Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Caring for Casualties

In the early part of the Vietnam War, I visited an officer at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He had been badly burned when his jeep hit a land mine. The Vietnamese soldier who was with him was also critically injured.

These two men were fellow soldiers. When they became casualties, however, a big difference suddenly became evident. The American went to a U.S. hospital and on to full recovery. The Vietnamese went to a Vietnamese hospital, where he was almost certain to die. My friend told me how thankful he was to be in the U.S. Army instead of the Vietnamese Army. He had been a casualty in the Korean Conflict also, so he knew what he was talking about.

The difference lay in the quality of care given to casualties. In other wars, in other armies, at other times, there was an even greater difference in the quality of care: there was no care at all! Casualties were left to die. Their deaths, however, had a significant impact on the rest of the men. They were not willing to risk themselves in combat when they knew nobody cared enough to rescue them if they were injured.

We had to re-learn that lesson the hard way with Navy pilots in the Southwest Pacific in 1942. When a pilot had to ditch because his plane was shot up or had run out of fuel, a decision was made not to risk the lives of more pilots and other planes and ships for one man. The decision was based on economy, not morale. But the morale of the pilots went down so far that the decision was soon reversed. To prove it, the next pilot in the water was rescued at the expense of several other planes. We have not had that problem since in the U.S. Armed Forces. Rescue and care of casualties is given high priority.

I personally observed this fact when, for three years, we kept minesweepers and a rescue destroyer in Wonsan Harbor, in spite of the fact that all the land around the harbor was held by North Korea. We were stationed there to pick up pilots who ditched in the harbor. I spent a small part during each of 1951, 1952, and 1953 on a destroyer picking up those pilots.

Admiral Mitscher’s decision, after the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, to guide his Air Groups home by turning on all the searchlights on all the ships of Task Force 58 was one of the great moral and morale decisions of the Second World War. He risked the lives of thousands to save the lives of a few.

We Christians are engaged in a spiritual war that is far greater than World War II. It includes all people and nations everywhere. We have learned much about the conduct of war on the spiritual plane. We have learned about evangelism; we have learned about training and what is called “discipling,” but we haven’t learned about caring for our casualties. We haven’t learned about caring because we don’t care.

Caring for casualties is not high on our priority list. We have been taught to spend our time with the faithful few, not with the unfaithful ones, who are the casualties. The faithful are a delight to be with, so the “espirit de corps” is seemingly high.

The casualties are many; we cannot hide from them. I cannot exist comfortably in an army where the overwhelming majority are casualties who are not being cared for. I cannot maintain high morale in such an army. It would be fake. To purport to have high morale under such conditions is to blind yourself to reality.

We Christians are not just an army; we are a body. “So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).

The few healthy parts have to be suffering too, if they are part of the body. If they are not suffering and caring, it is because they are not part of the body or because they also are not healthy. They think they are healthy, when in reality they also are sick.

The current status of our spiritual army looks rather bad to me, with many casualties and most of the rest not caring.

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2).

There are at least two reasons for not caring. First is the cost. If we commit ourselves to caring for a physical invalid, then we are attached. Our time is committed. We cannot forsake the ill person. We anticipate that if we lovingly begin to care for a spiritual invalid, we will be forever attached to that casualty. If there is more than one invalid, we anticipate all of our time disappearing. We are not willing for that to happen.

The fallacy in this thinking is assuming that these people will stay invalids. They will not. Loving, gentle care restores them, and quite rapidly. They cease to be casualties.

The second reason for not caring is our hesitancy to use spiritual judgment. The enemy has infiltrated the camp of the believers through a misapplication of Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Christians say to each other regularly, “Judge not!” The consequence of this peer pressure (which itself uses the Word of God in a judgmental fashion) is to paralyze and intimidate the caring believers so they do not care for the casualties. They are led to pretend that the casualties are not really injured.

Matthew 7:3-5 completes the content of the “do not judge” teaching: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This commands us to get rid of sin in our lives, so that we may remove the speck from our brother’s eye. That is loving, gentle care. The “judge not” of the previous verses is to keep unqualified people from caring for the casualties. Those people would make the situation worse, so they are not to participate in the care.

Paul says, “You who are spiritual…” (Gal. 6:1), that is, you who have removed the plank, you who see clearly—you are able to judge. When Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b), He was keeping unqualified men from taking care of casualties. Then He took care of her: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

When we quote these verses at each other, we stop even an attempt to care for the one who is hurting. Why? Because we all have planks in our eyes; we have all sinned. We are not fit either for delicate eye surgery or for capital punishment.

But we are Christians. God has made it possible for us to not be hypocrites. He has made it possible for us to get rid of our planks, to get rid of our past sin. In other words, He expects us to get qualified, to be spiritual.

“I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (1 Cor. 6:5)

God has placed the requirement to care on us. We could come up with the excuses as the religious men in the story of the good Samaritan. The casualty was there, and he could not help himself. The same situation exists today, and Jesus, commending the Samaritan, says, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

In almost every group, there are men or women who have become casualties. In many cases, a Bible study or an annual conference is the means of restoring those believers to full health, to a high stage of “combat readiness.” But there are situations that cannot wait for the conference. “You who are spiritual should restore him gently.” If you are not qualified, then call on someone who is. But do not do nothing!

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