Today, we as a nation honor people for doing what I don’t think is the right thing to do: fight in war. What’s a pacifist to do?
- Distinguish between disagreeing with the principle of war, and disdain of the people who choose to serve in one. (I’m in favor of the first, against the second.)
- Acknowledge that I can love the United States, yet still criticize its policies and choices in our world.
- Hope for a day when more resources (financial and people) will be given toward peacemaking around the world.
And, I can honor and remember my grandpa. I called him Papa, and he served faithfully and with honor in World War II, as a radio operator in the famed 104th Timberwolf Division. He saw horrific battles and took great personal risk to do what he was supposed to do for his company.
But service in the war haunted him, quietly. He died on my birthday, in 2001. Here’s part of what I said at his memorial service. I share it to honor him on Veteran’s Day.
I remember a conversation I had with Papa sometime during my college or seminary years. I don’t remember why I was there, or exactly when it was, but the conversation haunts me to this day. Somehow he and I were alone in their living room, me in Nana’s chair and him in his own. He said, “There’s something I’ve always wanted to ask a minister.” Well, I wasn’t a pastor then, I know that. But he knew that’s what I was studying to become.
He said, “Will God hold me accountable for the people I killed in the war?”
One question, out of the blue. No real reason for it at the time. But I could tell that this was something that was deep. Something that he had wrestled with and buried inside him for a long time.
I honestly can’t remember what I said to him. I know that I didn’t do a very good job. And we never touched the subject again.
That conversation haunts me, because I could tell how much it had bothered him. And, it’s come back to my mind again this week as I’ve been thinking about this service. I want the chance to answer that question more clearly now. Papa already knows the answer, because he has already felt the overwhelming love of being in God’s presence. He already knows the answer. But, maybe this answer can help some of you wrestling with some deep pain or guilt inside you.
No, Papa, God won’t hold you accountable for the people you killed in the war. Why not? Well, not because war exempts us from the rules. Not because you thought you were doing what was best for your country. Not because you were a “good person.” Not because you sacrificed. Not even because you were one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.
No, Papa, that feeling inside you that haunted you and bothered you didn’t need to be there for one reason: the most horrible pain in our lives, the worst and most horrible things we could possibly do or imagine are truly and completely forgiven us by God through Jesus Christ. That is the depth of God’s love for us and the hope that we live in. Not just a hope for after we die, but also a hope for life.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Papa, Jesus means that. When you came to know him, when you chose to follow him, everything that haunted you or bothered you was forgiven.
Papa knows that now, as he is face to face with Jesus. I wish I could have said that more clearly 10 years ago. Because the truth of what it means to follow Jesus Christ is that even good people like Papa have things in their lives that hurt and fester. The gift of God through Jesus Christ is true freedom from that pain, true and complete healing…true life as it was meant to be lived.
All the things that haunt us, that hold us, all the things we do in our life that are truly wrong and awful, all of those can be forgiven through Jesus Christ. He loves you so deeply. He loves us so deeply. He is willing, truly willing to forgive the worst we can do or imagine. And, he can change us.