Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (3)

Prior posts here and here.


The connection between Isaiah 40 and the narrative of Desmond Doss is a carefully chosen one.  It is not on accident or arbitrary that the movie opens with those words.  The connection is essential, I think, to understanding the story.

So what is the connection?  I’d suggest that in this particular case, we should use Doss’s story to inform how and why Isaiah 40 is being used.  Only then can we say what it is that God “does not grow weary in doing” as was originally asked.

There is little doubt that the verses from Isaiah could be used as a sort of war cry, an enchantment designed to provide comfort that one’s cause is righteous and will prevail in the end through military might.  If you “wait for him”, God will strengthen your arms for war.  Your bullets will fly straighter.  Your bombs will land with greater precision and effect.  And perhaps the aim of the enemy will be just a bit off.  The conquest narratives of the Old Testament provide just the sort of “biblical” backdrop that we’d be looking for as support.

And perhaps we could find a way to squeeze Desmond Doss into that narrative.  We, those observing the movie from our comfortable chairs with popcorn in hand, notice that he’s doing a pretty good job as a medic.  So maybe he doesn’t need a gun to be a medic.  His convictions can, perhaps, exist as an interesting subplot within the war narrative.  Cool.  It’s sort of inspiring.  But that Desmond Doss is nothing more than an oddity.

And while Doss is certainly an “oddity” in one sense, the narrative centers around HIS actions.  We need to look at HIS narrative as THE narrative, regardless of how “odd” it might be.

When does Doss “now grow weary?”  When does he have strength when others do not?

The answer to me is obvious.  It’s when, out of fear, weariness, and death, the battlefield clears of all but Doss.  It is then that his particular narrative sets itself part as the one that reflects “not growing weary”.

And the implication of this is also obvious.

Doss does not “not grow weary” in killing.  Or in vengeance.  No.  He doesn’t grow weary in saving.  Even his enemies, those mindless enemies (here the portrayal as merciless zombies running into bullets is all the more relevant).  He sees something deeper than an enemy.  “Please Lord, help me get one more.”  This is the power given to the faint.

So this is the connection made to Isaiah 40.  These are not verses that can applied to any and all circumstances without respect to an end.  God, the everlasting God, Creator of all things, is one who does not grow weary in saving.  This is God’s “understanding”.  These are God’s “ways”.  This is God’s strength.  And so this is, in the end, what His strength is given for.

Many things about our life in this world would seek to label this as foolishness.  The Hebrew Scriptures, after all, are NOT foreign to violence as retribution and hatred - even divine violence.  That is a separate issue, but a closely connected and important one.  Here I simply ask: Do we possess an imagination that can see this connection between Doss and Isaiah 40?  What gets in the way of this?  Can we find a way to live in which this sort of “weakness” is actually “strength”?

return to 1st post

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (2)

1st post in the series is here.


Hacksaw Ridge is a war movie.

In many ways, Hacksaw Ridge is like any other war movie.  Utilizing varying degrees of action and graphic brutality, war movies explore the tension between life and death, the loss of life and innocence, the internal conflict and compromises, the darkest parts of the human heart.  There are two clearly identified sides - the good guys and the bad guys - who are trying to and succeeding in killing one another.  One side - “our” side - is portrayed as faithful, honorable and life revering.  And then there are the Japanese - the “others” - the godless, merciless, cowardly “others”.  More often than not, these guys don’t even try to duck below the cascades of bullets. They just run right into them, indifferent.  Like zombies.  Taking the “demonization of the enemy” quite literally, the enemy is characterized as “Satan himself”, a characterization with which the movie's protagonist agrees.

While the same themes are often repeated in war movies, they each tell their story through a unique and heroic protagonist who possesses a unique perspective and exists in a unique (and usually dire) set of circumstances.

My point is NOT to assess the rightness or wrongness of this characterization or circumstances, but  simply to acknowledge that the movie itself portrays things in this light.  We must see Desmond Doss, the protagonist, within this context.


Desmond Doss, as is well known, refuses to carry a weapon because he refuses to kill another human being.  He does this because of his Christian faith.  Thou shalt not kill.  Love your enemies.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Doss strives to live by these ideals even in war.

This is a problem.  A big one.  Ideas such as these are just fine, even admirable, when it comes to private piety, of course.  But are such beliefs a luxury that have no place in the “real world”?  At one point or another, this refusal to carry a weapon is a problem for virtually everyone in the movie - him, his father, his fiancee, the courts, his commanding officers, and each man in his combat unit.  All the problems - directly or indirectly - relate back to the fact that successfully waging war depends on people being willing to kill other people because they’ve become convinced that it is righteously necessary to do so.

Necessary.  There’s no church in the wild.

When all is said and done, what sort of a man refuses to pick up a gun and kill Satan himself?

Here I’m not interested in talking about pacifism, just war theory, whether Doss would be dead if his fellow American soldiers who did carry guns hadn’t first killed the Japanese soldiers that wanted to kill him, or any of that.

I’m interested in why the movie starts with a reading from Isaiah 40.

If the idea is just to explore the ethics of war using the Bible, why not read from the 10 commandments?  Why not grab a few words of Jesus about loving your neighbor?  Or that those who live by the sword will die by the sword?

Why Isaiah 40?

So let us ask these questions of Isaiah 40 once again.  Not grow faint or weary doing what?  Renew their strength to do what?  What do these words mean?


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (1)

The previews end.  The lights dim and the moviegoers settle a bit deeper into their seats.  Hacksaw Ridge begins.

A voice speaks the words of Isaiah 40:28-41

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those 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.

These are soaring words.  But what do they mean?  And how do these words both give meaning to and find their meaning within Hacksaw Ridge?


The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not grow faint or weary,

He does not grow faint or weary?  What does this mean?  Is this a mere statement of power independent of whatever ends are wrought by this power?  A straight forward (and what many may take to be obvious) affirmation that the God who creates, sustains, and transcends all things is more powerful than human beings and not subject to human limitations?  Or can words such as these only be given proper meaning in terms of God’s character?  In other words, He does not grow faint or weary in doing what?

His understanding is unsearchable.

The same sorts of questions as above.  Is this mere poetic language that the good theologian should convert into the propositional language of divine omniscience?  As in, God knows more facts than human beings?  Actually, what is “understanding”?  In what ways does this understanding reveal itself?  How does this “unsearchable understanding” relate to not growing faint or weary?  How does understanding relate to love and goodness?  Does it?  All the time?  Some of the time?

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

The same sort of questions once again.  What is this power that he gives to the faint?  Power to do what?  What is this strength that he gives?  Strength to do what?

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.

Are we just talking about physical weariness here?  And a renewal of strength for the purpose of whatever the one who is strengthened desires - a sort of force that the worshipper can tap into and control?  Is this an if/then statement - a math equation?  We shall pray before our battle, and the strength to destroy our flesh and blood enemy in our great fury shall be the reward of “waiting for the Lord”?  Who is my enemy?  What does it mean to “wait for the Lord”?  Wait for the Lord to do what?  Yet again, renew their strength to do what?  For the Lord, of course, can only renew “strength” in a way that is consistent with his own “strength”.

They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.

Run and not be weary while doing what?  Walk and not be faint in order to do what?


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Divine Love As Giving (Miroslav Wolf)

So, what do we Christians mean by love? First, let’s consider what we don’t mean. Plato’s Symposium is likely the most influential text about love in the whole of Western literature. In it, Socrates argues that to love is to desire something one does not have and considers to be good. Apply this definition of love to God, as some Muslim theologians do, and you immediately see the difficulty. God lacks nothing that is good, and God has no needs. So God cannot desire anything God doesn’t have. Therefore God cannot love— in Socrates’s sense of the word. Now, Christians agree with Muslims who think this way. All responsible Christian theologians insist that God doesn’t love in this “needy” kind of way; such love wouldn’t be worthy of God. 

Does it follow, however, that God doesn’t love at all? We use the word “love” in another sense— not just to designate desire for what we lack, but commitment to give of what we have and of who we are. This is the main sense in which the Christian tradition speaks of God’s love. “For God so loved . . . that he gave,” reads the famous verse about God’s love quoted earlier. When God loves, God doesn’t long to get something, but undertakes to impart something. God gives when God creates; God gives when God delivers; God gives when God forgives; God gives when God grants eternal life. God gives, and in giving God loves. All of God’s works are done out of generosity, none out of acquisitiveness.

--Mirsoslav Wolf (Allah: A Christian Response, p. 154)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Peace Through Strength" and the Propaganda of the Death Star as an Instrument of "Peace"

Saw Rogue One last night.  I'm not one of these big Star Wars guys who knows facts about the characters and storylines that don't actually appear in the movies.  But in light of recent political events, it got me thinking about the meta-narrative of Star Wars.

It was very striking to me that, amongst the Imperial Army, the Death Star is regularly spoken of as an instrument of "peace".  Whatever "peace" is in the minds of the Imperial Army, a vision which is ultimately formed by the Emperor and the Dark Side of the Force, it is best (and perhaps ultimately achievable only) through military strength.

Where have I heard this sort of thing before?

A strong military will stop wars. Peace through Strength! Let’s Make America Great Again!

In Star Wars, the Imperial perception is that the ultimate power exists with the Death Star.  For them,  it is the truth of the way things are.  It is written into the fabric of the universe.

"This station is now the ultimate power in the universe!  I suggest we use it."
-General Motti

Doesn't "peace through strength" have a certain ring to it?  And a certain sober realism about human nature and the human condition?

"Love won't save you, Padme. Only my new powers can do that!  I won't lose you the way I lost my mother. I am becoming more powerful than any Jedi has ever dreamed of, and I'm doing it for you. To protect you."
-Anakin Skywalker

But make no mistake.  Peace through (military) strength is really just a way to say peace as submission.  Peace through submission to a military will.  Peace through fear.  Which is to say there is no such thing as peace at all, only power.

"Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station."
-Grand Moff Tarkin

"Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy. And... we shall have... peace."
-Chancellor Palpatine

The Sith Code

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.


The stories we create have something to tell us.  As we see in the movie, Chancellor Palpatine's "peace" is anything but.  Haven't we tried this already?  It will not work.  And it isn't the "ultimate power in the universe".

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