Is the anguish of war a message from God?

Sydney Spencer, who hoped to become a clergyman some day, confided to his diary his wish to assist with nursing the wounded, and his concern for them.

10th August 1914
I called at Mr Street’s on the way home [from playing at Stubbings], & stopped chatting till about 9.15. Mrs Frank Street’s son Roland has volunteered. The more one thinks of things the more incredible does it seem that Europe is in the throes of a huge war. Today’s paper tells of a great battle in Liege between Germany & France where thousands have been lost on either side. Yesterday I had a letter from dear old “Jumbo” (Oliphant of Exeter Coll), & he tells me that most of the colleges are now barracks & the Examination Schools are turned into hospitals. Also he tells me that rumours are floating that Oxford will not meet next term but that nothing official has yet been announced. Soon we must expect to hear of an engagement between England and Germany. So far naval engagements only have occurred between us & even those were of that cold deadly slaughtering type – the hidden mine type – but soon the armies must meet & then our hospitals must be filled with men wounded & dying. How I do long to be able to go to them & help them. I am no good as a fighter: I have no strength in my arms, but I long to be able to attend to the sick & wounded, & to help them spiritually.

I do feel so strongly the desire to talk to them of those deeper things of life. There is so much talk nowadays of practical help. You must attend to the bodily wants. Yes that is true, but is there not a deep want & hunger for someone to cure these mental disorders too? What does it profit a man if he save his body & lose his soul? I am sure that underneath all the bluff & “don’t care” of the ordinary man there lies hidden a very real desire to learn of spiritual things. I feel that the harvest is truly plenteous but the labourers very few. This war with all its horrors & its terrible tale of desolated homes & death, now seems like a message from God, not now a gentle pleading, but the Voice of his Trumpet commanding attention. How long Oh Lord hast thou pleaded in gentle tones, can I now feel bitter that Thou dost command? No. It is only the warning noise for a loving Father who so yearns for his wayward children that he may stop at nothing in His determination to make them feel His presence.

Oh England, my England, how I love your hills & vales, your softly flowing streams, your smiling pastures & meads, your “burding” brooks & tumbling waterfalls, your mountains wrapped in mystery! How too I love you, my English countrymen with your breezy English atmosphere, & your big hearts full of the potentiality for good! My Oxford, over which I seem to see hang a cloud of golden softness, my Alma Mater in whose soft arms I have been caressed for a short time, & may be again if God so wishes it! Men of Oxford who have so kindly treated & so manfully despised all those things in me which wanted altering! My heart goes out, & out to all, to My England, & I feel very sad, for the very love I have for her & for Oxford & for her people, is made sad by the vapid frivolity, the utter selfishness, & the endless whirligig of pleasure seeking which I see all around me. Shallow superficiality masquerades as “practical optimism”, vapid pleasure seeking as common sense, healthy mindedness & serious thought is dubbed morbidity, & religion “mere weakmindedness”. When are people going to wake up to their utter need? Will they do so now in this time of dire distress & anguish?

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/12)

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