I was speaking to the father of a soldier not long ago. He was relating that his son is having trouble coping with his time in Iraq. Not only is he struggling over the loss of friends, not only over the horrible violence of lost youth, lost limbs and lost life. He’s struggling because he killed.
Here is a time when young men and women will need the church more than ever. Here is where the transforming message of the gospel, and the stories of the person of Jesus, will have the power to heal if we apply them gently and appropriately.
See, humans aren’t meant to kill other humans. It wasn’t in the original plan, and it is made evident whenever trainers must make special efforts to turn young men and women into people capable of combat. Humans almost universally hesitate to kill. Historically, the majority of soldiers did not fire directly at the enemy. Why? Because they did not want to take a life, whatever their political or religious opinion on the reason for the war.
However, even as we know that humans aren’t meant to take life, we have to accept some other biblical realities. We weren’t meant to have to work hard for our food, to have painful childbirth, to eat the flesh of animals (read the creation accounts in Genesis).
Furthermore, we weren’t meant to commit the sins that we take almost for granted. Adultery comes to mind. Mankind looks at it as almost a cliche, a thing that we know happens and now we make into a joke. Jesus spoke against fornication and many sins that we think of as normal human existence; lying, cheating, religious bullying!
Now, into this fallen world comes conflict. It is as inevitable as the rising and setting sun. And in that conflict, lives will be lost. Frequently, those lives are lost at the hands of soldiers. Soldiers, like all people, can be good or evil. That is another issue.
However, the work of the soldier is warfare. And warfare is a violent, terrible thing, but sometimes necessary. Warfare means killing. In this setting, killing is sometimes part of the job of a man or woman thrown into a place of conflict. As such, when the soldier kills in the commission of his duties, at the command of his superiors, he is acting properly. Furthermore, he or she is usually acting as much in self-defense as in aggression. Everyone wants to survive war, and it’s hypocritical of pundits and academics to sit in gated communities or secure stateside office buildings and lob invectives at men and women in harm’s way.
So what I’m saying is this; the soldier is doing a difficult job in a terrifying situation when he or she kills. And the soldier is doing this in the context of a fallen and imperfect world. The soldier is no worse than any other person in this sinful world. He does not deserve condemnation for acting in the proper chain of command under the jurisdiction of a lawful government.
More than that, while the Bible says ‘thou shalt not kill’, what it means by kill is murder. Intentional, premeditated, criminal murder. The soldier will feel guilt for killing because it was never meant to be. But he or she should not bear any special weight of guilt. And we, the church, should help the soldier to be free of it.
God calls us to confess our sins and be cleansed and whole. And here’s a thought that may seem radical: I’m not sure that the soldier, in doing his job, has even really sinned when he has killed in combat.
The reason is this: Jesus never once condemned a soldier. Not a centurion, not a guard. He even healed the centurion’s servant. He didn’t blast him as violent or evil; he didn’t avoid him or speak a word against him. He even said, after healing his servant, ‘I tell you, I have not seen such faith in all Israel.’
So, to the men and women who have come home from war scarred by the act of killing, we are hear to embrace you. Speak your pain, tell God your sorrow, but do not consider yourself any worse than any other human being in need not only of God’s forgiveneness (for doing a terrible but necessary thing), but also in need of the acceptance, wholeness and rebirth that only God in Christ can give.