‘HACKSAW RIDGE’ by Mel Gibson is the story of a Desmond Doss, a courageous young man who served God and his country as a medic and conscientious objector in the Pacific in World War Two. According to The Daily Mail, ‘Doss, who died in 2006, was awarded the Medal of Honour by President Harry Truman in 1945 for single handedly saving the lives of more than 75 of his comrades during the Battle of Okinawa.’ It is thought that he actually saved more than 100.
It is apparent that Doss had a deep personal faith and a real relationship with Jesus. When saving wounded soldiers in a precarious and dangerous position he asked the Lord to ‘Give him more.’ People don't talk like that to Jesus if they don't know Him very well.
Desmond Doss had a real faith in Jesus and took the non-combatant stand he did out of a sincere belief that he was obeying God. Yet we need to understand that His strength of character, bravery and success in saving lives was the result of the person of Jesus in His life. Not the result of any doctrinal distinctives or legalistic beliefs that were part of his religious culture.
When I was a youth the story of Desmond Doss was cited as inspiration for our doing national service as a conscientious objector. This stand was taken as being ‘Biblical.’ But I am not convinced that it is.
In an Australian movie entitled, Tomorrow When the War Began, a young woman, a fundamentalist who believes similarly to the late Desmond Doss, is traumatised from the choice she has to make. Her small group of young men and women is being attacked by an invading force. They are advancing on her group. She has a machine gun which she is loathe to use on the grounds of the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ But if she does not use the weapon she will herself be killed and additionally responsible for the death of her friends and colleagues. The question here is not. ‘What would Jesus do?’ But what will you do as a Believer who is in Christ? You have a choice. Will you accept the annihilation as what God wants for you and your friends or will you do what you had never wanted to do but are forced into contemplating: Annihilating those who are intent on killing you?
Asking God to forgive her she opens fire and saves the lives of herself and her friends. Some may think she did the wrong thing. There is a kind or religion that places this kind of ‘religious law’ above life … often the kind that places a blanket ban on abortions but is quite happy to see the death penalty carried out on criminals. In any case the word used in the commandment refers to murder and not to the general notion of killing as has been observed in scholarly circles.
“There are two different Hebrew words (ratsakh, mut) and two Greek words (phoneuo, apokteino) for “murder” and “killing.” One means “to put to death,” and the other means “to murder.” The latter one is the one prohibited by the Ten Commandments, not the former. In fact, ratsakh has a broader definition than the English word “murder.” Ratsakh also covers deaths due to carelessness or neglect but is never used when describing killing during wartime. That is why most modern translations render the sixth commandment “You shall not murder” rather than “You shall not kill.”
Nevertheless Doss is covered and secure in God’s grace as is the young woman in Tomorrow When the War Began. Some may not like this kind of ambiguity but this is more the nature of God than fundamentalism.
Much can be made out of forms of godliness never instituted by God. Paul advocated grace and patience towards those who stumbled over food sacrificed to idols not because they were right but because they were the weaker brother. The issue becomes acute when people make doctrine and religion out of misunderstanding and false doctrine. You get whole denominations of the weaker brother.
It’s sad to see people of any religion attempting to please God by doing things that are neither endorsed by Him or a reflection of Jesus and what he represents. Sabbath-keeping is not endorsed by Jesus or the writers of the new testament. Its credence comes from the Adventist ‘other bible’ known as The Desire of Ages and the foundational rationalisation of the Investigative Judgement doctrine in ‘the law’. In this book Jesus is depicted as subordinate to the Sabbath and the law. In actual fact the Bible portrays Jesus living entirely out of His Father.
Christians on the whole never kept the Sabbath and Rome did not change it to Sunday. Sunday has never been a Sabbath and is simply the day Christians choose to worship on account of the fact that this is the day the new creation began with the resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing as momentous as the new creation. This is the effect of Christ in you and in all who believe. It is the genesis of the Kingdom of God. Yet Jesus never instituted it as a Sabbath because there is no life in such things. Jesus is both Sabbath and new creation.
Adventism makes much of the false godliness ascribed to Sabbath-keeping. It lays a burden on people’s shoulders that has no legitimacy or righteousness. In Adventist evangelism it is always a time of tension when ‘The Sabbath Truth’ is presented. Why? The heart senses that it is a ‘big ask’ and an imposition not required by Jesus. Sure, books have been written by non-Adventists on the virtues of Sabbatarianism. But it is not suggested that a religion be made out of such. If it were it would have no more validity than making religion out of wearing the hijab. Let’s be clear. Sabbath, law, temple and old covenant have been entirely wiped out by the cross and the reality of Christ our life.
How many thousands have made a ’thing’ out of Sabbath observance denying themselves work opportunities and recreational freedom because they believe God wants then to ‘keep His Sabbath.’ But it’s not His Sabbath. It is the Sabbath of Ellen White, the pioneers and the captives of a false gospel. Jesus reprimanded the pharisees speaking of ‘their law.’ The law of the Spirit of Life is the person of Jesus Christ.
Sure, Believers living in captivity can live in a measure of grace. The crippled and disabled can have their own para-olympics but this does not make them whole. Grace presents the opportunity to live in spirit and truth. Never is it an excuse for ignorance and distorting the gospel of the Kingdom. Let’s be clear. The law never gives anyone the spirit of sonship or allows Christ to come in one’s flesh. How can it when the law is in residence smothering spirit and life.
Doss rationalised that he could engage in his part of the war on The Sabbath because he was saving lives. A similar ethic pervades Adventist medical institutions. They are at work one the Sabbath because they are ‘saving lives.’ But God in Jesus has made every day a day of rest and peace because in Him people are ‘living life to the full.’ None bound in law can live life to the full.
This may explain why there is such a fetish among Adventist parents to have a son or daughter become a doctor. It somewhat dissolves the aura of flakiness that accompanies Adventism, provides a decent income and a degree of status legitimates a more casual view of Sabbath-keeping and undoes the need to become a non-person from sunrise to sunset.
Healing bodies is not the only means of doing good. It is more important to heal the heart, the spirit and the soul. There are a thousand and one forms of human need with concomitant matching ‘goodness’ to nurture them. Personally, one might do more good by embracing our Peace and Rest in Jesus rather than the artifice of attempting to find it in The Sabbath. There is more than one kind of false christ and the Sabbath has become one of these for the Adventist ideologue. In Christ the life we live is never held against us. The things other people have done to shame us, our unholy responses to our humiliations, the sins we own that are only known to ourselves, the sins that we attempt to overcome and haven’t, our service in the army and our participation in wars. We don’t have to carry the burden of our dilapidated life and the evil we have done. Everyday is a new day in Jesus. We have been freed to be ourselves even if being ourselves is far from perfect.
But coming back to the girl in the movie, Tomorrow When the War Began, God does forgive her, just as He graces us to live in the world where our choices are not just between good and evil - but often between a greater evil and a lesser one. Jesus died so that we have space to live in a world of ambiguity, dilemma and outright evil. Here we can do what we have to do and still remain received and belonging to Him. Our dilemmas are not solved in ‘the letter’ or in Biblical formulations. But they are resolved in Christ.
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Gal 2.21 NIV. In any case the law is not what Believers live in, from or towards in this day and age. It is a grave ignorance to promote the law when Jesus offers Himself as the new and living way. Paul bluntly says, ‘The law is made for sinners’ and that the person of Jesus is our life. Jesus graces us to live in the predicaments in which are cast, through His indwelling presence. It was Christ in Doss that enabled him to save lives and be courageous. Not his adherence to the law. Desmond Doss is the story of a man who made good, served God and His country despite the distortions of his beliefs and the ‘other gospel he had absorbed.’ His story is a tribute. Not to Adventism as an ideology but to Jesus and His grace. The influence of Jesus is readily seen in Doss’s life. But one cannot help but wonder what other heights of living would have been his had he lived in not in the law but in the Spirit of Sonship. Jesus explained that the flesh (law) means nothing. And that spirit and life is everything.