“Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” Romans 9:21
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” I Corinthians 12:4-6
I recently read Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Patton.” Aside from the fascinating history he brings out that I was not completely aware of – and I’ve read a lot of WWII history, European and Pacific – there was a section on The Battle of the Bulge that got me thinking about Patton’s belief in God.
Patton loved war. He thought it was the greatest endeavor a man could engage in to refine and prove his courage. He minced no words about killing the Huns (Germans) or whatever pejorative came to his lips. He prayed for God’s help to kill as many as possible. He also believed in reincarnation. He firmly believed that he had fought in ancient wars. He walked those ancient battlefields during WWII as though he knew them intimately.
I have wondered before if he might really be considered Christian and whether he went to heaven when he died. I’d like to offer you my conclusions on these questions, not solely for a better understanding of Patton, but also as a lesson to all of us.
Here is Patton’s prayer of frustration to God at the beginning of that Battle, complaining of God’s lack of support and asking for His help so he could “…deliver You enough Krauts to keep Your bookkeepers months behind in their work.”
“For three years my chaplains have been telling me that this is a religious war. This, they tell me, is the Crusades all over again, except that we’re riding tanks instead of chargers. They insist that we are here to annihilate the Germans and the godless Hitler so that religious freedom may return to Europe. Up until now I have gone along with them, for You have given us Your unreserved cooperation…You have often given me excellent guidance in difficult command situations and You have led German units into traps that made their elimination fairly simple.
“But now You have changed horses midstream. You seem to have given von Rundstedt every break in the book, and frankly, he’s beating the hell out of us…
“But now, Sir, I can’t help but feel that I have offended You in some way. That suddenly You have lost all sympathy for our cause. That You are throwing in with von Rundstedt and his paper-hanging god (Hitler)…
I don’t like to complain unreasonably, but my soldiers…are suffering tortures of the damned…
“Damn it, Sir, I can’t fight a shadow. Without Your cooperation from a weather standpoint, I am deprived of accurate disposition of the German armies and how in hell can I be intelligent in my attack? All of this probably sounds unreasonable to You, but I have lost all patience with Your chaplains who insist that this is a typical Ardennes winter, and that I must have faith.
“Faith and patience be damned! You have just got to make up Your mind whose side You are on. You must come to my assistance, so that I may dispatch the entire German Army as a birthday present to Your Prince of Peace.
“Sir, I have never been an unreasonable man; I am not going to ask You to do the impossible. I do not even insist upon a miracle, for all I request is four days of clear weather.
“Give me four days so that my planes can fly, so that my fighter bombers can bomb and strafe, so that my reconnaissance may pick out targets for my magnificent artillery. Give me four days of sunshine to dry this blasted mud, so that my tanks roll, so that ammunition and rations may be taken to my hungry, ill-equipped infantry. I need these four days to send von Rundstedt and his godless army to their Valhalla. I am sick of this unnecessary butchering of American youth, and in exchange for four days of fighting weather, I will deliver You enough Krauts to keep Your bookkeepers months behind in their work.
Irreverent, perhaps bloodthirsty, yet humble as he is willing to take the blame if the apparent absence of God’s favor is his fault. He prays for the destruction of his enemies just like…King David. Consider the Psalms.
O Lord my God, in You I put my trust;
Save me from all those who persecute me;
And deliver me,
2 Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
3 O Lord my God, if I have done this:
If there is iniquity in my hands,
4 If I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me,
Or have plundered my enemy without cause,
5 Let the enemy pursue me and overtake me;
Yes, let him trample my life to the earth,
And lay my honor in the dust. Selah
6 Arise, O Lord, in Your anger;
Lift Yourself up because of the rage of my enemies;
Rise up for me[b] to the judgment You have commanded!
7 So the congregation of the peoples shall surround You;
For their sakes, therefore, return on high.
8 The Lord shall judge the peoples;
Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness,
And according to my integrity within me.
9 Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
10 My defense is of God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
There are a number of passages like this where David sought God’s help in destroying his enemies. He is submissive to God, even when he complains that he’s not seeing any help at the moment…just like Patton.
I’m impressed by Patton’ post-victory prayer:
“Sir, this is Patton again. And I beg to report complete progress. Sir, it seems to me that You have been much better informed about the situation than I was, because it was that awful weather (for) which I cursed You so much which made it possible for the German army to commit suicide. That, Sir, was a brilliant military move, and I bow humbly to Your supreme genius.”
I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness,
And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
Again, for brevity I’ve limited my comparison to Psalm 7, although though are plenty of such prayers from David.
David was a Christian in respect to his belief in the promised Messiah (Christ) and recording the prophetic, Messianic Psalms God gave him to write. Did David go to heaven or hell? Was he a good Jew/Christian or not? I think it’s easy to answer “Yes” to both. Even God tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart.
However, due to his bloodiness, God decided he was not the pot He created to build His temple. The Potter created a different vessel, Solomon, to do that.
One other Davidic parallel that O’Reilly points out that I was unaware of is that Patton had an affair with a married woman and sent her husband to the front, where he was killed.
Both David and Patton were a couple of warring sons of bitches who had loose britches (sorry…had to do it). Both believed in God and knew their places with Him. While bad theology is certainly not advisable, I submit that it isn’t a deal-breaker as regards heaven. The only key to that lock is Jesus. My thought is that Patton’s belief in reincarnation would not exclude his salvation, much as a belief in evolution would not or their adulteries and murders would not.
So the argument can be made that Patton was in certain, limited ways a modern King David so far as his talents and weaknesses go.
Lest we judge Patton or anyone else too harshly in their Christianity, consider what I’ve show you here. King David, an ancient sort of Patton in Jerusalem, was favored by God. Do we dare judge him? Patton, a modern David of sorts, not only professed his faith, but lived it, judging from his prayers. Just perhaps not the way we might do so today.
Dare we tempt God and disparage His other vessels for no other reason than that they aren’t the same model we are? If they are prayerful, professing Christians, shall we condemn them if they do not match up in all points? God chose a bloody, flawed David to unite the Jewish nation. God chose a bloody, flawed Patton to bring Allied victory in WWII.
God knows that we need Pattons, Pauls, Reagans, Peters, Billy Grahams, Martin Luther Kings, and more. He knows. So he keeps making all of those models and more.
You may not like their style or even their mission, but the church has many body parts, many different models of pots.