Today’s idealists believe that compassion for the individual is a universal trait, but it isn’t so. The following story illustrates how, as our Judeo-Christian heritage is weakened, our own society can manifest an abject lack of compassion.
The year was 1968, and Kenneth Swan was a young army surgeon, just arrived in Vietnam. One of his first cases was a 19-year-old soldier who had been blown up by a grenade, losing his eyesight and both legs. It took seven long grueling hours at the operating table to put him back together.
Dr. Swan was surprised the next day to find his fellow surgeons sharply critical of him. For not doing a good job? No—for doing the job at all.
“That kid was so badly mangled,” they told him, “you shouldn’t have even bothered to treat him. He would have been better off dead.”
For the next 20 years, Swan was haunted by those words. Had he had done the right thing in trying to save that soldier’s life?
Swan determined to find the soldier he had patched up so many years ago in Vietnam. It took more than two years, but in the end he managed to locate him.
And what he found was nothing short of astonishing.
Yes, the man is blind and in a wheelchair. But he is not languishing in any hospital. He is married and has two daughters. He attended college, learned to scuba dive, and trained to help others with debilitating injuries.
Now in his forties, the former soldier has a zest for life—and a faith in God. When a reporter asked him about his success in life, he responded simply, “I give the credit to God.”
What a testimony.
And it’s a great example of the life-changing power of compassion. But without a sense of duty to a higher standard—a commandment, for example, to treat life as sacred, to love our neighbor—moral decision making is often driven by purely utilitarian considerations.
In the case of most of Dr. Swan’s colleagues, the wounded soldier’s life was not deemed worthy of the time and effort necessary to save him. But try telling this Vietnam vet’s two daughters that their daddy’s life wasn’t worth saving.
You see, each of us has a right to expect that no effort be spared to preserve our own lives and those of our loved ones. And the Christian worldview provides us with the basis for that expectation. That’s because each of us is created in the “image of God.” And all life—not just that which is judged “worthy,” but all life—should be treated as a gift from God.
Whether through medical missions, humanitarian relief, or fighting the killing of the unborn, Christians have historically borne witness to the dignity of human life. We can learn from Dr. Swan’s example and never hesitate to act with compassion—to do the right thing.
And oh yes—if your secular neighbor’s life should ever be in danger, he should be very happy he has a Christian living next door.