You’re letting so-and-so go where these days?”

“What is the plan for this stuff over here?”

Ami will sense my not-so-subtle disapproval of things and will inquire, knowing that I’m unhappy about something. I’ll refuse to admit it for a day or two though my passive-aggression is both obvious and intentional. Eventually, I’ll cave and admit to being unhappy. In reality, I want her to know I am unhappy. I know, what a guy.

That’s when the tears start. Ami is in disbelief that I cannot ignore small matters for the sake of the joy of being with my family. If I truly loved her and the kids then what would it matter if the laundry was not caught up or the garage was a mess?

Here’s the real kicker, once I have expressed my dissatisfaction, I feel better. My tent is up. I’ve aired my grievances and am now ready to move ahead and seek resolution.

Unfortunately, the heart of a woman doesn’t quite work that way.

His Reality

As unbelievable as it may sound, in many ways combat is far less stressful than modern American life. We generally excel at warfare and stack the odds in our favor so greatly that usually, not always, but usually the mission goes well. Consider that in our nation’s longest war, we’ve lost just over 6,000 soldiers. Now that is a lot, but in perspective consider that we lost 23,000 in a single day at Antietam.

Combat simplifies life.

I close with and destroy the enemy and outside of that, I kind of hang around.

During the mission, things get complicated and hard. Personal risk and other factors induce combat stress, but then the mission ends. Most deployed soldiers never even depart the base and engage the enemy anyway. No dishonor in this, it’s just that their occupational specialty does not necessitate it.

Militarily, I seek the imposition of order, to establish process amid chaos. After 22 years, it’s just what I do.

Deployed life takes on a simplistic, Spartan kind of feel. Outside of the mission, my deployed life pretty much belongs to me. My reality consists of the few square feet next to my bunk where I neatly arrange my shoes and stack my Bible and whatever else I may be reading. Outside the mission, my time is my own. I work out, eat, read, write, whatever.

Then reality hits.

Usually a couple of days before redeployment, I’ll get an email from Ami saying something like this:

“Hey baby, can’t wait to see you. We’ve got a church function this Friday evening after you get home. Saturday morning, Miguel has a soccer game followed by DJ’s. That afternoon we have so and so’s birthday party and Saturday night, we have dinner at Scott’s house. Sunday after church, we’re all going to the lake. I love you!”

Whew! Life takes no breaks.

In a manner of 24 hours, my time and my life has gone from completely under my control to completely outside of my control. As deployed life is simple, home life is anything but. The pace and complexity of modern American life consumes many; it can easily overwhelm a returning soldier.

This is exacerbated by the sheer pace of return. I’ve literally stepped off a mission, handed my mission packet to my replacement, hopped aboard an aircraft and been walking through my front door 24 hours later where life continues unabated, as it must. The modern American soldier has little time to decompress, to process.

Couple these stressors with other issues such as PTSD or other pre-existing issues and is it any wonder that many military families struggle during redeployment?

Her Reality

Existence becomes a struggle.

My wife is a warrior, a fire-breather. Military spouses vary per their level of independence. Mine is on the far end of the independence spectrum. “Get five rowdy boys dressed and ready for church in 15 minutes? Piece of cake.”

Words cannot express the extent of what she has to deal with while I am deployed.

I’m sure that each family struggles uniquely during deployment. Our appliances break, always. I’ll leave and the air conditioner will die or the hot water heater will break or the dishwasher will go tango uniform. It’s like clockwork.

And a kid will misbehave, at least one. This time it was my 17-year-old, but previously it’s been others. I love my sons, but the thought of raising the five still in the house by myself sends me into a panic attack. Someone is always punching someone, our dog pukes on the floor regularly, the two-year-old destroys everything he touches and hits people with sticks.

“Mom. Mom. Mom.” They actually line up outside the bathroom door, waiting, while she’s in there. Madness.

I give little thought to the uncertainty that governs her existence. I cannot imagine being in a situation whereby for an extended period, I had no idea if my wife was safe or not. At any time, night or day, a knock at the door could change life forever.

We lost some men in 2006 while I was deployed. Per SOP, all communications were shut down until family notification could happen. Everyone back home knew that men had died. Across our community, hundreds of military families braced for the unimaginable.

Ami was running on a treadmill at the YMCA, crying softly, pleading with God for it not to be me, but swearing that she would still praise Him, even if it were. Thank the Lord, a friend of mine saw here there, saw her grief, and quietly let her know that I was okay. I’m so thankful to this day that the Lord sent this messenger. This uncertainty would destroy me.

And I wonder why she gets her feelings hurt when I complain about the dishes upon my return.

A New Reality

I suspect we are not alone in this struggle.

I know that we are not alone in this struggle. A deployed friend of mine called the other day to let me know that he and his wife had previously experienced issues when he returned and as he was a couple of weeks out from redeploying, wanted to talk about it.

I had no easy answers for him, only to encourage him that many others shared this struggle. 

Last summer, returning from what I thought was my last deployment, I swore that things would be different, that I wouldn’t make my wife cry. Within a day or two of returning, I’m ashamed to say that I did exactly that.

This time though, I find a new hope, a renewed joy. God has a way of doing that as He has driven me to a new humility, broken me to a place I’ve never been. When I fully embrace the notion of my position before God, that I deserve and am entitled to absolutely nothing, that only His grace has saved me from destruction, it becomes much harder to be dissatisfied with anything, much less the laundry.

The secular would tell us to find coping mechanisms, to communicate and find ways to ease the pressure of the reunion and these are all good things. I’ll not deny them, but they are mere band-aids on the bleeding ulcer of my sin. Only a repentant heart can deny self in the face of difficult circumstances such as these.

I’m still not sure what to tell my friend.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

THE 413 REPORT

If you loved this article, and would like to learn more about foster and adoption care, and to stay up to date on our projects, missions, and programs, as well as the release of Bradford's third book, Brave Rifles, please sign up for our Newsletter. The 413 Project is made up of common people empowering and serving others to accomplish an uncommon good.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This is a powerful read in a small book. The subtitle hits the mark with its description of, "A Biblical Treatise on Adoption." The author poses a challenge to the reader to stop reading the book upfront if the reader does not want to be moved to action.

   Janice S. Garey  

The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

  Anne Rightler

This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

  Scott Doherty

In Scourge, Brad offers us more than cold statistics or a cautionary tale. Instead, he offers us the solution - faith backed by action - to overcome this insidious problem Insightful and provocative, Scourge is a warning flag, guide post and rally to hope for all of us.

 Chad Chasteen

Wartime Reflections: Until Valhalla Falls

I like the idea of Valhalla as much as anyone.

I’ll rest in the great hall of Odin, the Norse god of death, where the roof is made of shields, supported by rafters of spears. On seats crafted from breastplates, I’ll revel in the company of men of old, men of renown, and we’ll regale one another with tales of death and honor. I’ll dine alongside Eric Bloodaxe and the rest of the Einherjar, the fallen men of valor. We’ll feast on the meat of the boar Saehrimnir and drink mead from the goat Heidrun.

Alluring Valkyries will wait on us hand and foot as we bask in the warrior’s glory until the final battle of Ragnarok.

It’s appealing, I’ll admit. Unfortunately, Valhalla is about as real as Purgatory…and maybe just as dangerous.

Does it Matter?

I wonder what men actually believe. You may say, “Of course no man believes in a literal Valhalla. This is mere hyperbole whereby they are assigning honor to a fallen warrior, showing affection to a brother-in-arms, and expressing a desire to see them once more.”

I don’t doubt this is true for some.

Yet I wonder. Every man is a theologian. Every man develops for himself a systematic theology. The question becomes, “Upon what is it based?” As silly as it sounds now, prior to my conversion, I derived much of my agnostic theology from Stephen King, particularly his book, The Stand. As such, a darkened, academic mindset governed my existence until the Lord freed me from that yoke.

The point is that no matter how silly a thing may be, someone will believe it. Thus, Valhalla confronts us as a formidable fortress of wishful thinking.

“What’s the harm?”

The issue arises in coveting a notion, no matter how fanciful, that betrays reality, endangering men in the process. The stakes for misunderstanding our standing before God could not be higher. While most may not put stock in a literal Valhalla, the concept persists.

A warrior generally errs in one of two ways concerning his standing before God. On one end of the spectrum, he may automatically consider himself at a disadvantage due to the nature of his occupation. Soldiering, the taking of life, renders him at odds with God.

Conversely, many of my fellow warriors covet the idea of special consideration for a man of war based upon the burdens he’s borne. It is their earnest belief that the warrior would merit special favor.

I seek to crucify these faulty and dangerous beliefs.

No Condemnation

I’ll make the case that, biblically speaking, soldiering is as legitimate a profession as carpentry, or medicine, or business. Jesus interacts often with soldiers. 1st century Palestine was crawling with Roman soldiers.

In one account recorded in Matthew 8, Jesus encounters a centurion at Capernaum. The centurion came to beg Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus consents and the centurion has faith that Jesus can do what He says. Jesus responds, “With no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (v. 10) Jesus praises the faith of a soldier.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Despite being a soldier, look at this man’s faith.” No, He extols his faith for what it is, independent of his legitimate occupation.

Luke chapter 3 records an interesting encounter between John the Baptist and several soldiers. John is preaching in the wilderness and crowds come to hear him including some soldiers. The people seek his guidance. Several hated tax-payers ask for his wisdom. Finally, the soldiers ask, “What shall we do?” In light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the soldiers wanted to know what they should do.

Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (v.14)

In other words, conduct yourself honorably as a soldier. Don’t abuse your position. Coupled with His words to the taxpayer, I could hermeneutically advise a soldier to “spill no more blood than you have to.” Soldier well; soldier honorably.

John never once calls them to lay down their swords. Neither does Jesus.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the soldier’s position before God, perhaps underscored by ungodly wartime behavior or some other form of trauma, drives guilt and shame, crippling a man. I seek to address this fundamental misunderstanding.

It is entirely possible to fight honorably, to wage war in a godly fashion. As such, God offers no condemnation for any who are in Christ Jesus, no matter their legitimate occupation. (Romans 8:1) Rest easy soldier and fight well tomorrow.

No Caveat

On the other end of this spectrum are those who place so much esteem upon the profession of arms that they neglect the clear teaching of Scripture.

I have a framed print, given to me years ago. It depicts a kneeling soldier. He’s dirty and tired, battle-scarred and battle-weary, his head drooping under the weight of his burden. An accompanying poem describes his struggle along the lines of, “Enjoy your time in heaven, you’ve served your time in hell.”

Our first glimpse of Valhalla.

The idea that a warrior who has fought well will be waiting for us in a place called Valhalla is unfortunately just not true. A warrior, anyone for that matter, who does not know the Lord Jesus will only be waiting in hell. This is the clear testimony of Scripture.

But we want to believe in Valhalla and if we’re honest, it’s because that’s what we want for ourselves. Perhaps we’ve never kneeled before a holy and righteous God, acknowledged our sin and helplessness, and repented and believed upon the Lord Jesus. Perhaps you have never been saved and so the idea of Valhalla appeals to you.

At its root, it’s old-fashioned works-based righteousness. Works is the misguided but entirely natural belief that I can earn my way to God by what I do, that I can be a ‘good’ person. Surely God would never condemn a ‘good’ person such as me.

You’ve fought in war. Perhaps you’ve fought selflessly. Maybe you’ve laid down your life for a friend or sacrificed something for a brother on the battlefield and for that Sir, I commend you. But it won’t save you.

Scripture assures us that our righteousness is as filthy rags (menstrual garments) in the eyes of the Lord, that no one seeks after God, that no one is good, that all have fallen away, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…including the valiant warrior.

Christ offers no caveats, no exemptions. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He does NOT say, “No one comes to the Father except through me…except for the soldier.”

The concept of Valhalla pollutes the minds of men the same as any other popular but unbiblical idea. Men have sought to replace truth with lies since it all began. It’s what we do. Unfortunately, some lies bear eternal and irrevocable consequences. Valhalla is just such a lie.

Only through Christ may any man be made right before a holy God and assure his place in Heaven…independent of his legitimate occupation.

Until Valhalla Falls

It is fitting that the Norse culture which gave rise to Valhalla wilted under the steady spread of Christendom from Europe.

I pray that we’ve similarly destroyed such a notion. Brave warrior, put not your trust in man who cannot save. (Psalm 146:3) Lay down your sword and look to the Lord Jesus. I assure you of Christ’s superiority to all things as much as Heaven’s superiority to Valhalla.

Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith

Author - Founder

Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).

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The call that sounds for the incredible need of emotionally and physically abandoned and orphaned children and one that when answered manifests the love of Christ.

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This book is a must read for anyone affected in any way by addictions. So many of the situations in this book seem hopeless, but as Brad so clearly points out, Christ is the solution and the only hope of man. As long as there is breath, there is hope!

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