Recently a set of powerful images came across the Web in one of those emails that circulate around the country. The opening line said, “If this doesn’t get to you, nothing will.” I thought I could just ignore it, but I couldn’t. It got to me.
I found myself waking up at night seeing these tragic images that showed a young woman, sleeping beside a coffin that held the remains of her soldier-husband. I wanted to put my arms around her, to comfort her, to hold her and say, “It will be alright.” But it won’t. Her loss is irreplaceable, her grief inconsolable. And at the end of the string of images was a tag line – the lesson we were supposed to learn from this. “The only two people who ever laid down their lives for you are Jesus Christ and the American G.I.”
Of course we know Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his brother.” (John 15:13) It’s a quotation we often see in churches where soldiers are buried. The lesson we are supposed to learn is to equate what Jesus did for us and what the soldiers do. But there is a fundamental difference between the two, and all of true Christianity hangs on this difference.
Jesus laid down his life. He did not take anyone else’s. Jesus never killed anyone. In fact, he taught just the opposite. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12) “You have heard it was said to you of old, ‘You shall hate your enemy and love your neighbor,’ but I say to you, ‘love your enemies.’ ” (Matt.5: 43-44), “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) This is what he meant when he said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) As Father Thomas Merton remarked of what Jesus taught us: “Do we think He didn’t mean what he said?” His way, the way of love and forgiveness, is the truth that leads to life, to a flourishing, peaceful community among men. It is the only way.
The way of the soldier is the way of killing, and killing perpetuates killing in a never ending cycle of violence. “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7) On the other side of that battle line that so tragically killed our soldier is another young woman weeping inconsolably beside the coffin of her soldier husband. The difference? A different flag.
To equate what Jesus did with what soldiers do – that is killing men, women and children – is a monstrous blasphemy, a total distortion of Christianity. It is a form of psychosis, the inability to fully name what we do, to tell only a half truth, which is always a lie. Killing is not the way of Christ; it is the way of Satan.
Kent Shifferd, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an historian who taught environmental history and ethics for 25 years at Wisconsin’s Northland College. He is author of “From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years” (McFarland, 2011) and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.