A few weeks ago, I watched that movie The Patriot. I saw it once many years ago, but given the intensity of the topic, it’s something you don’t watch often. But, on this day, as I watched it I was overcome with some interesting thoughts.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a Mel Gibson movie about the American Revolution. Mel Gibson plays a single father of seven, living in South Carolina. He is a pacifist—certainly frustrated at the actions of the British government, but sees no desire to enter a bloody war. He thinks more diplomacy is in order.
But, his son, played by Heath Ledger, brings the fight literally to his doorstep, when he enlists in the Continental Army. So, the pacifist father must make a decision, and ends up leading a faction of rebel militia. Key scenes involve a Braveheart-esque moment on the battle field as Mel Gibson gallops into a throng of redcoats carrying an American flag, with a rebel yell.
And as I watched this scene, and the bloodshed on the battle field, I wondered what God thought about this moment in history. The movie made no small point of the horrid bloodshed of the war. In one battle scene, Heath Ledger watches from a window, and sees a teenage boy’s head blown clear off by a cannonball. In another, we watch Mel Gibson shoot a soldier partly responsible his son’s death, and then unleash his rage upon the corpse with a Tomahawk until his shirt was about as red as the British uniform. And so it goes…
As I watched this, I thought about these soldiers. How God is passionately in love with each and every person on the battle field. God knew every single soldier’s name, and delighted in their company. God knew their intimate thoughts, and knew everything that was good about them. So, did God weep for their loss? Did he mourn as they lay in a field, choking on blood, staggering their last breaths?
But, at the same time, Old Testament history shows God to be a warrior. He is constantly telling Israel to take cities, and conquer and plunder. He believed in battle, and war and fighting to “Take the land.” And of course, now, centuries later, we have seen the result of the American soldier’s sacrifice. An amazing country, a leader in the world. And we know that God’s grace is upon us. So, does that mean God sanctioned their cause? Did God condone the bloodshed that created our society?
And as I watched Mel Gibson’s horseback character, stars and stripes unfurling behind him, I was overcome with sentiment. These men were carrying a country. Did they feel the grace of God upon them? Did they know that they were birthing something? Did they know the freefalling sensation of being on the edge of something great, something beautiful. Did they really know, they were building something for their posterity? And was the hand of God upon them?
We think of God as this tender hearted, laughing, peaceful being that would never want us to hurt anyone…and that’s definitely a side of God. But, God is also a warrior. And whose side was he on in that war? And if he was on our side, did that mean he was against our enemies–who loyally fought for their own country?