By THE REV. BRADFORD MERCER
I recently received a letter I will never forget. Why? Because it was sent to me by a young U.S. Army paratrooper serving on the front line in Afghanistan with my son, Harry. The letter is tinged with urgency. He was wrestling with life’s most important questions. The questions were not theoretical; they were literally a matter of life and death.
This young soldier’s letter forced me to try get to the heart of what it means to be a faithful American Christian in world gone crazy. As we reflect on the state of our country, our independence, our past, and our future, I want to share a portion of the letter and my response.
Dear Mr. Mercer:
I’ve been having some concerns lately and I know that you’re a minister so I was hoping you could help me put some things into perspective. Harry and I were talking tonight and it came up that we are saved and not everyone in the platoon is, and we would feel horrible if something would happen to one of them knowing that they weren’t Christians. But my issue is that sometimes I just feel so far away from God here. We don’t see our chaplain much and rarely get to go to services. I pray constantly for our safety, normally several times during every mission, even just driving down a road that is normally littered with IEDs inspires several prayers from me.
But I constantly wonder if it’s enough, I mean we are all by nature sinners, and I get that, but being a soldier seems so much more difficult. Sometimes we have so much hate in our hearts for these people that we’re fighting against, and also the locals because I feel like we’re here trying to help them and they just don’t care about their own futures. And as you can imagine, being in the infantry there is a lot of sinning going on, swearing, impure thoughts and such, and even though I know it’s wrong, I continue doing them, and that makes me wonder if I still have my ticket to heaven, or if it can be revoked.
I know what I was taught, we are saved by grace and if none of us sinned there would have been no reason for Christ to die for us in the first place, but if you know you’re sinning and you don’t take immediate action to correct it, does that condemn you? I don’t know, I would like to believe that it is normal to question one’s morality and humanity in war and that God understands our predicament because of the circumstances that we’re in, but when you’re always in danger you just can’t help but to have doubts about whether you’re going to be okay when your time does come.
I’d really appreciate any input or advice you could give me. It helps to get someone’s perspective from outside the (sand) box.
After recovering from the initial “Wow, how am I going to answer that?” I responded this way:
Jesus Christ has forgiven each and every one of your sins: the past, present, and future. That’s what it means to be “saved by grace alone” (Ephesians 2). You can never lose your salvation. Your “ticket to heaven” was handed to you by Jesus Christ from the cross. He purchased it with His blood. It is one ticket that can never be revoked.
Do Christians still sin? Yes. Do Christians struggle and often make wrong choices? Yes. But, if you have trusted in Christ alone for your salvation, He lives in you and is working in you whether you always feel Him working in you or not. He is growing you and changing you. You are becoming more like Jesus over time. That’s His promise. Salvation is by grace alone, but you are born again, and new hearts show themselves in new lives, new actions. Growth is often slow, but it is still growth.
Most importantly, please remember that no one experienced more hate than Jesus. No one experienced a more painful death than Jesus. He bore the sins of the world. And yet He loved, and died for, those who hated Him. And He still loves us.
You are in a hard place, but God has called you there to be salt and light. He has you there to be an ambassador for His Son, Jesus Christ. Sometimes He calls the ones He loves the most, the ones who are most dear to him, to walk into the most difficult situations. He did that with His own Son. Be salt and light! He will never leave you or forsake you!
As Christians, we must remember that some of us may be called upon to die for our country, but we must never live for our country. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.”
The Rev. Bradford Mercer is Senior Associate Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS. He and his wife, Cindy, have two children and five grandchildren. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601.853.0636.