Bushidō

“The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.” Exodus 15:3

Samurai

When I was a member of Boy Scouts, part of the routine of our weekly meetings was to stand at attention and recite the Boy Scout Oath. The oath was basically a list of virtues that we aspired to implement in our lives. Although bushido is far more complex and historically much older, it roughly served the same purpose for several centuries in Japan among the warrior class. Bushidō (武士道) is translated literally as the “way of the warrior” and it is a vaguely defined ethical code for samurai that instructed them on how to live lives characterized by honor and virtue. It has many parallels with the more familiar concept of chivalry, which was common among European knights in the Middle Ages.

Going far beyond the normal fighting skills typically demanded of a warrior, bushidō is essentially an unwritten moral code of conduct that seeks to inspire a samurai to aspire to something much higher in his actions and attitudes. Bushidō has religious undertones as it draws influence from three major schools of thoughts associated with Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism. The earliest written record of the term “bushidō” appears in 1616. Over the centuries, variations of what it actually means have been propagated by its adherents. A common list of the virtues normally associated with bushidō includes righteousness, courage, compassion, respect, honesty, honor, loyalty and self-control.

The Edo Period (1603-1867), which was characterized as a time of peace, stability and economic growth in Japan, created an atmosphere that fostered the advancement of bushidō among the warrior class and refined many of its tenets. Following this, the Meiji restoration (1868-1912) brought an end to the military rule of the shogunate and with it, the abolishment of the samurai. However, the precepts of bushidō survived in the new geopolitical conditions and continue to manifest themselves in corporate, political and military behavior even to this day. When the military reemerged with even greater influence on the political landscape prior to World War Two, bushidō was overtly encouraged with special emphasis given to the virtues of loyalty and self-sacrifice for the empire.

Many of the historical events recorded in the Old Testament center around warfare, a theme that has largely fallen out of favor in modern societies that often value peace above all else. According to this overly simplified line of thinking, warfare is frequently equated with barbarism, brutality, inhumanity and violence so it should be rejected in all forms. However, such a simplistic approach tends to naively ignore the biblical metanarrative of the conflict between good and evil in both earthly and spiritual domains. While it is good to seek peace and other virtues, such worthwhile goals are often not obtained without struggle and even bloodshed. Nothing illustrates this clearer than the Cross, where evil was conquered through great sacrifice and personal conflict. This truth is why God is repeatedly described as a “Warrior” (Zephaniah 3:17) who fights on our behalf and why the deeds of “mighty men” who stand against evil forces and authorities are highly extolled (I Chronicles 11). God does call us to engage in battles in the spiritual realm and sometimes, even in the physical realm, but thankfully He goes before us, equips us (Ephesians 6:10-17) and ultimately, leads us to victory. “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”

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