Patty LaRoche: Called to Listen

No matter how squeamish you are, I recommend you see the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.” Even though the war scenes are graphically gruesome—I closed my eyes—the message to rely on God far exceeds any blood-and-guts cinematography.

If ever someone’s Christian convictions dictated his decisions, it was Desmond Doss’s. In the opening scene, Doss is reading aloud from Isaiah 40:31: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. That verse becomes his life refrain.

After joining the army to work as a medic in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, Doss relentlessly defends his belief not to shoot a gun, kill the enemy or work on the Sabbath. (Hard to do in war, and especially difficult to convince your army buddies you deserve to serve alongside them.) Doss’s bunkmates despise him. As they practice their sharp-shooting skills, he reads his Bible. In their eyes, they are asked to protect a young, skinny medic who refuses to carry his fair load.

Because of that, Doss is beaten, persecuted and charged with “mental instability.” After arguing for his First Amendment rights—the freedom “to be like Christ: saving life instead of taking it”—he wins his court martial case and is allowed to go into battle.

Only when he is in a foxhole with Smitty, the soldier who led the bunkhouse assault against him, does Doss reveal why he abhors violence: as an adolescent, he had pulled a gun on his alcoholic father who was beating his mother. The foxhole partners soon realize they have many things in common. As a friendship is formed, the Japanese attack.

In the ensuing battle, Smitty is killed. The American soldiers are forced to abandon the area, leaving their wounded behind.

Doss desperately pleads with God. “What do you want of me? I don’t understand! I can’t hear you!” At that moment, Doss hears a cry from a wounded soldier. His answer has come. Doss stands, says “Alright,” straps on his helmet, and as his fellow soldiers retreat, walks back into battle. Alone.

That scene plays out multiple times as Doss begs God to allow him to save “just one more.” Each time, as an injured fighter cries out, Doss belly crawls to follow the voice of the wounded. Exposing himself to heavy gun and mortar fire, he drags severely injured men to the edge of the ridge, ties a rope around their bodies and lowers them to the waiting medics below.

Because of Doss’s bravery and faith in God, he is able, over a twelve-hour period, to save 75 wounded comrades. This courageous action and others earn Doss America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, the first ever given to a conscientious objector.

Doss had begged for an audible voice from God; instead, he received his answer amidst the cries of the desperate people around him. So what are we to take from this?

If we want to hear God’s voice, maybe it’s as simple as paying attention. To our neighbors. Our friends. Our families. Our enemies. Just like God called Doss to do the impossible, perhaps he wants the same from us.

The question remains: Are we interested enough to listen?

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