The story of Desmond T. Doss is one of courage, unflinching faith, and a bygone commitment to the 10 Commandments.
Much like the 1924 Olympian Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), a committed Scottish Christian who runs “for the glory of God,” Desmond T. Doss made a commitment, due to his Seventh-Day Adventist faith, not to work on the Sabbath. Doss also decided that he could not bear arms.
Mel Gibson’s soon-to-be-released film Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Doss in Hollywood fashion, and it’s already receiving both critical and fan acclaim.
In short, Doss enlisted in April of 1942 and given conscientious objector status. Due to his commitment to honor the Sixth Commandment (Thou Shalt Not Murder), he became a medic. He made every effort to obey the Fourth Commandment (Keep the Sabbath) as well, but he did feel like it was OK to perform his medic duties due to the fact that even Jesus healed on the Sabbath.
During a fierce battle for a 400-foot ridge on Okinawa, which also just happened to be on a Saturday, the Sabbath for Seventh-Day Adventists, the Japanese attacked and many wounded soldiers were trapped on the top of the ridge.
Doss refused to run or seek shelter and repeatedly ran headlong into enemy fire to retrieve wounded soldiers and proceeded to lower them to safety.
Miraculously, Doss came out of the battle without injury.
Due to his unthinkable bravery, Desmond Doss was the first conscientious objector to win the coveted Medal of Honor (and one of only three in history) for his heroic rescue of over 50 men that day.
Which brings up an important question: Why do movies about strong Christians from yesteryear inspire us so much? Especially when their version of Christianity is so different from the evangelicalism most people practice today.
Films like Chariots of Fire (above) and Hacksaw Ridge show a version of Christianity that’s based on strict adherence to very specific commands (Keep the Sabbath Holy!)–commands we don’t follow with the same vigor.
Few evangelicals “keep” the Sabbath, at least not in the strict Old Testament adherence. Fewer still are pacifists. In fact, practicing a faith that embraces both of those commands would likely be looked down on as legalistic by many in the church today.
For example, if an Olympic runner decided to skip a Sunday event due to his or her faith, we would be puzzled. We’re in an era of grace, right? “The Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around,” we might say. If an Army Corporal decided to run into harm’s way to rescue the wounded, refusing a gun, we’d probably say, “Don’t be stupid! You need to protect yourself. You’re no good to us dead!”
But Doss and Liddell are inspirational to us for that very reason. They decided to keep their religious beliefs and practices above anything and anyone in the world who tried to force or coerce them to do differently.
Somehow, these stories of faithful men bring up a nostalgia that’s not abrasive to our faith, but warm and heartening. Why is that?
Somehow, we look past the relevance or irrelevance of these religious practices (and the fact that we don’t follow them the same way) and live in the boldness of their stories. It’s the age-old tale of inspiration. Down deep, we want to have convictions that show themselves in courageous ways. Convictions that fly in the face of cultural values. The conviction of Noah and Moses and Ruth.
And, if we dig even deeper, we know those values might be slipping. The church doesn’t carry as much distinction today as it used to. The way we practice our faith has blended into the world in subtle ways and the difference is sometimes unnamable. And we want a faith that stands out for its boldness. A faith that, once again, defies the odds. A faith that’s alive.
That doesn’t mean we should all become pacifists or start keeping the Sabbath like the Pharisees (for a clear argument about why we don’t strictly follow the Sabbath, you might find this helpful via John MacArthur), but it does mean there should be a clear dividing line between the values, practices, and actions of evangelicals and those of the world.
In other words: Our faith should be distinct.
The way we live out our faith should say something bold. In our heart of hearts, we know this.
Besides, maybe our faith is not the one that’s fully arrived? Maybe the modern faith we’re expressing is not modern at all.
And maybe, just maybe, the obedience men and women like Liddell and Doss expressed years ago is what we need to get back to.
If not in function, than in form.