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.
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.
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.
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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