June 1, 2021

War, Death, and Jesus

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).1

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought” (Rev. 12:7).

War and its consequence, death, have been with us since the fall of Satan the dragon. And the war that began in heaven continues to rage on Earth today. 

Throughout Earth’s history, countries have been and continue to be involved in conflicts and wars of all kinds. Regardless of what country you are from and what side of the battle lines we find ourselves on, in all wars people die! Friend or foe, the fallen are fathers and mothers, young and old. And this will not end until Jesus comes again: “The great controversy is nearing its end. Every report of calamity by sea or land is a testimony to the fact that the end of all things is at hand.”2

The two brief stories that follow illustrate both the havoc of war and the examples of nobility it has taught us.

Take My Life Vest       

On February 3, 1943, the USAT Dorchester was sunk by a submarine in the cold waters of the Atlantic. The ship carried 902 servicemen, merchant seamen, and civilian workers. According to those present, amid the pandemonium four chaplains brought hope in despair and light in the darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.  

The scene is described on the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation website: “‘Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for those who would live.”3 As the chaplains distributed life jackets, Engineer Grady Clark “witnessed an astonishing sight. When there were no more lifejackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.”4 Survivor John Ladd stated, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”5 Survivors floating in nearby rafts were left with a powerful image of their chaplains as they watched the ship go down: a scene of four men, “arms linked and braced against the slanting deck” still offering prayers as their ship sank to its watery grave.6

Why Did Scott Die?

As I was wrapping up my day at the office late one evening, my phone rang. A fellow officer asked if I could assist him in a visit to the family of Scott, a sailor whose helicopter crashed in the Mediterranean Sea during a Persian Gulf War operation.  

Early the following day, dressed in our U. S. Navy uniforms, we traveled to Lawrence, Massachusetts. We parked the car a block away from the house of Scott’s family.

I will never forget the expression on the face of Scott’s mother as she looked at the cross on my uniform. Immediately she looked at me and asked, “What happened to my son Scott?” We proceeded to inform her that Scott had been killed in action.  

She asked me, “Why did he die?” I did not have an answer for her, other than telling her that he died for his country. The episode brings to my mind words from Jesus Himself: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Remembering the Fallen

Although the ceremonies aren’t all on the same date, nations worldwide commemorate their fallen service members. While the days and traditions are different, the overarching theme is to remember those who sacrificed everything for their country. In the United States, the last Monday of May is known as Memorial Day. It’s the day when the nation mourns the military personnel who died in the performance of their military duties.

Individuals will visit the gravesites of fathers or mothers whom they never met because they were too young to remember them, or perhaps they were not yet born when their parent died. 

Reflecting on the deaths of so many reminds me of the song lyrics “Gonna lay down my sword and shield down by the riverside. Gonna study war no more.” The coming of Jesus is the great promise that will end all war, suffering, and death. His war has been the longest and most tragic of all, involving the ultimate payment of war’s cost. But His ultimate sacrifice will end all Memorial Days, turning them all into one continuous celebration of peace and victory because of the Lamb whose death guarantees us all eternal life.

Mario Ceballos is director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

1 Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC.: Review & Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 219.

3 http://fourchaplains.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Story.pdf

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.