ASK AUGUSTINE

Christians, Veterans Day and the Bible

I don’t believe that Christians should celebrate Veterans Day since the Bible says, “thou shalt not kill” and Jesus taught us to love our neighbors?

You are clearly misreading what the bible says because the Bible (in this case the ten commandments) does not say, “thou shalt not kill,” but says, “thou shalt not murder.” Moreover, Jesus never told a soldier NOT to do his duty.

What “veteran” do you admire most in the Old Testament?

Ittai, of whom we read in II Samuel 15:13-21 in which we are told of the darkest hour in David’s life. No more pathetic page is found in the Old Testament than that which tells the story of his flight before Absalom. David is crushed by the knowledge that his punishment is deserved, the bitter fruit of the sin that filled his later life with darkness. His courage and spirit have left him.

So, heartbroken and spiritless, he leaves Jerusalem. And as soon as he is clear of the city he calls a halt, so that he may muster his followers and see on whom he may depend. Foremost among the little band come some six hundred men from Gath, Philistines from Goliath’s city. David, cannot think of involving them in his fall.

But the Philistine captain, Ittai breaks out in a burst of passionate devotion. As for himself and his men, they have chosen their side. Whatever befalls, they stick with David, and if worse comes to worse and they all die, they will all die together with their bodies forming ranks around their dead king. David’s heart is touched and warmed by their outspoken loyalty; he yields and accepts their service.

Did you ever serve in the military and see action?

I did serve in the Army reserves from 1959 to 1965 as a commissioned officer. The closest I came to action was when our reserve unit was put on stand-by alert during the Cuban missile crises.

Over the years I’ve come to love old war movies from the 1940’s to the early 1960’s. I vicariously enjoy watching them on Veterans and Memorial Day. Some of my favorites are “Wake Island,” “Back to Bataan,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “The Longest Day” to name but four.

Hollywood stopped making movies like that for almost 40 years until the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came along in 1998. “Saving Private Ryan” follows the fictional efforts of a World War II Normandy invasion commander and his special squad to locate a soldier whose brothers have been killed in action and with orders to return Pvt. Ryan to his thrice-bereaved family.

The story begins when a group of Rangers receive a mission to go deep into enemy territory to save Private Ryan. They hit skirmish after skirmish, and many are killed along the way.

They finally get to where Private Ryan is holed up. Ryan says, “I’m not going. I have to stay here because there’s a big battle coming up, and if I leave my men they’re all going to die.” The Rangers, in a manner after Ittai’s words of devotion, say, “We’ll stay here and fight with you.”

They all stay and fight. Almost everyone dies except Private Ryan. Hanks whispers to Private Ryan. Everyone in the theater is crying because Hanks is dying; but I was crying because of what Hanks had whispered. Hanks whispered, “Earn this.”

The reason that made me angry is no Ranger would ever say, “Earn this.” The Ranger motto for the past 200+ years has not been “Earn this.” The Ranger motto for the past 200+ years has been “Sua sponte;” “I chose this; I volunteered for this.”

So when Private Ryan bent down to hear what Hanks whispered (if Hanks was really a Ranger) he would have said, “Sua sponte, I chose this. This is free. You don’t pay anything for this. I give up my life for you. That’s my job.”

What “veteran” do you admire most in the Old Testament?

Jesus in every conceivable way is a true veteran and hero. He died for you and He died for me.

Like the heroes of war, He voluntarily sacrificed His life so that we could live. But the difference was that He didn’t serve and die so that we could merely enjoy a few more years on this earth, Jesus died for our eternal life.

He didn’t ask us to “earn this” and make ourselves better first. He didn’t ask us to straighten up and turn over a new leaf. We are told that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to “earn His death.”

So when you look at the cross and see Jesus hanging there, what you hear Him saying is, “Sua Sponte, I volunteered for this, I choose this. You don’t have to pay anything for it.”

SUA SPONTE! And thank you veterans for your service to our great country.