What’s the point of Remembrance?

There is a traditional scene played out every November around our nation, one typified by old men in suits, bedecked with medals, walking in lines past monuments once erected to now forgotten wars. 

At these monuments, the ever decreasing numbers of veterans, partake in a ritual that many think is intended to glorify war and celebrate jingoistic victories of the past. With our current generation’s focus on self centred individualism, this old fashioned public past time seems to have little relevance in the modern age. Even the monument’s themselves, with the names of the fallen engraved upon them, have become targets of hate to be graffitied and vandalised by successive social justice protesters. 

Sadly the Christian church has done little to dissuade folk of this current climate. Persuaded by arguments for pacifism the church has turned its back on Remembrance and pays only lip service to the event. As often as not the occasion becomes an incongruent opportunity to deliver a ‘beating swords into ploughshares’ message, leaving the attending veterans with the impression that they should regret what they once stood for and what their comrades died for. 

Philosopher George Santayana once remarked that “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes”. With wars and rumours of wars increasing around the globe, we are  indeed  repeating the past we seem so eager to forget. The same mistakes are being made again, the same divisions and hatreds have once more raised their heads, albeit with different names and titles to make them more palatable to a modern audience.   

Remembrance was born at a time when this nation could still be classed a Christian nation, and the leaders who instituted this event professed a Christian faith. They felt a collective need for the whole nation to reflect upon the losses of the First World War.  

Yet the roots of Remembrance go much deeper than merely a sense of national mourning. Remembrance follows some strong Biblical principles. One in particular deserves a mention: Lament. 

Many a service veteran struggles with issues of guilt and shame. Yes, they are proud of their service, but that service often comes at a price. Doing the right thing is rarely devoid of consequences. Even when doing good, evil can still result, and this always will be the case in a sinful world. As Paul says in Romans 7:

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me."

War is never good, but sometimes it is necessary. So how are individuals and nations that go to war ever to recover their sense of moral righteousness again? 

The answer is found in the Biblical principle of lament. 

We aren’t taught about lament in our churches today. Rarely does the subject get air time. Instead our theology leans towards what would be termed the ‘prosperity gospel’ – the idea that if you serve God with enough dedication everything will turn out well for you, you will ‘prosper’. This Romans 8 ‘more than conquerors’ focus conveniently forgets that sometimes it is not God’s will for us to prosper at all in this life. Trials, temptations and difficulties may plague us our whole lives and that will be the will of God. For those who struggle in this way, and for our combat veterans, the idea of coming to church to ‘enjoy’ God is an anathema….and that is why lament is such an important subject. 

Lament is a cry to God, a pouring out of anger, angst and frustration to God in prayer…..yes, it is Biblical to be angry at God, as many of his greatest servants were. As you read through Lamentations and the Psalms you will be confronted with four elements to lament: Turn, Complain, Ask and Trust. 

A turning to God in difficult circumstances; An outpouring of complaint “My God my God why have you forsaken me”; An plea asking for help “Look on me and answer, O Lord”; and finally a trust, that even as God doesn’t answer, he is still sovereign  “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” 

Throughout the process of lament, God is silent! He doesn’t answer, because he has already answered, ultimately in Jesus Christ. Through lament, God’s servants, you and I, are to come to trust and know that he is in control despite our circumstances and that our Lord has already saved. 

Our remembrance services are intended to be moments of public lament, when our nation cries out to God in times of crisis. The two minute silence at the centre of remembrance isn’t merely a time to reflect on our wartime losses, but rather a reflection of the silence of God in response to lament….he has already answered, he has already saved, he has brought us through the trial even with its sacrifice of pain and loss. 

As Christians, and together as the church, it is our responsibility to lead in Remembrance. This is a profoundly Christian act, it is not an act glorifying war, but a cry to God because of war….and we do well to remember the past and recognise that evil and suffering will always be part of our Christian experience while sin abounds in this world.

"if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Lest we forget………


– Phil Patterson

Veterans Chaplaincy Scotland

Header photo by corina ardeleanu on Unsplash

Article published November 2023