Scheduled for release this year is Mel Gibson’s movie Hacksaw Ridge, the story of the world’s most famous conscientious objector, Desmond Doss. Doss, of the 77th Infantry Division, was a combat medic in the battle for Okinawa in May 1945. He refused to carry a weapon because of his conscientious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. He was ridiculed by many of his fellow soldiers for his stand—until they faced combat.
In one notable incident, Doss’s company was tasked with taking the Maeda escarpment, a steep cliff behind which the Japanese had constructed a reverse slope defence with an intense kill zone at the top of the precipice. As Doss’s company assaulted the ridge they were cut down by rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire. Doss remained alone on the exposed ridge as the survivors retreated back down the rock face. Alone and under constant fire, he rescued approximately 75 of his comrades, sometimes crawling to within seven metres of enemy machine-gun posts to rescue casualties, then lowering them in an improvised rope litter back down the cliff. Doss received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions, thus highlighting the issue of non-combatancy.
Armed conflict raises many problems for Christians. When two predominantly Christian nations fight, both sides are praying to the same God for the defeat of the opposing combatants. How should God respond in this instance? On occasions, soldiers have taken the life of an enemy combatant only to find they had killed a fellow church member and friend from before the war. Is this God’s will?
The Bible is clear—the Ten Commandments tell us in the most unequivocal language possible: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
And Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
“All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
When a person loses their life, their opportunity to make a decision for or against salvation is over. Because we are not God and cannot read a person’s mind, we can never take it upon ourselves to choose when a person should lose that opportunity. In fact our work should be the opposite; we should do all in our power to prolong life and thus prolong the opportunity a person has to make a decision for Christ.
There are many who would argue that the Ten Commandments refer to actual murder, not “killing” and that killing in war in the defence of home, loved-ones and self is not classed as murder. After all, the Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s people fighting wars and even to the point of genocide on occasions (see 1 Samuel 15).
However, it is important to remember that from the time of Abraham until the Babylonian conquest, Israel was ruled as a theocracy (governed by God) and that God does have the ability to know when a person can no longer be reached. Because God has this knowledge, He alone has the right to choose when a person can die and for their opportunity for salvation to be ended. God has exercised this right on a number of occasions throughout history. In Noah’s day, He flooded the world (Genesis 6), on other occasions He rained fire from heaven (Genesis 19) or even used a mighty angel to do His work (Isaiah 37:36). God also had the opportunity to use His people to do this work on occasions.
The important point in all of this is that these are the actions and decisions of God and not man. Purposefully taking a person’s life is a decision we can never make, as we do not live under a theocracy where God directly makes these decisions, but rather a democracy where our human, and therefore faulty, government decides whether to take life in warfare or not. For this reason, Christians cannot involve themselves in killing other people even in the context of war.
Does this then mean that Christians can take no part in warfare at all?
Absolutely not! As Doss’s example so well highlights, Christians who are involved in the medical side of war are actually doing the opposite of killing while still supporting their country. By saving lives, they are not only following the example of Jesus but are prolonging the opportunity a person has to make a decision for Christ. To do less would be to condemn the wounded to an early grave and remove from them the continued opportunity to make a decision for salvation.
Every month, Lyle Southwell delves into the Bible to answer some of life and Christianity’s deeper questions.
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