During World War II, my dad was in seminary. Because of his preparation for ministry, he, like the Levites of old, was excused from the military draft. Dad shared with me that as he walked down the streets, he was berated and shamed for not wearing a uniform and serving his country. His country was in a patriot fury. All able bodied men were to be serving to "stop Hitler" or "kill the Japs." Being a hot blooded young man who wanted to prove his mettle, he volunteered in the Merchant Marines, becoming a part of the group who shuttled supplies to the troops. He didn't want anyone to think him the coward.
One cannot read the first chapter of Numbers and miss the repeated line in the census:
"every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war."
To me, this speaks of the reality and the deep tragedy of human history. A history that numbers its people for the purpose of war, commerce or taxation.
Numbers are very useful in keeping track of things. Bar codes have changed commerce. Accounting and numerical assignments help organize our tasks. "Crushing figures" and "just the facts, mam" have allowed us to control and understand our lives in many ways.
But there is something inside me that recoils when we begin to number people.
As a nurse, I saw the reality of technological numeration trumping humanitarianism. People--real, living people--with talents, stories, loves, and lives, were reduce to the number of their assigned room, the figures on their lab sheets, and the dosage amounts of their medications.
And to number people for the act of war, as if war trumps family relationships, talents, dreams and futures, scares me. What a way to define people! What a way to define a community! I am appalled and deeply grieved.
This year is a census year in our country. We are told in the commercials that we are trying to get "a picture of America." I understand statistics are helpful and necessary at some level, but woe to us if we see people as only a statistic or a number to manipulate for commerce and, God forbid, war.
I guess these musings are those of a female who in my culture has never had to face the possibility that I would be drafted to bear arms against another human being. Perhaps I am extremely naive, but war seems like such a ridiculous way to solve any problem, though I know it has been seen throughout history as a necessary reality.
I'm wondering if God really orders war, or if our forefathers just heard wrong...
It is disturbing to me to think this is our only option.
I guess I'm going to struggle with the book of numbers if this is the direction it is going to take me.
Census taking in the Bible does not have a good rap, so to speak. Necessary? Yes. It took a census to move Mary and Joseph out of Nazareth so Jesus could be born in Bethlehem as the prophets foretold. But what a mess that turned out to be. Thousands of young male babies met the sword.
How long will daughters of Ramah mourn for their children, especially their sons, while the almighty power of the sword destroys their flesh and their futures?