One soldier’s fear: will God reject me?

Southern Cross: People Matter

People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Originally Published:
Jensen, P 'One soldier's fear: will God reject me?'. Southern Cross, July 1999.

Tagged: forgiveness justification sin war

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“All the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them” (Mark 3:28)

Bill had not been to church since Vietnam. When he finally came, the message of the cross undermined him.

Not everyone in the 1960's thought that the war in Vietnam was immoral. But Bill did. He thought he should join the demonstrators.

Instead he accepted his conscription and joined the war. He did not believe in killing. But he killed. Not in a remote technological fashion. But in close quarters fighting—he killed people he could see, and touch.

When he came home he cauterised his conscience. He avoided the topics of war and God. He never went to church. But then, in 1993, out of family obligations, he came and heard about Jesus being killed.

All sin is sin. To break the law in one part is to be guilty of breaking all of it. It is to become a lawbreaker.

Yet there are weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, faithfulness. To observe every detail of the law without paying attention to these weightier matters is to strain out gnats while swallowing camels. Bill knew he was a killer.

There is also difference between being ignorant of God and ignoring God.

Sometimes people think they are doing the right thing when in fact they are doing evil. Saul of Tarsus shared in the murder of God's people thinking that he was serving God. He acted in ignorance and unbelief.

Others sin intentionally. King David's killing of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, was a deliberate sin. In his actions he despised the word of the Lord.

Both kinds of actions are wrong, even if one comes from good motives. Good motives alone do not justify or forgive bad actions.

Sinning unintentionally still requires atonement and forgiveness. But is it possible to find forgiveness for deliberate sinfulness?

Despising God's word can come perilously close to that sinfulness which is unforgivable. Such sinfulness is unforgivable because it implacably opposes God's means of forgiveness.

Here was Bill's problem. He believed that in his actions he deliberately despised God's word. It was not the killing itself that worried him, though he was deeply sorrowed by it. What worried Bill was having killed people in a war that he believed at the time was wrong. He had formed his judgment of God's attitude—then went and did the exact opposite.

Now to go to church felt like hypocrisy. To ask God for forgiveness felt like a cop-out. But to live with his seared conscience was driving him to drink, despair, divorce and depression.

Bill's problem is not unique to him. Many people, ashamed of what they have done and how they have failed, now feel beyond acceptance. They feel the weight of God's law and their own personal failure in life. They cannot see how they could ever go to church without hypocrisy and wonder sometimes how others are able to go.

When Bill finally made it to church it was the message of the cross that undermined him. For while the church upheld the law by which God condemned him, it proclaimed the cross by which God justified him.