A Christian's Perspective on Killing

by 1LT Jonathan Carl, USA

Prior to my deployment as a brand new lieutenant I had many questions about my mission as a leader in combat. My main task as a combat arms officer would be to close with and destroy the enemy.

Destroy the enemy. What is it like to kill the enemy?  How would my soldiers or I handle that? And what do I tell my soldiers about civilian casualties? As a Christian, what should be my response? 

Killing is often a taboo issue. Few actually have to do it, and those who do prefer not to talk about it. The only information I had on killing and its spiritual and psychological effects was from the movies and Old Testament stories.

Most of my time on deployment was spent as a tank platoon leader. The battles we fought were far different from the conventional ones we trained for. Our enemy does not wear a military uniform or fight in the open, but seeks refuge within the city streets and alleyways, taking his family with him on the battlefield to use them and other civilians as shields.

Every soldier in my platoon was decisively engaged, pulling the trigger and killing them or maneuvering our tanks on them. We saw the enemy collapse, explode, and vaporize at our own hands. And civilians caught in the crossfire. As a Christian leader, what am I to do with these experiences? What can I share to help those leaders who are currently engaged with our enemies?

The Bible provides a wealth of guidance on warfare and killing, with numerous examples of warriors serving the Lord, such as Joshua, Samson, and David. The Lord instructed Joshua to establish cities of refuge for those who killed "unintentionally and without malice aforethought" (Joshua 20:5). That comforts me, having seen civilians fall in the crossfire of battle, knowing the Lord looks at our heart when evaluating our actions.

David spent much time in battle, evading Saul and defeating his enemies. David's song of praise after the Lord delivered him is particularly relevant to what I have experienced:

"He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior--from violent men you save me" (2 Samuel 22:3).

The Lord's warriors are called to give praise and glory to God upon completion of a successful battle. But we are also cautioned; "Do not gloat when your enemy falls...do not let your heart rejoice" (Proverbs 24:17).

So what is it like to kill the enemy? Killing is not hard but is a very sobering experience, happening very quickly and when done, you're just happy you and your soldiers are still alive. Killing causes you to question why the enemy is so ready and willing to die for their cause. Are they brainwashed by religious or fanatical propaganda--or simply seeking a payoff by attacking Americans? And what of the family and friends they're leaving behind?

There is a satisfaction knowing you did your job well, destroying the enemy before he killed you or your friends and family. My experiences with killing and combat do not bother me. I know why I am here, what I have done, and am willing to talk about it.

Killing causes you to evaluate your own mortality and death. The issue of one's own mortality is what I think bothers most of my soldiers and others who have killed in combat--they are afraid of death and what lies beyond.

As a Christian, I do not fear death. Paul put it best, "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). But for those not knowing of their own salvation, death is a scary thought. One of Satan's best tricks is to prevent us from thinking about our own mortality-living only focused on worldly pleasures. I believe that's why you see so many salvation experiences when soldiers deploy to combat and experience their mortality firsthand.

This presents amazing ministry opportunities as a Christian leader to share the gospel through word and lifestyle evangelism. Where else do you find so many people pushed to their limits by the stresses of war, deployment, family and marital issues, and financial problems? Because many non-Christians and some Christians alike see a conflict between being a Christian and killing, countless soldiers inquire about my platoon's experiences in combat. They are intrigued to know why I am different and how I handle such events. Each is an opportunity to tell about my faith and hope in Christ.

I thank God and praise Him every day for keeping me safe and providing us victory. I pray for our soldiers and their safety--but most importantly I pray for their salvation. I also pray for our enemy's salvation and for all those greatly affected by their actions.

As a veteran once told me, "Do not underestimate the importance of spiritual readiness."  Keep a spiritual mindset in all that you do--remembering God is in control. No matter what you are doing, you must do it for Him. Whether we are deployed or in the comfort of our own home, as Christians we are all called to be warriors. There is a spiritual battle raging around us daily.

No matter where God places you, look at everything you do as an opportunity to serve and glorify the Lord and to share His love with others.

Jonathan and his family live and serve the Lord near Fort Know, Kentucky, where following his military service, he is pursuing a Ph.D at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Adapted from the August 2004 issue of Command magazine.