Will Soldiers Go to Hell if They Kill Someone?

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.

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.