Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Band of Brothers

The HBO television series, Band of Brothers, depicts the true life story of soldiers involved in the World War II military campaign in Northern Europe. More specifically, the series follows the men of Company E (“Easy Company”) of the 506th Parachute regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. These soldiers often found themselves on the front lines of the fiercest battles and the extraordinary casualty rate was a testimony to their heroic sacrifice. Those who did not lose their lives would not leave the war unchanged. The series vividly depicts this transformation as each man endures the unexpected journey of war.
So as not to destroy the series for those who have not yet watched it, I will share only the scene that impacted me the most. The war was nearing its end and the men of Easy Company were called to secure a German town after their surrender. The men of Easy were sent out to scan the area and ensure that no snipers were hidden under cover. As they walked through the forest, they were struck by an eerie silence and an odd odor in the air. As they looked over a rise in the terrain, they witness the unimaginable. The soldiers observe, for the first time, a sight they never imagined and one that even those watching the episode will not soon forget: Emaciated human beings secured like animals in a pen with the stench of death so strong the men had to cover their mouths with cloths. Smoke still lifted from the ground where German soldiers had burned as many of the prison huts as possible, people incinerated alive as they were trapped inside. The Nazi soldiers shot prisoners, like an arcade game, until they ran out of ammunition. The ground was littered with dead and decomposing bodies. What wasn’t stacked in a heap on the ground was stuffed into cable cars with contorted limbs stiff from rigor mortis. Those that remained were only a shell of a human, ashen and suffering from the most severe malnutrition, disease and unattended injury – and worst of all, hopelessness.
The scene was a Jewish prison camp and the vile evil of the holocaust was an overwhelming sight. I wept.
When confronted, citizens of the nearby German city claimed ignorance. Soldiers did not believe their answer and questioned their humanity in knowing that such atrocity existed and yet they looked the other way. In the end, these same citizens who denied knowledge were forced to see the camp for themselves and then clean up the dead and decaying bodies with their own hands. I have not witnessed another scene so vividly displaying the depravity of man and the corruption of man’s heart apart from God than this one. It truly was hell on earth.
It is easy to look at the German soldiers involved in the holocaust and judge them with proud contempt. Yet, each time we usurp the authority of God in our own lives by denying our moral conscience in obedience to a different authority, we are guilty of the same. In fact, this is the original sin that plagues all mankind. It was Adam and Eve who first denied the authority of God in obedience to another. Since that time, all mankind is totally depraved and guilty of the same sin. Only by the grace of God does any man choose differently. In other words, all mankind is essentially and unchangeably bad apart from divine grace. We have no inherent goodness within us and we are helpless and hopeless in this condition apart from the grace of God.
This miniseries has been a poignant reminder of this depravity of man. So often, we look at such vile acts such as the holocaust and we profess that we would never be capable of performing such horrific deeds. Yet, were it not for the grace of God, we would all do the same. Because the heart of the issue is not the act itself but the denial of God’s authority in order to carry it out. And this is the sin we all share. As Paul reminds us:

“There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”" (Romans 3:10-18)

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)," (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Like Lt. Winters, I am challenged to live in peace. Yet, the peace I seek is not simply peace with my fellow man. It must first begin as peace with God and only then can peace with my fellow man be possible. War only exists as a result of the fall. The atrocities for which we fight find their core disease in the heart of every human. All sin is ultimately rebellion against the rule of God and for that we all stand guilty. Peace with God only exists when I realize I have been created in His image and I live by grace under His rightful reign through faith in Jesus Christ. I have been given freedom by God to live responsibly in His light and to delight in the life given to me by Him. I should express my gratitude in my love for others. I should forgive because I have been forgiven. I should fulfill my unique design to promote peace with God found only through faith in Jesus Christ. For God does not intend to make bad people good. Instead, His redemption through Christ makes dead people alive.

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