The Bible is full of deep, hidden things. It’s spiritual and it’s mystical…and I love those things…but it’s also intensely practical. It is intimately concerned with our daily lives and the world in which we live in. God’s goal isn’t to take us out of this world, but to have us bring Himself and His Kingdom to our world… “on earth, as it is in heaven”, right?! I don’t want to be so “super spiritual” here that I miss the practical, largely because I don’t see Jesus doing that. So, before I launch into the spiritual connections in American Sniper (and they’re there), I want to linger a minute on the very practical, real life aspects of the movie.
In my discussion of Selma, I talked about the importance of raising awareness. American Sniper is, I dare say, an important movie in our time because of the way it raises awareness. I have heard more than a few people echoing my own thoughts: that this movie awakened them to a sense of gratitude for and awareness of our men and women in service (and the families they leave behind) in a way nothing else has.
When Chris Kyle came home between tours, he wrestled with the way life here in America just goes on, blindly, oblivious to the realities of war and suffering in the world. “There’s a war going on, no one’s even talking about it, and I’m heading to the mall!” He was frustrated that no one seemed to know or care, and he was frustrated that he was stuck doing inane activities when he knew he could be doing something to help, something meaningful. How do you go on with life as normal when once you become aware? It’s a struggle for us on both sides of the dilemma. Those who have been to war need to find a way to return to normal life. They need to find a way to still enjoy simple pleasures and to rest in normalcy. And those of us who live “normal” lives need to find a way to get involved, to care, to do more to help those who are suffering. Some of us need to become burdened, others need to shed their burdens. In American Sniper, you see the tension between both of those.
That tension isn’t just about veterans and war, however. It’s bigger than that. It’s about the universal issues of evil and suffering in the world—from poverty, to orphans, to sex-trafficking, to child soldiers and sweat shops and unfair labor conditions, to suffering caused from natural disasters, to genocide and racism and disease and terrorism and war… Jesus made it clear that true religion wasn’t just being a good person, being religious, following all the rules. The rich young ruler did that, but Jesus told him he should give to the poor. He told him to give everything to the poor—to spend his whole life in service to those less fortunate. The Bible teaches that we are to care for the widows and orphans in their distress, the sick, and our neighbor in need. We need to share each other’s burdens. It’s practical, but it’s also very spiritual. We meet each other’s practical needs; we fight the battles they face in flesh and blood, and we do so because we know that there is a spiritual battle going on over their souls. As we free them from their physical slavery we tell them about a God who can free them from their spiritual slavery.
There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie where Chris’ dad tells him, as a young boy, about the three kinds of people in the world.
There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog. …You know who you are. You know your purpose.
Chris knew, from a young age, that he was a sheepdog. He was always defending the defenseless. It’s who he was. I am so grateful for the sheepdogs in the world—those like Chris Kyle who fight in our military, and like the Machine Gun Preacher who fight to keep children in Africa safe from those who would force them to be child soldiers. There are those who just know they are sheepdogs from the time they begin. But I suspect that many more of us are called to become sheepdogs—especially those of us in America who have been blessed with so much. We need to step up and give the sheepdogs some rest by sharing their burdens. One of the loneliest things in life is to feel like no one understands. The more we each get involved in defending the defenseless and helping those in need in one way or another, the more we will understand the sheepdogs among us. By doing so, we will give the Chris Kyle’s of the world the support and the rest they need…and the more things on earth will be as they are in Heaven…just as God intended it to be.
One of the things which helped Chris deal with the challenges he faced was his sense of service. When he was fighting, his goal was to protect his guys. “They were trying to kill our soldiers and I… I’m willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took.” Even though he was attributed with more kills than any other sniper in US history, he had no regrets. His attitude of service was his compass. It gave him a clarity of purpose that helped him handle the weight of things he had done—things which would have crushed many a man.
What bothered him though was his limitations. “The thing that haunts me are all the guys that I couldn’t save.” It bothered him that he couldn’t save them all, because his life was so dedicated to his fellow American. And it was that sense of service that made coming home so difficult for him. Once he came home, he wasn’t “doing” anything to save lives and it was killing him. The wise navy doctor saw the solution—the same thing that helped him overseas would be the same thing that would help him stateside. His problem was also his cure: he needed to serve. The doctor simply showed him how he could serve stateside. “You can walk down any hall in this hospital. Looks like plenty soldiers need saving. You want to take a walk?”
I feel like God is telling that to us. Sometimes we feel like there is nothing we can do. The problems are big, and they are far away, and we have to be here. So our souls begin to wilt because we were made to serve. We were made to get involved, to help our fellow man. God made us for this. Is it any wonder that our souls feel hollow and empty when we aren’t doing the very thing we were created for? So God, the Good Physician, echoes to us, “You can walk down any street in your neighborhood. Looks like plenty of people need saving.” And then He gently suggests, “You want to take a walk?”
Some of us may get to go to war. Some of us may get to travel overseas and do missions. Some of us may start an organization that is in the middle of some massive war on poverty or trafficking or hate. But what about the rest of us? What about us “civilians”? Well, let’s take a walk with the Good Doctor. Let’s ask Him to show us the needs all around us. See if our souls don’t come alive again, just as Chris Kyle’s did once we find ourselves in service to our fellow man. There are needs all around us. There are plenty of people that need saving.
Questions for Discussion
- How did American Sniper make you feel?
- What things are you more aware of now that you’ve seen American Sniper?
- How did the idea of service guide and protect Chris Kyle?
- How important is the idea of service to you?
- Chris Kyle was passionate about helping and protecting his fellow soldiers. What are the things you are passionate about? What battles are you willing to (wanting to) fight (e.g. war on poverty, etc.)?
- Chris found that it was important for him to continue to serve and help even after he left the navy. In what ways can you serve and help the causes that are important to you, right where you are?
- Do you feel like maybe you need to “take a walk” and let God open your eyes to the needs around you?