As I stated in the prior post, Doss single-handedly saved at least 75 men during one of the most horrific battles of the War, on the island of Okinawa. At times, it may seem as if those kinds of heroes are vanishing, as we lose the last of the Greatest Generation. But what Desmond Doss stood for will never be lost as long as there is one man or one woman willing to take a stand for their freedom of conscience... the right to follow our own beliefs in matters of religion and morality.
As Stephen Greydanus, a writer at the National Catholic Register, expressed, "Desmond Doss is a hero for our own troubled times". And as fellow writer Eric Metaxes expounds, it isn't only in the arena of war where freedom of conscience needs to play a part ... "Times in which florists and bakers are being hauled before civil rights commissions, being fined, losing their businesses; times in which pharmacists in Washington State can lose their licenses for refusing to dispense abortion pills; times in which churches in Massachusetts can run afoul of "public accommodation" laws requiring gender neutral bathrooms — we do indeed have a model in Desmond Doss".
And Metaxes, as a writer, is very familiar with another hero of that time, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In his masterful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Metaxas tells us of the challenges Bonhoeffer faced in reconciling his faith, his moral ethics, and the politics of the day, which were quite diabolical in Nazi Germany. How does a committed Christian deal with the prospect of conflict with the Enemy on the battlefield? While Doss and Bonhoeffer ultimately made different decisions on how they would be obedient to God, they both followed their consciences according to what they discerned was their instruction in the Bible.
Doss determined that he would serve his fellow man by putting him first; willing to endanger, and even sacrifice, his own life in order to save another's. He would save lives, rather than take them, choosing to live out, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Bonhoeffer, however, was faced with how to stop the demonic actions of Adolph Hitler, the anti-Christ of his times. Like Doss, Dietrich knew the 6th Commandment, Thou shalt not kill. But he faced the moral dilemma of doing nothing to stop the murder of 6,000,000 Jews. He finally came to the conclusion that he trusted God to understand his motives in becoming involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler. To Bonhoeffer, it had come down to God's admonition to Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Both men exercised their freedom of conscience, and they took their accountability to God not only seriously, but solemnly.
So, are we all capable of being as heroic as Doss or Bonhoeffer? We may not find ourselves in the midst of a gruesome battlefield, or at the immediate center of a moral and ethical dilemma, but, as Christians, we are all in a battle with our culture, and the increasingly compromising positions of our Churches and governmental officials. And like Doss and Bonhoeffer, we must decide how we are to act, as we find ourselves inside the collective drama. We cannot, and must not, separate ourselves from the world. But it is going to take courage to be and maintain the image of Christ, while all around us, the darkest impulses of the human will try to overwhelm and defeat us.
If we are true to our faith, we know where our citizenship lies. In fact, we are already there with Jesus, in spirit. We just have to conform our mind, emotions, will, and these temporary bodies to the heavenly conviction of our spirit, and then let our actions show who we are. It is not enough to pray... although we should not abandon sending our petitions heavenward. We must be totally committed to our Biblical morals and completely loyal to God; acting on our faith, not just believing.
As theologian and Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser, so eloquently writes in his fantastic book, The Unseen Realm, "King David was guilty of the worst of crimes against humanity in the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. He was clearly in violation of the law and deserving of death. Neverthless, his belief in who Yahweh was among all the gods never wavered. God was merciful to him, sparing him from death, though his sin had consequences the rest of his life." The lesson here, is that personal failure, even the worst kind, as exhibited by Bonhoeffer, will not separate you from God's mercy. Although Bonhoeffer was not spared from death [as King David was], he never disavowed his loyalty to God, nor doubted YHWH's loyalty to him.
In the final minutes of his life, before being led to the gallows, he led a short service for fellow prisoners, praying, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Then he asked that a message be delivered to Bishop Bell in London; the message reading that "this was the end, but for him also the beginning of life, and that the ultimate victory of their cause – a universal Christian brotherhood rising above all national interest – was certain".
The prison doctor, who witnessed the execution recorded this impression: "Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God".
So, how will we, as modern day Christians, exhibit our loyalty and discipleship to our Lord? We have seen in the examples of Desmond Doss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the very picture of heroism -- two entirely different men, but both committed to acting out their faith. Neither set out to become a hero, and I wage that neither welcomed the mantle. Each man simply followed his heart; a heart set on being obedient to the will of God. Not a simple thing to do in this world. But ultimately, I believe that we can all be heroes to someone in need of the image of Christ in their life... a bright light in the midst of the darkest time in their life. And I know in my spirit that God will honor our actions on His behalf. He's just looking for willing participants.
Isaiah 50:7-8: "But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near..."