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What drove Desmond Doss’ sacrifice?

“I was willing to go to the front lines to save life, but not to take life,” said Private Desmond Doss.

By Jarrod Stackelroth.


Here was a man who gave up the comforts of home and safety — including his new wife — and even had to endure physical and mental abuse in the army, as well as the stress of legal proceedings against him, all so he could go to the front lines to save lives.

He even volunteered. It’s not like he was forced to go and made the best of a bad situation.

He actually wanted to go so he could make a difference — so he could fight against the injustice that threatened to engulf the world.

Now that is sacrifice.

Many of those that Doss fought and served with were injured or even killed.

These days, the biggest thing we sacrifice is our pocket change to charity, our comfort to help a cause, or a creature comfort to save money for something bigger like a house. The word sacrifice is almost foreign to our vocabulary.

In our comfortable material society, those who probably understand sacrifice best are parents. They sometimes give up jobs, hobbies or even go without luxuries to ensure their kids have everything they need.

So what is the ultimate driving force for sacrifice? Love. Love, the true deep down kind that takes over our whole lives, like the kind of love a parent has for a child, is the greatest motivating factor for sacrifice. Fear and other motivations can drive us to do amazing things and they can push us, but the purest and strongest motivation — one that pushes us to suffer sacrificial loss — is love. It is the kind of love that’s like that of a parent who would run back into a burning building without question to save their child. That is the kind of love and sacrifice Doss was able to exhibit.

The Bible says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

When Doss was injured, he actually gave up his place on the stretcher to help someone who was wounded worse. That is love.

Jesus had the riches and power of heaven and yet He gave it all up to sacrifice His life for humanity. The ultimate sacrifice.

“I came to seek and save the lost,” He said (Luke 19: 10).


Justin Lawman on Desmond Doss’ relationship with his Bible

“When he loses his Bible – it’s like the greatest tragedy there is.” Justin Lawman discusses why the Bible was so important to Desmond Doss, and how his commitment raises the bar for the rest of us.

Matt Parra on Desmond Doss and The Bible

“He’s seen studying his bible for himself.” In this short video, Matt Para delivers a challenge to be more like Desmond – look into The Bible and use it to figure out where you stand.

Heroism or foolishness: What is selfless courage?

He never carried a weapon, but Desmond Doss didn’t enter the war unarmed.

By Linden Chuang.


Here’s something to consider: what if Desmond Doss had only rescued seven men instead of 75 on that night at Hacksaw Ridge? What if he had been killed on the first day of battle without a single saved soul to show for it? Would we have called him courageous or a fool?

We often associate courage with acts of heroism, but courage is really about the state of the heart.

Dr Brené Brown says, “courage is a heart word.” After all, the root word for “courage” is cor, the Latin word for heart. Doss’s bravery, then, is not so much about what he accomplished at Hacksaw Ridge, but his willingness to climb up there in the first place.

So why did he do it? Why did he run into the battlefield when everyone else was retreating?

Two reasons: faith and love.

Doss wasn’t ignorant. He was a medic, not a Marvel superhero, and he knew his limitations. But he also had faith in a very big God who promised to strengthen him, help him and never leave him (see Isaiah 41:10, Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:9).

Paulo Coelho once wrote that “an act of courage is always an act of love.” The two are inseparable. The Bible, Doss’s self-described “source of strength,” builds on this idea, saying to “stand firm in the faith, be courageous” and “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV).

Faith, courage and love.


Doss was no fool. He never carried a weapon, but he didn’t enter the war unarmed.

“My strength has the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”—Alfred Lord Tennyson

A long history of difficult decisions

Doss chose a morally difficult and physically dangerous middle path, voluntarily entering the mess and muck of war, offering help to both friend and enemy.

By Kent Kingston.


When the posse of street thugs and temple lackeys discovered Jesus and His disciples at their secret olive orchard campsite, Peter lunged forward with a sword to defend his rabbi. But his clumsy slash failed to deal a fatal blow — he succeeded only in slicing off a man’s ear.

Jesus cut through the blood, shock and screaming to speak words that have echoed through the centuries: “Put away your sword,” He said to Peter. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

You can read all about that in Matthew 26.


History balances peace and violence

Throughout history, Christians have generally seen these words as particular to the situation and have, at best, justified violence as a last resort in maintaining social order and defending against invaders. At worst, Jesus’ name has been brandished by perpetrators of tortures, massacres, pogroms and brutal wars.

But there have always been, it seems, Christ-followers for whom Jesus’ words suggest a new way of living, and dying. As they watch, through the pages of Scripture, Jesus’ refusal to defend Himself, to fight back, even as Roman spikes are hammered through His hands and feet, they catch a glimpse of another world where violence is overcome by love — “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Coliseum crowds wondered at the steadfast faith of the Christians who died in the arena — in prayer and apparently at peace as the lions approached. The legend is told of Magnus Erlendsson who, in the 1100s, refused to participate in a Viking raid on Wales, preferring instead to remain on the boat reciting psalms.

Over the centuries, a distinctly pacifist Christian movement emerged, led by what are today called the historic peace churches — Mennonites, Quakers and others. Governments struggled to deal with otherwise law-abiding citizens who refused to wield a weapon or participate in making war. Some conscientious objectors were executed, imprisoned or punished in other ways — their commitment viewed as unpatriotic, even treasonous. But, particularly in countries with a Protestant heritage and a commitment to individual conscience, governments began to make allowances for conscientious objectors, often permitting them to assist with important civilian projects.


A modern example

Enter Private Desmond Doss, a US soldier serving in World War Two. He posed somewhat of a quandary: yes, he wanted to support his country’s war effort against the Imperial Japanese invasion of the Pacific — he didn’t need to be drafted. He volunteered. But this patriotic American refused to use a weapon and requested a non-combat role. Doss rejected the label of “conscientious objector.” He preferred “conscientious co-operator.” Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge retells the difficulty he had in convincing his superiors and comrades of this point of view.

It’s easy to quibble with Desmond Doss’s logic: if he opposed war on principle — the usual conscientious objector’s position — why did he join up? Or if he truly supported America’s war effort, why not shoulder a weapon along with his share of the responsibility for what war entails? The grim task of killing people.

But Desmond Doss’s “conscientious co-operator” stance avoided the safety of both detached purity and comradely conformity. Instead he chose a morally difficult and physically dangerous middle path, voluntarily entering the mess and muck of war, offering help to both friend and enemy. A theologian might call this an “incarnational” approach; an echo of the decision of the eternal God to descend into the dirt, danger and debauchery of human reality, not as an avenging angel but as a defenceless baby in a manger.

Terry Benedict, who directed The Conscientious Objector, a documentary on Doss’s wartime experiences, recalls his surprise when the elderly veteran wouldn’t enter into discussion about the logic or theology behind his position. “Terry, God convicted me not to kill or carry a weapon. I’m not passing judgement on anybody else as to how God convicted them, but it’s just how God convicted me.”

It’s hard to argue with a statement like that. Or a life like that.

A devotional delay

It’s not everyday you hear about a battle being delayed so one man can finish his Bible study and prayer time — particularly when it’s a battle that’s critical to the success of the war your country is fighting.

By Adele Nash.


But that’s exactly what happened on 5 May, 1945 on the island of Okinawa. That day was a Saturday, which is the day that people of Private Desmond Doss’s faith — Seventh-day Adventists — set aside as their Sabbath.

The Maeda Escarpment — also known as Hacksaw Ridge — had to be taken, no matter what the cost. The B Company, which was the unit that Doss served with, had come to trust Doss implicitly, having seen how he would go above and beyond to serve his fellow man. Perhaps this is why his request to finish his Bible devotional study before assisting with the assault was granted. B Company’s Captain Vernon personally asked Doss to accompany the group, telling him, “The men would like to have you with them and so would I.”

The Unlikeliest Hero tells the story like this: “I’ll go, captain,” Doss said without hesitation. His Saviour had treated men on the Sabbath, and he could do no less. “But I’d like to finish my Sabbath school lesson first.”*

Doss didn’t know that, by asking to finish his Bible study time, he would hold up a war. But Captain Vernon knew that submitting the request would delay the assault on the ridge. He submitted it anyway. Amazingly, Colonel Hamilton allowed the delay, with the entire American advance in Okinawa waiting for Private Doss to finish his Bible study, which he closed with a quiet prayer.

The Americans went on to capture the ridge that day, and held it for good as the Sabbath closed.

So why is Bible study or devotional time so important?

Setting time aside to study the Bible gives us the benefit of quiet time with God every day. It means that we are also able to get direction for our lives from God — there are Bible verses that will inspire us or guide us, and it gives us an opportunity to ask God for His will to be known for our day. A lot of Christians also see daily devotional time as a strength-training exercise. How does that work? Well, it means we’re prepared for any challenges that lie ahead, knowing we can overcome anything with God’s help. Spending time studying the Bible has the biggest benefit of getting to know Jesus personally. When we meet with Jesus as we study the Bible, we learn more about His character, His endless love for each and every person, and how much he wants to have a life with us.

How do you set aside time to study the Bible? There’s no one way to do it — you can pick a time and place to do it that works for you. If you want to just sit down and read the Bible through, that’s fine. The New Testament is a great place to start. But there are also Bible studies available to help you with your devotional life too.


*Page 119, The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Hernon (unabridged version).

Image courtesy of Desmond Doss Council.