FINDING GOD AT WAR
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12
Until 1968 my life had been dominated by the all American dream of pursuing personal happiness. However, the day came when I was challenged to abandon that goal by an old friend who stopped by to tell me about his adventures in a far away land. His story sounded so interesting that I immediately began making my own arrangements for a similar trip. Two weeks later I got on a plane for San Diego, California. From the airport I was escorted to my new home away from home - - the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot (MCRD). After 13 weeks of Boot Camp, five weeks of Advanced Infantry Training, and three weeks of Jungle-Survival Training , I was sent to the land of adventure my friend had spoken of . . . Vietnam.
I had always enjoyed war movies, especially the ones with John Wayne. But the first time I experienced real combat, my whole view of war changed. On that fateful night I found myself pinned down behind a rice paddy dike that stood just 18 inches high. Bullets were hitting all around me and men were screaming in the dark. In that moment of time as death seemed to be reaching out to end my life I saw myself as I really was - - a selfish, conceited, greedy, young man dominated by lust. Thinking I had only moments to live, I allowed my mind to ponder the hard questions of life:
- Why am I here?
- What is the purpose of life?
- What happens when we die?
- Is there a God?
- Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world?
I didn't have any answers to those questions and I wasn't sure if I ever would. But I decided that if I lived through that firefight that I would search for the answers. Almost as soon as I made that commitment, the bullets stopped and the night was again silent.
Life just wasn't the same anymore
I didn't have any answers to those questions and I wasn't sure if I ever would. But I decided that if I lived through that firefight that I would search for the answers. Almost as soon as I made that commitment, the bullets stopped and the night was again silent. I had no idea where to start looking for the answers to such profound questions even though they kept rolling around in my mind. My friends in the Marine Corps were no help. We didn't usually talk about religion or philosophy. Most of us proudly proclaimed that we were atheists, even if we weren't. Therefore, it was difficult to find anyone interested in deep conversations about the meaning of life. Yet those questions continued to haunt me throughout my whole 13 month tour of duty in Vietnam. When I arrived back in the United States I discovered that my girlfriend had been unfaithful and that many of my friends were involved in protesting the war in Vietnam. People often acted like they didn't even know there was a war going on in Vietnam, but when they discovered that I had actually been there they were only interested in how many people I had killed. I felt like a freak in a side show. I left Vietnam thinking I could just put it behind me once my tour was over, but instead I found it changed the way I viewed all of life. I tried to adapt to civilian life by getting a full-time job and taking classes at the local community college. I purchased a 1968 Corvette and had a very active social life. But happiness and contentment were illusions that always seemed just out of my reach. Those unanswered questions about the purpose and meaning of life spoiled my carefree lifestyle. On top of that, I had to contend with vivid memories of the war. The sights, the sounds, and even the smells of war haunted me. Almost every night in my sleep I would return to the battlefields of Vietnam and wake up in a cold sweat. I found it difficult to trust anyone and kept watching over my shoulder expecting someone to sneak up on me. If I went camping I would always think of setting up a perimeter and look for the best avenues of escape if anything happened. Even in restaurants I usually sat by the door or in a corner so no one could sneak up on me. Vietnam was never far from me for it had become a permanent part of who I was. No one seemed to understand what I was going through except other veterans of Vietnam. Therefore, even though I hated the military, I ran back to it knowing that there I would be understood and respected as a veteran of the Vietnam war.
My second tour in Nam was different
Believing that variety is the spice of life, I decided to join the Army instead of doing a second tour with the Marines. The Army offered me training in avionics as applied to helicopters and then sent me right back to Vietnam in February of 1972. I did not want to go back to Vietnam because I was afraid that surely this time the Viet Cong would kill me. But I was still patriotic when it came to America, so I went. Vietnam didn't seem much different from when I had left it in 1970. However, the enemy had become very aggressive as the American troops were being phased out of the war. Those of us remaining found ourselves being attacked regularly with mortars and rockets. As the attacks began I would rush for the bunkers and those unanswered questions from my first tour would follow me into that bunker to torment me. - Why am I here? - What is the purpose of life? - What happens when we die? - Is there a God? - Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? I still had no answers to those probing questions even though I had been searching for answers in everything from Eastern religions to the occult. I was frustrated because I couldn't seem to find anything that made sense enough to believe in. I began to wonder if anyone knew the answers. It was in the midst of my struggle for survival in Vietnam, that I discovered something I wasn't expecting to find . . . TRUTH.
Don't judge a book by it's cover
I discovered truth from two men in my unit who challenged me to read a book I had discarded as irrelevant - - The Bible. "That book doesn't have anything to say to us in the 20th century. It's filled with old-fashioned ideas," I told my friends. "The Bible has the answers to the questions you are asking. Just try it," they insisted. "You show me one thing in that book that is relevant for today and I might reconsider." They handed me a Bible and told me to open it anywhere. So I took the Bible and just opened it in the middle to the book of Proverbs. I thought I would read one verse that would reveal just how out of touch that ancient book was with our modern world. I glanced at the page in front of me and read the first verse that caught my eye. I was shocked! For there before me was a verse that actually made sense. I found myself captivated by its simple truth and I stood there dumbfounded. All of my arguments about God being out of touch with our modern world were decimated. I believed that if God existed then He would certainly have some understanding of our world. Now before me was the proof. I had discovered the most powerful verse in the Bible. I'm sure you'll agree as you read it for yourself. "It is better to live in the corner of an attic than in a beautiful home with a cranky and quarrelsome woman" Proverbs 25:24 (Living Bible) As I read that verse I said, "Now that's truth!" I knew enough about life to know that if I spent time around a cranky and quarrelsome woman, she would ruin my day or my whole life if I was dumb enough to marry her. I was amazed at the simple and yet profound truth of that verse, so I began looking at other verses on the opposite page, and then started flipping through the Bible at random, looking for bits of wisdom and insight, which I found everywhere. For the next several days I read the Bible and discovered that it did have the answers to my questions. How could I have been so blinded to the truth? I thought back to a time when I picked up a Bible and tried to read it when I was about 12 years old. I couldn't understand all the "hithers & thithers," so I put it down and never really considered it relevant for our generation. I had discarded it without really checking it out.
Finding God, Finding True Freedom
Several days later, I took all of my occult books, tapes, and gadgets to a burn barrel and set them on fire. I then went out to an open field and looked up at the dark sky and prayed the first prayer I ever remember praying from my heart. "God, if you're for real I want to know you. No fooling around. I don't want to play any games. Do something to prove to me that you exist and I'll believe in you." Lightning didn't strike and the ground didn't open up to swallow me, but somehow I knew that there was a God and that He had heard my prayer. Several days later, the war ended and we received orders to pull out. Many little things happened over the next six months which proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God did exist and that He was listening to me. However, during that time I also discovered, as I read the Bible, that God took a dim view of my lifestyle. Many of the things I did on a regular basis, God referred to as sin. For example, the Bible said we shouldn't lie, steal, kill, have sex outside of marriage, misuse God's Name, serve any other God, or even desire to have things that other people had. I had broken all of those and many more besides. The Bible indicated that God was interested in fairness, and was against all forms of perversion, cheating and evil. Those who disobeyed God would come under His curse and have to face His wrath on Judgment day. No one had to try to convince me that I had done some things in life that weren't right - - things that God would call sin. I knew God had every right to punish me. Yet, as I read the Bible I discovered that God in His mercy wanted to forgive me instead. It was hard for me to comprehend such love. I had broken just about every command in His book and I deserved to be punished yet He wanted to just forgive me? Why? The Bible said it in one word - -JESUS It was Jesus who took the punishment that I deserved when He died on a cross. He substituted Himself for me out of love. My understanding of all that came together one night in Ella Sharp Park in Jackson, Michigan, as I listened to an evangelist explain it in detail. He said that we could be forgiven, not by trying to straighten out our life but by trusting in Jesus Christ. When he invited people to come forward, I went. As an indication of our repentant attitude he asked us to kneel down and pray. I gladly bowed on my knees and asked Jesus to forgive me and to come into my life. I wasn't sure of all the implications of that decision at that moment and I certainly didn't comprehend all the theology behind it. I just knew I was a sinner in need of a Savior. Yet when I stood up I knew I was a different person. Jesus set me free. I didn't know it at that moment but my life was about to become an exciting adventure.
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)