God and Country
I read a blog the other day about a concept called “moral injury” found in veterans returning from war. It was described like this…
A 22-year-old Marine is looking down his rifle with a 5-year-old child in his sights. The little boy is standing next to an American Hum Vee, filled with fellow soldiers, with something in his hand that he is preparing to throw. It looks to either be a rock or a hand grenade. If that ‘thing’ in the child’s hand is a hand grenade, it will kill several comrades. If it is a rock, this Marine will be a child-killer.
The morals of war are very different from that of ‘normal’ society. Military members are called to serve and protect their country and fellow comrades. That comes first (with moral dilemmas a distant second) in the immediate, adrenaline-filled moment of physical and mental reactions, that affect life and death. Adrenaline defaults to training, protect your comrades. Survive. Period.
Why do war veterans struggle to talk about their anxieties and experiences? Because no one can grasp or understand such moral dilemmas unless they’ve been in that position. While it still isn’t easy, the opportunity to think through the situation before deciding whether to choose answer ‘A” or “B” was not an option for these men and women. They had no time to call a friend for advice, to ask a supervisor what to do, or to ask the foreigner with a different language what was their intent.
After they have been removed from the environment where their senses are working overtime 24/7 in survival mode, they gradually come back to a society that uses reason and rationale for decision-making processes rather than gut reactions. The guilt and shame begin to mount. They try to connect their actions to moral behavior. And even when they did what they were supposed to in the environment of war, they experience shame from the viewpoint of morality.
How can God forgive a man or woman that took the life of an innocent child? It was not an accident. The child was in their sights, and a decision was made to pull the trigger. Even if it was a hand grenade, did the child know the depth of what they were doing or were they simply doing as they were told? What rational person is going to talk about such a dilemma to people who have never had to make such a split-second decision? How could they possibly understand what this soldier experienced? Will they judge him or her when they hear the truth vs. the patriotic propaganda? They feel alone.
On Memorial Day weekend, we remember the men and women who lost their lives in the name of freedom. Dreams were unlived. Future families unrealized. Current families torn apart with a void the size of the universe in their hearts. Life has been redefined for the freedom to work where we feel called to work, to worship where we choose to worship, to elect our leaders without threat of military control. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children feel grief and loneliness.
It probably wasn’t much different from the disciples who were dealing with the reality that their teacher, the man whom they proclaimed as Messiah, was about to die the death of a thief and robber. How would they deal with the loss of Jesus? How would they find the strength to move forward in the face of rejection and shame as they would be confronted by those set on proving their beliefs wrong?
The answer came from Jesus in today’s text. I will not be with you much longer, but I will send an advocate (The Holy Spirit) to be with you always. It was a promise of God’s continued presence in the midst of our anxiety, grief, and deep loss. Jesus promised that no matter what happens in this world, his love would not end. When we find ourselves in the tension of having to choose between 2 bad answers, his love and grace will not leave us. When we are filled with shame and guilt for past actions, God’s mercy through Jesus Christ forgives us and the freedom of the Holy Spirit begins the healing process. In Christ alone, we who are broken are made whole.
We will always struggle with moral dilemmas. But our God who loved us so much as to send his son Jesus to reconcile us, and then to send the Spirit to guide us, is beyond morality. His grace is not a black and white, right or wrong, activity. His love and mercy are not earned and they certainly are not deserved. Moral code cannot free us from guilt or pave our way to eternal life.
In the middle of our messy dilemmas, Jesus wipes away the guilt, the fear,
and the shame as the Spirit guides our out of the past (no matter how messy they
are) and into a hopeful future. Let us not only of those military men and women
who gave their lives for our freedom, but also remember the One who gave His
life for the salvation of the world. Amen.