It’s fun watching a cashier’s face when you point out that he, or she, gave you too much change. And if asked why you did it, you simply reply, “Well, it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?” And how many great acts of bravery – or admissions of guilt – are driven by that same desire to do what’s right?
“It’s not right” has also driven people to resist the crowd at huge risk of being publicly humiliated. It happened in both world wars, when pacifists rejected the call to join up and kill people, and were branded as selfish cowards. Some were even beaten up and killed.
Scripture, however, very much supports doing what we believe is the right thing to do. James 4:17, for instance, says, “if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.” Think what difference that would have made in the pandemic if government officials, pharmaceutical companies and big corporations had made that their standard, rather than power trips and profits.
Doing the right thing is not easy, though, in a world that’s easily manipulated into mass hysteria creating huge pressure to conform. I find it very interesting, then, that in the first world war the most decorated non-commissioned war hero in the British forces was a pacifist who refused to fire a shot. Lance Corporal Bill Coltman joined the army and carried a gun, but then realized he couldn’t kill and refused to do so. So he became a stretcher bearer instead, and he was so brave in saving lives that he won Britain’s highest honour of bravery, the Victoria Cross, and a whole chestful of other medals too without ever firing a weapon. And instead of being shamed as an irresponsible, lazy, selfish coward he was heralded as a hero.
In the second world war the U.S government gave their highest award of all, the Medal of Honour, to three men who also didn’t fire a shot, the first of them being Desmond Doss who believed it was the right thing to do to save lives not take lives. He was ostracized and bullied by his unit, and his commanding officers attempted to have him discharged for mental illness.
But he soon proved he was made of stern stuff, refusing to desert 75 wounded men on Hacksaw Ridge, and saving the lives of every one of them. For dedication to his comrades and bravery treating wounded men under fire, he was awarded two Bronze Stars as well as the Medal of Honour. At the awards ceremony President Truman shook his hand and said, “I consider this a greater honour than being president.”
Doss and Coltman stood their ground against peer pressure and threats from officials, because in their minds not killing was the right thing to do, and they eventually won great respect and honour for it.
And Jesus said that of his disciples too, that “Blessed are you” – honoured and respected are you – “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” Matthew 5:11. Because if we stick to what we we believe is right in Jesus’ eyes, then he makes sure that “great is our reward in heaven,” verse 12. A “heavenly” Medal of Honour, or Victoria Cross, awaits us.
Christians and non-Christians alike in this pandemic have shown great bravery and courage in standing up for what they believe while under heavy pressure from family, friends, employers, officials and even medical personnel. Whether that meant taking the vaccine or refusing it was immaterial, when what mattered most in making a decision was saving lives rather than risking lives, and respecting others for their decision, not condemning them – because that for them was the right thing to do.