The Honor of Veterans
By: Dr. Bruce Goddard
Leviticus 19:32 says, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.”
Recently, while waiting in security at an airport, I was standing behind a quiet man, well built, but with a few years on him, thick, but with a subtle strength, well under six feet in height, but there was something about him, no doubt. A curve or two of the line brought my eyes to a hulk of a youth, well over six feet, obviously military, and briefly headed home or to being deployed. At one point the lines brought the two near each other and a brief conversation of “what and where” ensued. The older, (about 40 – 45 years) asked about some special training the other had just completed; the youth replied he had passed, and he was congratulated. The youth instantly replied, “I made it, but nothing like you guys would have done.” Unknown to me, the older must have been part of some special unit and was revered by the younger, who was unafraid to give honor to whom honor was due.
I suddenly envied the camaraderie and felt I was intruding a little bit into something sacred held by only these two among the crowded security line. Though they shared a few warm friendly words, the awe of the elder was clear. The line moved, the two were parted, and I felt like I was standing on holy ground where before me stood someone very special, and I held a great respect for the young hulk behind me for his unashamed revere of the elder.
We like the grit and toughness of our military, and all of us admire the scars or the battle wounds of veteran military folks. He will not push his way up front, but will stand in the back, say little, for he has seen the frailty of man, his own, and that of others. He has seen enough that he desires no accolades, avoids the platform, and certainly quietly holds inside the wisdom of decades.
We all smile at the good looking youth in their dress uniform, but show us the old soldier, having served 20-30 years with many deployments. We feel an awe, an almost spiritual reverence, and rightly so. You know that though there are a few more pounds, there is more battle wisdom, grit, and deadly experience than the good looking fresh youth could imagine; and the wise youth knows it to be true.
America knows the veteran to be rich in experience and wary in conflict. The fearless youth might in passion run in where death waits, unaware of hidden danger. So our wise leaders use the older soldier to temper and guide. The aged soldier sees things the young man has not learned to identify. There are things that cannot be seen; it is an instinct, a sixth sense that guides the seasoned vet who directs the youthful soldier to survive in dangerous situations.
To some extent, we feel the same way toward coaches. Not as athletic, yet knowing, seeing, understanding and anticipating and able to guide the best of athletes to success.
Thanks to books, the internet and video, I have the same awe towards the grizzled preacher, mostly discharged and gone on to their reward. Heart scarred in decades of battle, having buried many a fallen friend, but seeing what others cannot see, sensing and aware of the wiles of the wicked one when the passionate youth might miss it.
The lean frame is not there, the flash of the new uniform is missing. The smooth skin, the bright smile, and casual air are all so different from the battle-scarred prophet. He seems to walk with a little skepticism, guarded, wary. The veteran knows loss, having walked through deadly fires and wept over countless spiritual graves, wearing toughened leather like spiritual skin tanned in mighty conflicts. The prophet knows the need for youthful blood and new soldiers on the battlefield, but hopes the fair-skinned youth would not be too impressed by himself or those peers who boast of gifts and more current ideas.
Some in America see the portly old man with the “Vietnam Vet” or ” WWII” hat and feel no respect, no awe, but the wise young soldier sees something rich and deep hidden beneath the wrinkles and gray hair.
Even in the difficult situation of Job and his friends, the younger Elihu understood that the prudent thing was to hold your peace and let the elder men speak.
Job 32:4 says, “Now Elihu had waited till Job had spoken, because they were elder than he.”
Job 32:6 says, “And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said, I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion.”
Wise young men are a little hesitant to divulge their thoughts, knowing they sit among wiser and more experienced men. With unimpressed air, we use the colloquialism, “Been there, Done that,” but these seasoned soldiers of the cross “have and did,” and impressed we would wisely be. With the Elijah’s and Micaiah’s of our world, who’ve faithfully wielded the Sword, they walked differently, they looked different, they stood almost alone, among men yet distant; there was simply something different. They are the warrior, prophet, and man of God. No one has ever worshiped them, and the idiots who blast their “man worship” rhetoric are only revealing their immaturity and jealousy for the richness of the prophets life and reverence wise younger men feel for them.
You’ll find no battle scars on the guy who fits into the world. There are no grizzled old veterans of the contemporary church, for they have comfortably retired in their nice homes and casually speak in their occasional conference or cruise. Or, they have found more fertile fields in secular business, writing or motivational speaking. Serving the church and weeping with the hurting does not fit their successful lifestyle.
The prophets warned of the day when the ancient was not revered. Isaiah 3:5 says, “And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable.”
The day when the elder is not honored is like the writing on the wall; trouble is on the way. Lamentations 5:12 says, “Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured.”
For me, I will honor the Jack Hyles, (you knew it was coming, I didn’t want to disappoint you) John R. Rice and the Lee Roberson’s, Oliver B. Green’s and the Lester Roloff’s, Bob Jones, as well as their friends who fought the fight and stood true to the end. I will with humility and pride “rise up before the hoary head” and “honor” their name.
Dr. Bruce Goddard
Faith Baptist Church