Hacksaw Ridge and the Strange Sovereignty of God


I was thrilled when Ben Smitthimedhin closed his current short article on Underoath and Emery with a meditation on Shusaku Endō. “I consider Endō is on to a thing about the God who appears, at instances, to abandon us,” he writes. “Rather than letting us be, our Lord is a God who haunts us into submission, a God who will not leave us alone, a God whose words will under no circumstances be erased.” Smitthimedhin’s point is in the end about letting God be God, what ever our expectations of what that ought or ought not to appear like, and he enlists Endō as a thoughtful literary communicator of that truth.

For the reason that God is a individual, God also meets us and speaks to us in our uniqueness . . .But the job of letting God be God can raise our hackles in other methods than these Smitthimedhin describes. The bands he discusses—and Endō besides—struggle with a God who generally appears absent, but when He is present demands strange points of us and our behavior. I am not speaking only about demands for piety and obedience right here I am also referring to instances when these demands appear to take us outdoors the bounds of what we instinctively take into consideration to be “pious” or “obedient.” I will not more than-spoil Endō’s Silence for my readers right here, but it is not for practically nothing that Initial Points writer Patricia Snow requires terrific problem with the reality that in Silence, Endō’s Jesuit protagonist ends up hunting a fair bit additional like Judas than like Jesus by the finish of the novel—and that Endō frames this as a very good factor. Two years ago, Peter Epps wrote a similarly cautionary assessment for Christ and Pop Culture, suggesting that the novel “lends the life-and-death force of a terrible predicament, the sobriety and gravity of history, to modern voices that seek to absolutize the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ by producing successful public adherence to the Christian tradition appear ‘selfish’ and ultimately futile.”

I am in the end on Endō’s side. I think the “sobriety and gravity of history” impart additional theological possibilities than the absolutization of relativism, and in the end Epps does as effectively: “A faithful and charitable reading [of Silence],” he suggests, “requires an anchor in a thing true, like the reality of martyrdom and the hope of eternal union with Christ that animates martyrs, that reaches beyond the mere back-and-forth of human feelings in tricky situations.” For these pretty factors, I elsewhere assess the novel’s controversies a small differently than he does. But even so, mine is not an uncomplicated allegiance with Endō. A lot of conversations about this novel and inside my personal household have triggered me to struggle by means of my thoughts about what the God of the universe could ask us to do—and exactly where the limits of that imagination could lie. By asking us to visualize that even apostasy could be a type of Christlike obedience, Endō is also asking us to take into consideration the pretty terrifying particularity of God’s interactions with human beings.

Even asking such a query lands us in deep water: how certain are we speaking right here? The gospel is a universal proclamation, is it not? And if we think the theologies we’ve inherited from the likes of Thomas Aquinas, then we think God to be immutable and excellent, additional deducing that God relates to all human beings in additional-or-much less the similar methods from person to person.

And but, the terrific Thomistic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar argues that subjectivity is an important element of how 1 experiences the God of the gospel:

Everywhere there really should be a correspondence involving object and topic the external harmony will have to correspond to a subjective have to have and each give rise to a new harmony of a larger order subjectivity, with its feeling and imagination, will have to absolutely free itself in an objective operate, in which it rediscovers itself, in the course of which . . . there may possibly be as a lot self-discovery as knowledge of an additional. (“Revelation and the Wonderful,” 105)

For Balthasar, God is an objective reality that we relate to in the uniqueness of our personal requires and personalities. For the reason that God is a individual, God also meets us and speaks to us in our uniqueness additionally, since God is infinite, he is additional than capable of resonating with our subjective lives to build a “new harmony” from just about every person act of faith. A writer like Shusaku Endō can assistance us see this, but his deep investigations into death, evil, and Christian kenosis can be daunting for these of us taking into consideration God in these methods maybe for the initial time. Fortunately, I consider there are other current pieces of art that improved ease us into these locations of spiritual reflection. Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (2016), for instance, can assistance prepare us to study an author like Endō.

Desmond Doss’s Peculiar Calling

Hacksaw Ridge tells the accurate story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a United States corporal who served as a medic throughout Globe War II, saving dozens of lives even though under no circumstances bearing so a lot as a pistol into battle. Although the film condenses a lot of events in Doss’s life down to his involvement in the Battle of Okinawa, the backbone of his story remains the similar: enlisting as a conscientious objector, Doss paradoxically asks to join the fight even as he refuses to carry a weapon.

Doss’s presence affirms the fragility of their righteousness and exposes them—and us—to the reality that righteousness is regularly approached as a project of justification rather than the outworking of Grace.Doss’s intense stance on nonviolence is established early on. His mother, a Seventh-Day Adventist, teaches him that murder is a grave sin—that God suggests it when he commands, “Thou shalt not kill.” This abstract lesson blooms to brilliant, crimson clarity when Doss practically kills his brother Hal with a brick to the head throughout 1 of their boyhood scuffles. Although Hal pulls by means of, young Doss is engraved with the trauma of that violence. Later in life, his will is tested all more than once again as his badly beaten mother begs him to spare the life of his drunken father. Collectively, these experiences shape Doss into a man who can’t abide killing as a correct response to any situation—a revelation he believes comes straight from God.

Regardless of his vow of non-violence, Doss enlists in the army following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He is not drafted but volunteers as a combat medic. Although Doss objects to taking human life, he is equally burdened by the conviction that he can’t sit back even though other young men—his brother included—march off to fight against the Axis powers. Doss’s curious attitude earns him small additional than side-eyes from his fellow soldiers, up till rifle education rolls about and Doss tends to make the extent of his convictions clear: he not only intends under no circumstances to fire a rifle, he also refuses to carry 1 into battle with him.

So it is that Doss sets off a vicious ideological battle inside the barracks prior to anybody has even shipped off. The sergeant and captain of his unit come across they can’t have him discharged for “mental illness” on account of his religious beliefs, and so they enlist Doss’s fellow soldiers in what can only be described as a campaign of terror against him. Doss is beaten and insulted, even arrested for insubordination prior to his father—himself a former soldier who objects to his son’s kenotic attitude—comes to his help and demonstrates that his pacifism is protected by law. Via all this, Doss under no circumstances names his attackers, bearing their violence patiently so that he can go on to save them in the field.

Overcoming Evil with Great

The additional they discover of Doss’s convictions, the additional his fellow soldiers develop into antagonistic toward him, and it is tricky to fault them. From their viewpoint, Doss’s non-violence doubles as an indictment of the soldier’s life in its entirety. For the reason that he connects his behavior to his religious convictions, his fellows have a tendency to think that he is judging himself as improved than they are—as holier, since of his moral stance. Certainly, a lot of of his fellow soldiers take into consideration themselves Christians and wonder at Doss’s arrogance in suggesting that God could appreciate him additional since of his aversion to killing. Just after all, didn’t God command the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites? How a lot additional righteous is their personal result in, defending the planet from tyranny? Certainly, the casualties of war can’t be counted below the Sixth Commandment.

To the eyes of an Old Testament scholar, the soldiers have a point the injunction against retzach—murder—is under no circumstances employed in the context of war. Doss himself vehemently denies that he is a righteous exception to his fellow soldiers, but this does not smooth more than the thorny theological problems at operate in his story. He affirms that everybody in his unit is referred to as by God to fight against the evil they see about them. He sees himself referred to as to defend life even though these about him take it. But if God is with them all, then how can he clarify this radical split in their vocations? How can he affirm the law—“Thou shalt not kill”—if it does not apply in the similar way to all of them? His fellow soldiers intuit this paradox as effectively and deal out their confusion on him as violence.

In reality, Doss’s fellow soldiers are precisely afraid that the law could apply equally to everybody. By saving American and Japanese alike on the battlefield, Doss throws a wrench into the machinery of justification that silently operates inside his unit. The film tends to make it pretty clear that Doss’s fellow soldiers struggle with their personal relationships to war and violence. To enter conflict, they will have to think that they are overwhelmingly on the ideal side. Far more so, by becoming on the “right side,” their violence against their enemies is justified. No matter that Christ intensifies the Law to make hatred comparable to murder (Matthew five:21–22, Matthew 26:52) for these soldiers, war will usually justify exceptions to the rule. Doss’s convictions disturb this logic, top his fellow soldiers to really feel condemned. Doss’s presence affirms the fragility of their righteousness and exposes them—and us—to the reality that righteousness is regularly approached as a project of justification rather than the outworking of Grace. Righteousness becomes a matter of economy, as opposed to a mystery of “fear and trembling” (Philippians two:12).

But even as his presence convicts these about him, Doss refuses to condemn them. His attitude and behavior reveal the divine character and its dealings with human frailty: grace and mercy meet us even in our self-righteousness, but grace does not enable self-righteousness to flourish. To this finish, Doss’s behavior gradually alterations the attitudes of the soldiers. Just after experiencing the horrors of the Maeda Escarpment—a fogged-more than cliff exactly where the Japanese have an overwhelming advantage—the soldiers’ narrative of waging a righteous campaign with God on their side begins to fall apart. Certainly, the only 1 who seems to have God on his side is Doss, who remains alone at the leading of the cliff and survives by means of the evening to rescue wounded soldiers and pull them out of harm’s way—enemies incorporated. Seeing this proof of God’s favor, the unit asks Doss to pray for them—but they can no longer pray for victory, only protection. They are left to do what they came to do, at the mercy of mercy.

The Terrible Particulars of God’s Operate in the Globe

In a lot of methods, Hacksaw Ridge can be viewed as a reminder of Paul’s statement in the Epistle to the Romans that “the law came in to raise the trespass, but exactly where sin enhanced, grace abounded all the additional, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also could reign by means of righteousness top to eternal life by means of Jesus Christ our Lord” (five:20–21). Doss’s presence on the battlefield and his commitment to the Commandment develop into a testament to the universal dignity of life, and in his actions, war starkly emerges as the evil, the “trespass,” that it is. No 1 can ultimately use the name of God to justify their hatred of an enemy. No 1 can make a thing very good or meaningful out of war in a space of such violence beyond ideal or incorrect, they can only do their duty and pray for mercy. Doss’s appreciate for his fellows invades and deactivates the self-righteousness that keeps them from seeing their personal have to have for grace unable to justify the inherent justice of war and their roles in it, their soldierly vocations will have to take on new which means.

But for Endō and Balthasar each, Adore additional than freedom is the guiding element by which God engages the planet in all its distinction and division.I do not ultimately say all this in order to use Doss as an instance and advocate for an uncomplicated pacifism. In the Bible, no soldier is ever condemned for remaining a soldier—but as Paul also reminds us, just about every Christian will have to come across their vocation transformed by grace, and “those who deal with the planet [should be in the world] as although they had no dealings with it. For the present type of this planet is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). What I take aim at, then—and I think the film does so as well—is a particular habit of justifying violence and attaching it to righteousness which is the vocation of the soldier according to the “present type of this planet.” In Christ, the soldier finds their life inflected with new meanings: the dignity of life and the grief more than its destruction, even even though defending the innocent from the wicked the prevalent frailty of all persons, all of whom have sinned and fallen out of rhythm with the peace of divine vitality (Romans three:23) the universal have to have to be saved from the present type of this planet, and the consequent capacity to pray for one’s enemies (Matthew five:44). These values and the soldierly life are not morally irreconcilable the higher lie is that, for the sake of their duty, a soldier can’t hold these values at all. It requires the extremity of Doss becoming a “bad” soldier to show his fellow soldiers what this suggests.

Hacksaw Ridge teaches us about the types of life that are feasible when we enable these disparities in our vocations to coexist, imagining them to all be equally offered to the pedagogical and in the end salvific mission of God. In the midst of these paradoxes, the energy of Christ reaffirms the limits of the law and the breadth of God’s saving grace—the “rescue mission” of Easter that, as David Bentley Hart puts it in his book The Doors of the Sea (2005), “should make rebels of us all.” To see and appreciate this completely, we will have to be ready to recognize the degree to which God meets us in our subjectivity and particularity, and that his strategy to us as people may possibly conflict with the methods he approaches other individuals. God’s appreciate can condemn violence even in the midst of violence, even even though inspiring other individuals to fight and with no necessarily sweeping that violence aside in a miracle. Following a way paved for him by Christ, Desmond Doss lives inside this tension and becomes the miracle himself: a testimony to a appreciate that ultimately defies and overcomes the death and the violence that we endure, even when we would favor to just make sense of it by means of justification.

From this vantage, we can maybe improved prepare ourselves for, as Epps says, “finding the finest possibilities” in an author like Shusaku Endō, for whom the stakes are even larger. In his novel Silence, a profoundly peculiar connection involving Christ and a Jesuit priest permits meekness to overcome a violent energy that can only visualize God as an equally violent and rival counter-energy. In that novel God’s perceived weakness and seeming defeat becomes an occasion for salvation, declaring his victory to the faithful who survive. But Endō has a perplexing way of displaying this, and he demands that we take into consideration the God who condescends to the particularities of time, spot, and subjectivity in order to fathom it. This can be terrifying, and if we are not mature in our pondering it can make God appear lax or unpredictable as Balthasar says, such an image of God dangers “degenerat[ing] into an image of worry . . . considering the fact that this God of pure freedom could usually posit and demand what is contrary.” But for Endō and Balthasar each, Adore additional than freedom is the guiding element by which God engages the planet in all its distinction and division. Adore is the reputable character by which we can recognize God’s movements in history. My wager is that, when feelings of conflict and condemnation arise from these movements, these really should be our signals to develop into self-important and take into consideration how God may possibly be bringing us face-to-face with our personal self-righteousness and desires for justification. As 1 man’s story, and as a operate of art, Hacksaw Ridge can serve as a primer to this way of pondering.


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