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Our readers asked:

Will Soldiers Go to Hell if They Kill Someone?

Neela Kale Answers:

Q: Soldiers in war are technically killing other sons and daughters of God in an effort to protect our country. Will this affect their fate on Judgment Day? Is it wrong to thank them upon their return home even though they’ve sinned?

Never hesitate to thank a returning soldier for his or her service to our country. (Thank you, veterans!) Military service cannot be reduced to any single act, and these returning veterans and their families need all the support they can get in response to their sacrifice and generosity. It is not your job to examine their consciences. Many of these men and women return home struggling with the psychological and spiritual consequences of their actions in the line of duty; they need to address these issues with the help of qualified counselors and spiritual advisors.

That said, your question raises an important issue for our collective conscience as a society, which bears the responsibility for sending its sons and daughters to war. People of all times and place have wrestled with war’s destructive effects. Is war ever justified? Is a particular act of war justified? Is military action acceptable only in self-defense? How about action to protect defenseless peoples elsewhere in the world? Or preemptive action against an impending threat? And, of course, moving from the abstract to the horrific, complex, bloody reality of our time and place: How do we assess recent U.S. military intervention in the Middle East? These questions are better confronted in our civic discourse, rather than in the interactions we have with individual veterans upon their return home. Christian witnessing for peace can be powerful, but should not come at the expense of the individual men and women who bear the cost — in their bodies and in their souls — of the devastation of war.

The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • BeeRant

    I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan from the Army Infantry and I wonder this myself a lot. I do know the people the I and “we” killed were very bad people and only stood to disrupt peace and love of everyone that wasn’t evil. So, I guess I already know I am going to be fine. However, I still wonder daily what my judgment will be. I do believe in a higher power. Just not a religious person. I didn’t enjoy a single second of shooting people or having mortars dropped on top of them and i think that is what separates your actions as a person. You should never enjoy hurting anyone and that is something that is certainly evil! I was medically retired because I was defecating blood on both of my tours from the stress. I was misdiagnosed for years but I still needed to go to Afghanistan to do my part there before I was done. I know it was stress from keeping my Soldiers alive because as soon as I was medically retired my symptoms vanished! I only prayed for their safety and never my own as that was never my worry and I never let fear of harm to myself sway my judgment only their safety. I’m not religious really but I did carry a rosary in my back pocket every time I left the wire to go out into sector, That was all the protection I ever needed and wanted at that time.

  • dsmithtc

    Wasn’t Jesus born in a time of constant war/battles? I feel like he would be more understanding of it than we would..

  • Andrea

    I believe they can be forgivin for murdering innocent people and other soldiers. But what really bothers me is when they talk to god for help I mean ya you ask him for help but not like “God give me strength to kill these people and return safely.” Also what if the other country is
    Christian or Catholic or another religion that believes in god or Jesus. They will also say “God give me strength to kill these people to protect my country.” God isn’t gonna choose between his children. I believe that war is a sin but if you really regret it it can be forgiven

  • Sara

    I don’t think soldiers will got hell for killing because they kill for reasons and these reasons can be forgiven by God. If a soldier kills to protect his country and the people then it is not a sin because they are doing it to protect their country. I believe that God forgives you if you kill people for the right reasons like protecting your family, yourself or people from danger. God forgives if you ask for forgiveness. However, if you murder innocent people for no reason then that is a sin. God is forgiving and forgives all that want to be forgiven.

  • Nepps A

    Killing is a sin, but forgivable, as is lying- as long as one can still ask for foregiveness. I don’t even think most soldiers knew what they were getting into, and just thought they would get school and a better life but ended up with mental guilt issues. But they really should take it easy on themselves on this issue, -as I believe God will forgive them who haven’t blasphemied directly against God by killing their own selves ( where I think he goes to hell by default) unless it is possible to ask God at lifes judgement for foregiveness. I guess we just don’t really know anything when it comes down to the nitty gritty, because God needs no help or advisors and knows the deal. ,

  • I need this

    I think if the war is just. As a Catholic, I would really like to know what the Church says on this but I can’t find official stuff, only people paraphrasing.

  • Josh

    Seeing as how God is not real no. Also what if you were a Viking? I think if you killed someone you actually got into Valhalla

    • I need this

      God is real.

    • missstar

      That not true god is real

  • gooder1

    The Catholic Church has in the past declared certain wars as “Just War(s).” That usually means that the aggression of a nation, or people is one that is stripping people of human rights and dignity, and doing so by force. For example Hitler’s aggression in WWII, if it ever was to succeed, we’d all be forced to worship a statue of Hitler today as our god, or else. So that war was certainly a Just War. And in our own day, we have Orthodox & Catholic Iraqi and middle eastern Christians being slaughtered and/or driven out of their homes and churches, with those still alive being driven out into the desert to die because they would not accept Islam. Even our human rights pope has referred to the Islamic terrorists who are engaging in the systematic elimination of a people who refused to deny their Faith, as an aggressive group that needs to be stopped. In fact, Archbishop Nona, whose diocese is no longer in existence because of this group, had the following to say to liberal Westerners, and European leaders, “Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are
    worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle
    East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number
    of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous
    decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think
    all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all
    men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not
    understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy
    you have welcomed in your home.” The Archbishop is giving us all a clarion warning. My thought is if this thing starts to boil over, the Church might need to step up its position.

  • baz

    Most soldiers do not get the chance to kill anyone if they can help it, some shoot at dead bodies “to loose there kill virginity” as for going to Hell we are all going there good and bad..

  • George

    Killing is not forbidden. Murdering is forbidden. If someone is trying to kill you or your family you can defend yourself, even if that means killing them. The bigger question in war is why did that war get started? Why are we fighting that war? If we are fighting a war for reasons that are not consistent with God’s will, not just the soldier, but everyone else that allows our Government to go to war and fund the war is also at risk of going to Hell.

    • Cahnel

      I totally agree!!

  • Rora Y

    I see a lot of extremists on this page!! Same kind of extremists that make Christians look insane, bitter, uninviting and unattractive.. Exactly how we drive people away from Christianity! I know if the right thief on the cross went to heaven I don’t see why not a soldier! We don’t qualify to heaven or not based on the fact that we sinned.. Cuz a 100% of the human race are sinners.. We qualify cuz we get back to God after we kill, cheat, steal, lie..etc
    But you know what’s a big sin?! Judging people and pointing the finger.. Especially people we never met and then decide their fate (which is God’s job).. So the answer is: we don’t know if soldiers will go to heaven or not.. We can argue that killing is a sin..just like gluttony and sloth.. But is it an unforgivable sin?! Nope it’s not!!

    • Cahnel

      There no “big sin”. However, I understand you’re point!

  • Mitchell

    Yeah, that answer was the most ignorant tripe I’ve read all day, and I was checking Fox News this morning.

    Soldiers are (mostly) people who willingly kill for money and glory. (Can’t forget that they often drag more moral people down with them through conscription.) These people are not the sort of folks that Jesus surrounded himself with. (I assume the audience is Christian.) I feel that the person answering this question should instead justify why soldiers, who terrorize and slaughter innocent human beings, should be granted entry to paradise.

    • Rora Y

      Mitchell.. What on earth are you talking about?!! Jesus did surround himself with sinners of all kinds.. Read the bible!!

      • Cahnel

        Rora Love your missing her point! Yes Jesus surrounded himself around sinner, but they heart was pure. There’s a difference.

  • Joe Quirion

    Simple answer: They will not go to hell based on the simple fact that hell does not exist. Neither does heaven or any of your gods. People should concentrate more on their life instead of worrying about their death and what happens afterwards. It will actually liberate you and set you free.

    • Abenezer Daniel

      Who created you? simple question

      • Ballsandarrows

        Short answer: his parents, most likely.
        Then again, you’re probably one of the ignorant assholes who’ll say “And who made them, and the ones before them?”
        I think you need to study some basic evolution and reproduction sir.

      • stephany

        Faith is beyond science And evolutionand Christians like me believe that theirs a god and a heaven and hell And we believe that God made you for a reason and had a purpose for however long your life and didn’t just make you because you had parents and bc it was possible. Things happen for reasons

      • stephany

        He thought of you before your parents and thought of your parents before as well. God has plans and decides whether you go to heaven or hell.

    • tolulope

      Joe,Don’t die without knowing that Jesus is lord cos after death is judgment .and God makes a decision on where we all go,heaven or hell..but I can tell you even our righteousness is like a filthy rag before him….but by grave we are saved not by work alone

  • DrumminD21311

    You didn’t answer the question.

  • Hunter

    I believe that no man can absolutely no if another man will go to hell because only God does. God works in mysterious ways. I mean in Genesis God told Abram to sacrifice his son Isaac but when God saw faith in him that he would the lamb came from the bushes and God told Abram to sacrifice the lamb. Another story I know is of General Gideon, he was a Great War General who brought about 40 years or peace! Peace! And when he retired he started putting Bibles on peoples pillows and what not and the Gideon’s society was created! So all I’m saying is if God sees a greater good in anything God I’m sure will likely use it for that greater good.

  • רםנקרא כרשטקר

    No they will not and here is why. Soldiers are upholders of our most basic laws and in the bible it says that we must obey the laws of man so the weight of there actions is on the soul of the commander and chief.

    • Hunter

      Is Gods law not above the law of man?

      • George Frayer

        I see what your doing, its called twisting the bible to fit your needs. The bible clearly says to fallow the laws of man. It is not a question of who is above who. But then again you are more than likely the type to throw things at a soldier who just came home, despicable if you ask me. Cut and dry the one heald accountable is the commander and chief. (The person who gave the orgional order for war) not the soldier doing his duty.

      • DrumminD21311

        Using that logic, the Nazi commanders at concentration camps that gassed prisoners would not be responsible for their actions. You’re twisting a simple question as an excuse to attack someone.

      • I need this

        That doesn’t mean break the commandments. That just means don’t be a criminal.

    • Mitchell

      Wow, that’s so foolish I’m not even going to try with you.

  • Michael

    This call is simply not ours to make, but if we look at Scripture we’ll find that God looked favorably on a number of violent, and/or immoral persons. A few that come to mind are Joshua, Samson, David, Maccabees, and more recently in the time of Christ, Simon the Zealot (an assumed terrorist, yet chosen diciple).
    Furthermore, we’ll find Scriptural evidence wherein God took extreme issue with some of His ‘invaders’ for showing mercy and compassion toward the peoples they conquered.
    I must confess that at times I have found myself literally offended by the violence shown by God’s people toward others, but thankfully God has placed the judgment of these well above my pay-grade.

  • ..

    Thou shalt not kill

    • Rora Y

      If u confess to your sins you’re forgiven.. And that includes killing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Swiftright-Right/100002904084914 Swiftright Right

    I came upon this article long after it was written and long after most folks read through it but I feel compelled to post.

    When I joined the army I was what I would now call a “devoted” atheists I opposed all forms of faiths especially Christianity and Islam. While doing a rotation to the middle east I found my time split between field intelligence gathering with the infantry and high level targeting where I acted as a liaison between intell, artillery and the air force. Through out the day it was my job to pick who died what would be used to kill them and when they would be targeted.

    One day I was monitoring a group of Iraqis I had highlighted earlier that day. they were in the middle of one of their prayers and they suddenly cut off, it was the result of a JDAM detonating 50 foot over their heads. At that moment I was filled with the spirit of Jesus (although I didn’t understand it at the time) and I started a tortureus process that lead me to the Catholic Church. I happened to be rotating back home soon and I withdrew my re enlistment papers.

    Just about every day I prey for those men that I picked for death and every day i sincerely hope that Jesus will forgive me for killing our brothers.

    • Mitchell

      You’re lucky he’s a nice guy and will probably let you off, but I’m sure you’ll spend a few eons in purgatory.

    • Stella

      It will! Like he forgave st Paul. Don’t live in the past, experiences are there to make us stronger and be a better followers of our Lord. There are many Saints in the church that had a not so holy life before they let the spirit of Jesus fill them. Peace be always with you!

    • I need this

      Well the important thing is that you have found your way to the Catholic Church and are now a follower of Christ.You should go to Confession and confess your sins. None of us are without sins but God forgives those who are truly sorry for what they’ve done and confess.

  • a Soldier’s wife

    I say this with love and respect. Those that have commented on Soldiers being “murders” by simply signing a contract to protect his/her nation, shame on you. Shame on you for alienating a large portion of the body of Christ that the Church represents. Only God knows what is in the hearts of those called to serve their country.

    • Mitchell

      Wow, I really love this topic.

      Please, if you would, point me to the numerous instances where Jesus exhorts his followers to take up arms in defence of their homelands. Soldiers and their masters really talk up God, so I’m sure he was on their side on this matter. Sure, you might cite Augustine, but you people are supposed to be Christians, not Augustinians, so I want to see the orders as they came straight from the top.

      • Stella

        Why don’t you show more kindness.???? If you are so antiwar? I think you enjoy putting people feelings down, and that is also killing others.

    • johan fehr

      You are right about that

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