This is the second part in a series of blog entries placing statements from Sun Tzu’s Art of War next to principles of spiritual warfare found in The Bible. For the first entry, look here.
The first entry may have seemed a bit unfocused. I mean, it purports to speak of how God has placed Himself beyond the possibility of defeat, but then spends most of its word count speaking about the believer being victorious. What gives?
The answer, simply, is that God is beyond the possibility of defeat by nature, being the Creator. Just as the author of a book cannot be defeated by the book’s characters and the artist cannot be defeated by the work of art, so, too, the Creator of all cannot be defeated by that which He has created.
The Business of the General
Now we turn from the notion of being beyond defeat to what Sun Tzu had to say about the business of the general. What can the great tactician reveal about the character of a wise general and, by extension, remind the believer about God?
It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.
There are three characteristics of the general listed: quiet, upright, and just. The outcomes of these attributes are ensuring secrecy and maintaining order. Is God all of those things?
If we take the psalmists at their words, then God is often silent. In Psalm 35:22, 39:12, 50:3, 83:1, and 109:1 all ask that God not be silent. To ask that often that someone not be silent heavily implies that the person is silent. God says, in Isaiah 42:14 and 57:11 that He kept silent. There are several places where Jesus, while being examined by the high priests before being crucified, remains silent. Clearly, God has a habit of being quiet. What’s more, in 1 Kings 19, Elijah meets God not in the loud things but in the gentle, quiet breeze. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, / A victorious warrior. / He will exult over you / with joy, / He will be quiet in His love, / He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” The Bible has a fair bit to say about the silence and quiet of God. Sun Tzu says that the quiet of a general is to ensure secrecy. If this is true, then there are secrets hidden in God’s quiet and silence that the believer may not know until the battle has been joined.
The other two attributes hardly bear examination, as God is the definition of upright and just. Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 25:8 and 92:15 and 119:137, and Isaiah 26:7 all declare God to be upright. Deuteronomy 32:4 and 1 Peter 3:18 both speak of God being just.
The outcome? Secrecy and order. There are plans that only the Father knows and the New Testament speaks more than once about the person who is led by the Holy Spirit doing things that others will not understand. The New Testament also has a few things to say about God being a God of order and about the church maintaining that order.
He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither he is going.
In 1 Kings 18:12, a man speaking to Elijah says that the Spirit of the Lord would carry Elijah he knew not where. Ecclesiastes 11:5 says that we do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Jesus said, in John 8:14, that we do not know where [He came] from or where [He is] going. The conclusion? No one can predict God’s actions. As the single most skillful General ever, God’s plans are so odd that even His own soldiers cannot figure out what their General is up to. We know the outline (Romans 8:28), but the details elude us.
To muster his host and bring it into danger:—this may be termed the business of the general.
Paul spoke often of the danger into which apostles were sent. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 says But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. Believers are often placed in dangerous situations and The Bible is replete with examples of God’s faithful being led into perilous situations in order to accomplish God’s ultimate goals. All we need do is read through Hebrews 11 to reminded of this truth.
What is more, Sun Tzu claims that the general’s business is to muster his host. In John 6:44, Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws them. God the Father is in the business of recruiting His host and sending them into danger to achieve His objectives.