“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (II Timothy 2:3).”
Many think that the idea of embedding reporters with military combat units is a new development. This method of news gathering was publicized heavily during the recent war in Iraq.
However, it’s not a new thing. Ernie Pyle was an embedded reporter in World War II. His experiences were documented in the 1945 film The Story of G.I. Joe, which received four Academy Award nominations.
In the movie, mostly based on Pyle’s true life, Ernie is shown volunteering to go to the front lines in North Africa. Later Pyle reported the grunt’s struggles in Italy.
Ernie became famous in America and among the troops for his folksy style and true-to-life journalism. The soldiers saw him as “one of the boys”.
Where the Story of G.I. Joe really catches your eye is in the depiction of Pyle’s life among the Army in Italy. His unit is pinned down in front of a religious landmark, an ancient monastery on a hill called Monte Cassino.
Because of the historical and religious significance of the site, the American military leadership refuse to bomb the monastery in order to dislodge the Germans there. As a result, the American soldiers have it tough.
The Story of G.I. Joe shows them in all their agony. They live in caves and mud. Many of them, including green replacement soldiers are killed. One of the more experienced sergeants goes mad.
Sharing their suffering is Ernie Pyle. He could have been home in the comfortable States at Christmas, eating turkey with all the trimmings. Instead he is stuck in downpours and slime in Italy during a horrible war with smelly, unshaven men.
The toughest thing was watching men with whom you had developed friendships and respect die in front of you. The movie script combined a couple of quotes from Ernie’s reports about the plight of the lowly infantryman.
Pyle wrote that the common solider “live and die so miserably and they do it with such determined acceptance that your admiration for them blinds you to the rest of the war.” In comparison, Pyle said that airmen “died well-fed and clean-shaven, if that was any comfort.”
In the Christian life it seems their is the same dichotomy at work. Some Christians appear to have lives of wealth, comfort and ease. On the other hand, other believers suffer in poverty, disease and live in day-to-day hell.
I suppose you could say that we all are fighting in the same war against the devil. However, I think that is probably little comfort to the Christian who has the life of a foxhole private.
What is comforting is what the Scriptures say about this contradictory grouping of Christians into the well-to-do and the suffering. James writes this:
“Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.” (James 1:9-11).
Indeed, James tells suffering believers in the same passage:
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4).
Yes, in the Christian life, the reality is not as it seems circumstantially. We not only can rejoice when we suffer because we know that God can clean up our messes. We can also be joyful because in some measure we are sharing in the same trials that Jesus endured in his time on Earth.
In sharing his suffering, we get to know Him better and become intimate with Him. He not only knows what we are going through, but we can also grasp in our tough times what he experienced as well (Hebrews 4:15).
It almost makes all the suffering worth it, doesn’t it. However, it doesn’t mean we have to like the pain.
Ernie Pyle went home from Europe exhausted. He said,”I am leaving for just one reason . . . because I have just got to stop. I have had all I can take for a while.”
Yet, he went back to war, this time in the Pacific at Okinawa.”I’m going simply because there’s a war on and I’m part of it”, he wrote,”and I’ve known all the time I was going back. I’m going simply because I’ve got to–and I hate it.”
We’re not called to be masochists. Jesus didn’t have that attitude. In fact, He went to the cross “despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
We can do our duty though by focusing our sights on Jesus, letting Him lead us in the battle, and keeping in mind the eternal joy that is coming when the final victory is won.