Where is God amidst the horrors of war? How do soldiers keep their faith in God’s goodness amidst the suffering and slaughter of battle?
American soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines have asked questions like these ever since the War for Independence. The questions occupy their thoughts and find their way from faraway battlefields into letters to loved ones.
Journalist Andrew Carroll has collected many of these letters in a book entitled Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War. Among them is a note from Private Walter Bromwich, who questioned God’s role in the slaughter of World War I.
“How can there be fairness in one man being maimed for life, suffering agonies, and another killed instantaneously, while I get out of it safe?” Bromwich asked his pastor back in Pennsylvania. “What I would like to believe,” Bromwich wrote, “is that God is in this war, not as a spectator, but backing up everything that is good in us. I don’t know whether God goes forth with armies, but I do know that He is in lots of our men or they would not do what they do.”
Other soldiers worried about their public witness more than their personal safety. In 1943, Private First Class William Kiessel, who was about to take part in the invasion into France, wrote to friends that he did not want prayer for his safety, because “safety isn’t the ultimate goal. True exemplary conduct is.” And he added, “What is important is that whatever does happen to me I will do absolutely nothing that will shame my character or my God.”
Where is God in the midst of war? Lieutenant Colonel Scott Barnes, a doctor who treated hundreds of wounded patients in Iraq, offered an answer to that question in an email home to family and friends.
“Some of my colleagues have wondered out loud,” he wrote, “how there can be a God with all of this suffering. I just remind them that He might just be right in some of our hands and working right beside us.
“Where is God? He is in the O.R. guiding the hands of the surgeons, He is in the will of the sergeants helping organize a blood drive as only they can, He is in the hearts of the soldiers who immediately rolled up their sleeves to give what they had to save a dying brother whom they don’t even know”—or even a captured enemy.
Letters like these renewed Carroll’s own faith in God. “They showed me that even in the bleakest of circumstances, with God’s help, we can overcome all adversity,” Carroll writes. “Through Him, we can endure any hardship. Because of Him, we are never alone.”
Where is Christ during the horrors of war today? He’s on the Cross.