Soon after his high school graduation, my father joined the U.S. Marines and did two tours in the jungles of Vietnam. To this day, when asked about his experiences in war, he will only say, “I passed out flowers.” Based on documentaries that I have seen, I can’t imagine what my father endured.
Nor my friends. One soccer teammate from Central America was kidnapped as a child and forced to become a child soldier in the jungles of his country. Another from Bosnia, in broken English, once listed all the family members he had lost in the Bosnian War: “Father, brother, uncle . . .” Still others from my church live with the PTSD they picked up from years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
War is hell. That’s what Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman allegedly once said. Technically, he was wrong, but he wasn’t wrong by much. If hell is the complete absence of God and his blessings, living in a war zone without comfort or safety or peace is a little glimpse of the horrors of life without God. Whenever I read the stories of refugees sleeping on the ground, trying to settle their crying babies while processing their own trauma, I get a tiny taste of the hellish nature of war.
Jesus was honest about that. In Matthew 24, Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (verses 6-8).
Birth pains. If you’ve experienced them, you know they are torturous. Jesus chose that imagery to describe life in a war-torn world, as he refused to gloss over the grotesqueness of humanity. What some will do in the pursuit of power, wealth, and land makes angels weep. May we weep with them too (Romans 12:15).
But in choosing “birth pains” as his image, Jesus was also making us a promise. Yes, birth pains are torturous, but they also have a purpose. They lead to something euphoric. In other words, there is an end to such pain. Skim over Matthew 24:3-14 and you’ll notice that “the end” is what Jesus has in mind as he teaches about this world’s wars, a phrase he mentions in verse 3, verse 6, verse 13, and verse 14.
At “the end,” wars will end. Rumors of wars will end. Invasions will end. Starving will end. Ruthless dictatorships will end. Crying and mourning and death will end. Sin and all its heartbreaking consequences will end. Because on that day, the Last Day, the One who is the Beginning and the End will appear and evil will end once and for all.
So whether sirens are screaming in your city, warning you to find shelter, or this morning’s headlines are alarming your heart, remember how God’s story ends. It ends with a “birth” so beautiful that the labor pains of human history are not worth comparing to it (Romans 8:18). Until that glorious moment arrives, pray for strength to endure, to breathe, to push through in faith.
In our last devotion, I told you about a young immigrant who joined me in church and prayed for his people who were fighting for their lives. After his amen, our church stood to join in the Lord’s Prayer where one particular phrase caught my attention—“Deliver us from evil.”
Deliver. Maybe it’s just a coincidence of language, but a “delivery” is what changes the pains of labor into the joy of new birth. In an instant, the agony ends and the celebration begins. Lord, deliver us from evil! Lord, deliver them from evil! “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).