Pvt. Desmond Doss was played by Andrew Garfield.
Pvt. Desmond Doss was played by Andrew Garfield.
Photo credit: Lionsgate Movies

Hacksaw Ridge is a movie that will challenge you to consider exactly how far would you go to stay true to what you believe. My wife and I saw it over the weekend and I highly commend our readers to go watch. I will warn you it is extremely graphic.

Hacksaw Ridge is about the story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a Seventh-Day Adventist from Virginia, who enlisted in the Army out of a sense of duty. Doss believed that the war was justified, but believed killing was wrong. As a combat medic was the only American solider to serve on the frontline without a weapon during World War II. He was the first conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. He earned this award for his bravery in single-handedly evacuating 75 men from behind enemy lines during fighting on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

There are some lessons to be learned from Doss.

1. We must follow our conscience.

Doss knew that he must follow through on a vow he made to God as a young man. He told his then fiancee, Dorthy Schulte (played by Teresa Palmer), “I don’t know how I would live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.”

I’ve addressed the matter of conscience before as it relates to voting. The general principles are the same.

The word “conscience” in the original Greek used in the New Testament is “suneidesis.” This literally means “a knowing with”. The word is used 29 times in the New Testament. Essentially it is used two different ways: 1. “the consciousness of anything.” and 2. “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other.”

Apart from Christ our conscience is misguided, and if we live in sin it can also be marred and dulled.

So there are times we can’t trust our conscience because it needs to be calibrated to Christ and God’s truth, not our feelings. Generally speaking it is wise to follow it, and we should never violate in order to maintain a clear conscience, even if that conscience is weak.

To violate our conscience we are told in Scripture is a sin.

Romans 14:23 says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Now the Apostle Paul writes this in the context of Jewish dietary laws and whether it was ok to eat certain types of food deemed “unclean,” but it applies in other areas of life. Martin Luther once said, “to act against the conscience is neither right nor safe.”

Doss said he could not pick up a rifle to kill another man, not even in self-defense. I personally don’t share this exact conviction, but I can emphasize with it. Not all killing is murder, and I believe we do have the right to defend ourselves.  We certainly shouldn’t do it glibly and we must always be just. I struggled with the idea of taking a life however, and for this reason I chose to be a combat medic when I served in the Army National Guard from 1989 to 1997.

Unlike Doss however I never intended to be unarmed and I qualified with an M-16, had I been assigned to a infantry unit I would have been issued a pistol instead, but I served in a medical unit that was responsible for its own defense. I did want the focus of my efforts in military service to be on saving lives, not taking lives though I would have done so to defend myself and any solider I was giving aid to.

My conscience, however, is not Doss’ conscience and vice versa. There are Christians (and others) who sincerely believe in non-violence, and they should never be compelled to violate that.

Whatever your conscience directs you to do that is what you should do.

2. We should follow our conscience regardless the cost.

Doss was harassed. He was beaten. He was almost court-martialed and sent to prison. Yet he did not waiver from his beliefs.

Even under fire from the enemy Doss still followed his conscience. The Japanese did not care whether or not he was armed. They didn’t care that he did not pose a threat, he was shot at and eventually was wounded.

He stayed true to what he believed.

3. Following our conscience is not cowardice, it is courageous.

Doss was willing to endure hardships from his unit and the enemy. Staying behind after his unit retreated to pull his comrades who were wounded off the battlefield – without a weapon – is not cowardice. It is courageous, and that is something his unit, its leadership and President of the United States understood after his heroic act.

Doss resisted selling the rights to his story because he wanted God to have all of the glory. (He died in 2006.) He wanted God to use him to save people. In the course of pulling wounded members of his unit off of Hacksaw Ridge he would utter a simple prayer, “Lord, one more, please just one more.”

God answered his prayer over and over and over again because Doss sought to honor him. That is where his courage came from.

4. It is wrong to compel someone to violate their conscience.

His company commander was wrong about his, and in the movie admitted it.

Doss’ father, a World War I vet, pointed out during his disciplinary hearing that he fought to protect our Constitutional rights, rights that the Army sought to take away from Doss. Fortunately justice prevailed.

Their failure to discipline Doss came with benefits. Had Doss been court-martialed his unit the Army would likely have lost more men in battle over Okinawa than they already had. God had a purpose for Desmond Doss to save lives. Had he not stayed true to what he believed he probably would not have been in a position to do that.

Watch the trailer below.

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