Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To End All Wars

Life was brutal in the prisoner of war camps carved out of the jungles of south-east Asia. The Japanese treated their captives as expendable, forcing them into harsh and dangerous labour fueled by scant rations of rice and little else. More than a quarter of all prisoners of war held captive by the Japanese died while interned.

The morale of the living was non-existent as "death called to [them] from every direction." Starvation, exhaustion and disease degraded the men to selfishness, hate, fear and despair.

The prisoners were stripped of their humanity and reduced "to levels lower than the beasts," until one man set an example for them all. His friend was sick and dying so he starved himself to give his own food to the friend. The friend became well but the man died, having given his very life for his friend. From his example, the officers began to use what resources they had to help the sick, at a loss to themselves.

The climate of the camp shifted.
Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealously, greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life...."
Generosity bred generosity until the camp was humming with life and the creativity of an orchestra, theatre, university and well-attended church services, each man using his gifts to serve others. They "regained respect for [themselves] because human life had value once more." Attitudes were changing as men were saying, "You first," instead of "Me first."

Men were thinking some of the deep questions of life, such as "What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?" "What does forgiveness look like when one's captors treat life with disrespect?"

Forgiveness is seeing a trainful of your enemy wounded and uncared for, "more cowed and defeated than we had ever been," and choosing to share meager rations and water, cleaning their wounds and speaking kindly to them.
Our experience of life in death had taught us that the way to life leads through death. To see Jesus was to see in Him that love which is the very highest form of life, that love which has sacrifice as the logical end of its action. To hang on to life, to guard it jealously, to preserve it, is to end up by burying it. Each of us must die to the physical life of selfishness, the life controlled by our hates, fears, lusts and prejudices in order to live in the flesh the life that is of the spirit. This is a basic law that cannot be broken except at great cost.
I find myself convicted. How much do I pursue my comforts and needs at the expense of not meeting that of others? How much of myself am I willing to give away? How much am I controlled by my hates, fears, lusts and prejudices? I think of an elderly widow I know who seems to suck the life out of anyone who tries to help her. I think of the street people who come to my church during the week for warmth, food and friendship. I think of the barriers I've built for self-protection. Am I willing "to live in the flesh the life that is of the spirit"? It seems I must.

All quotes from To End All Wars by Ernest Gordon, published by Zondervan (Grand Rapids, Michigan) 2002. (Previously published as Through the Valley of the Kwai in 1963and Miracle on the River Kwai in 1965.)

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