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Christ on the front lines

What would Jesus look like on the battlefield?

While Mel Gibson’s new war film “Hacksaw Ridge” never directly asks this question, it is certainly implied many times. Would he fight for the greater good in order to save lives? Would he stay home and preach peace and love? Or, as humanity tore itself apart, would he try to put some of it back together?

The movie focuses on the life of Desmond Doss, an ardent Christian who enlists in the U.S. Army in the thick of World War II, intent on being a medic in a combat unit. Not only is Doss a pacifist, but he refuses to even touch a gun or carry a knife. After immense hostility from his peers and a tense trial, Doss is granted permission to run into the hellfire of war without a weapon to defend himself.

Doss and his men march on the infamous Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa Island, hoping to take Japan and end the Pacific front of the war. The unit’s sergeant tells them to not look to “Doss the coward” to save them once the bullets start flying.

While many film critics have decried “Hacksaw Ridge” for lecturing on pacifism but glorifying violence, I must disagree. Gibson truly turns the battlefield into the ninth circle of Hell. These scenes are filmed like a horror movie, full of anguish, brutality, sorrow and gut-wrenching violence. Glorified? Not even close.

This Hell is what Doss charges into as his unit retreats. Hearing cries for help, Doss stays alone on Hacksaw and rescues the wounded men the Army left behind, ignoring his own injuries and exhaustion as he runs into Hell again and again. He ends up saving the lives of 75 men who had been left for dead.

So, I again ask, what would Jesus do in wartime?

I believe he would run in alongside his children and friends, willing to stand between them and the enemy, enduring the agony of battle for hours on end, doing whatever it takes to save even a single life. I believe Doss embodies the ideology of Christ. (Although I am largely referring to Gibson’s film, it is remarkably accurate, and my praise extends to the real man.)

In times of peace and comfort, it’s exceedingly easy to place your full trust in God and then pat yourself on the back for doing so. When the tides turn, however, and trouble rears its head, people are quick to lean on themselves or other institutions. Those around us may even say, “God won’t save you,” just as the Army did about Doss. Of course, when it counted, the Army didn’t charge into gunfire and save the abandoned; Doss did.

At the same time, while Jesus will join you in battle, He will never harm another person. Although He has the strength of angels on His side, life is too precious to kill. He will take a beating and even allow himself to be hung from a cross to save you, but He will not answer violence with violence.

At one point, Doss puts his life on the line to save enemy Japanese soldiers, the very men who were specifically targeting his wounded friends. To Doss, every shred of life is a precious gift from God worth preserving, regardless of nationality or morality. Just as Jesus healed his arresting officer’s severed ear, Doss carried enemy soldiers down the sheer face of Hacksaw Ridge.

The real-life Desmond Doss refused to call himself a hero. He was simply a man who listened to God and held fast to his convictions. I, however, will unequivocally laud him as a true hero, one whose legacy is incredible and inspiring. He is the sort of man we all would want next to us on the battlefield. The amazing thing is that we can have an even greater hero stand with us, for our God is a very-present help in times of need.

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