Mel Gibson’s most recent movie Hacksaw Ridge received a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. Standing ovations are not common occurrences at this festival, much less for movies with a Christian faith theme.
Gibson’s movie, which will be released in theaters in November, is based on the life of a heroic soldier from World War II — Desmond T. Doss.
As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss was a conscientious objector and was unwilling to become involved in the actual fighting. The Seventh Day Adventists denomination officially holds to the position of pacifism.
Like most people, it is easy to consider conscientious objectors as little more than cowards.
But that could not be said about Doss, who died in March 2006 at the age of 87.
According to an article in the New York Times, while growing up his dad put a poster over Desmond’s bed. It had the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s prayer emblazoned on an image of Cain standing with a club over the dead body of his brother Able – the Bible’s first recorded murder.
This image was burned into his mind and Doss made a commitment he would never kill another man. When he was drafted in 1942, Doss, 23, was given conscientious objector status and agreed to serve in the army as a medic.
As a Seventh Day Adventist, Doss also honored the Sabbath and refused the train on Saturdays — another Adventist position. This along with the time he spent praying resulted in significant harassment from his fellow soldiers.
During his training, a senior officer tried to have Doss kicked out of the unit citing mental health issues.
When Doss was finally dispatched to the front, unlike other medics, he refused to bear arms to defend himself. But he did agree to render medical assistance on Saturdays, because Jesus healed on the Sabbath.
He ended up serving with the infantry units fighting the Japanese in Guam, the Philippines and Okinawa. One of the tactics of the Japanese was to purposefully take out the medics believing if there was no one to care for the wounded, it would weaken the morale of the American soldiers.
It was at Okinawa where he received a Medal of Honor for saving the lives of 75 American soldiers. There was a bit of disagreement on how many he actually rescued. Doss thought it was closer to 50, the army said it was a 100, so they compromised on 75.
The battle called Hacksaw Ridge took place on May 5, 1945. American soldiers had attacked a 400-foot high ridge briefly taking it from the Japanese. But they counter attacked partially taking the ridge.
As a result there were dozens of wounded American soldiers scattered along the top.
In the face of of unrelenting Japanese fire, Doss sought out these men and using a tree stump as an anchor, tied them to a make-shift litter and lowered the wounded down one by one to a protected area 35 feet below the ridge.
The battle oddly enough took place on the Sabbath and only after removing the wounded did Doss slide down, completely unharmed.
So what was the source of Doss’ unusual bravery? Was it perhaps a spiritual gift?
When we discuss spiritual gifts we usually turn to 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul writes about gifts such as tongues, knowledge, wisdom and prophecy.
But what many don’t know is that the prophet Isaiah also provides a slightly different list of gifts:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might [Hebrew geburah],
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears; (Isaiah 11:2-3 NIV)
Though these verses talk primarily about gifts the Holy Spirit gave Jesus, I also believe they are given to men. The words of wisdom and knowledge mentioned in this passage, Paul also cites as gifts of the Spirit in Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:8).
But a couple aren’t including a gift called “might” that comes from the Hebrew word “geburah.”
Though it is often translated strength and mighty feats, it means much more than that. You can have all the physical strength you want, but if you don’t have courage you will not be able to accomplish great deeds.
As such the word means bravery, courage and fortitude which is how it is used in this verse.
Jesus had this gift as He willingly went to His death. He had fear, but in the Garden of Gethsemane He faced down those fears to go to the cross (Matthew 26:36-46).
Some believe this is a special gift that God gives His martyrs. It is moral courage in evil times.
The Book of Revelation talks about a special breed of believers in the end times who will not fear death:
11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even [a]when faced with death. (Revelation 12:11 NASV)
Is this a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s gift of courage?
It reminds me of a comment a young Muslim woman refugee made to the German magazine Stern after she accepted Christ:
“Since I became a Christian I fear no one.”
- Desmond T. Doss, 87, Heroic war objector dies: The New York Times
- The Hacksaw Ridge hero who could save Mel Gibson’s career: True story of courageous conscientious objector who refused to carry a weapon but was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving 75 lives in the Battle of Okinawa: Daily Mail
- Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge: The extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss who refused to kill: The Telegraph
- This violent, gruesome Mel Gibson movie cold be the next Faith-based hit: Charisma News