Blaze of Light is an account of Green Beret Medic Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch. He earned his Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
I've honestly been dreading having to write this review because…well, I didn't like the book. And I feel horrible about saying that I don't like a book about a Medal of Honor recipient! It's not that it isn't interesting, it is. But it's depressing.
The book is written well in that , while following Mr. Beikirch through his life you see, even feel along with him, his depression, lack of purpose in life. Joining the Green Beret's gave him more of something to aim at. That was actually the most interesting part of the book to me, it was fascinating to hear about the amazingly tough training they went through to become Green Berets, and even tougher training to become a Green Beret Medic. His time in Vietnam was intriguing as well. Especially his actions that earned him the Medal of Honor, and they truly are admirable.
But there is sort of a despairing feeling throughout the book. He was seeking for some sort of purpose, but the purpose he finds, at least as this book presents it, is lacking in… ironically, lacking in purpose.
Some of Mr. Beikirch's relatives, who were professing Christians, lead him to God's Word. He becomes a professing Christian, gets married and then ends up ordained as a chaplain. He still sounds depressed though and ends up having arguments with his wife, has a big argument with her, goes back to visit Vietnam, meets a former enemy soldier who has found that he needs to forgive in order to heal from the war and Gary is amazing at this. While he's gone his wife leaves their home without telling him, he goes to find her and patches things up.
The book then ends with him having come to the conclusion that you need to die to yourself and live for others instead. "The battles are fought in our hearts and minds. The weapons are the values of love, sacrifice, integrity, and service. Whenever we fight battles with those weapons, life takes on a meaning that others will never know." That falls far short of a message of true purpose. Why? Why live for others? Because it satisfies ourselves? What if one finds that living for others really doesn't give them fulfillment? What if living a life of selfishness really does satisfy them? Or what if living for others makes one feel like a good person? These motives make the purpose of doing or not doing good works contingent on pleasing ourselves, and self is still the ultimate focus. It may take on new meaning by loving and serving others, but not the meaning God wants us to find. He wants us to live for Him first of all. As Christ Himself said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment."(Mat 22:37-38)
Ultimately the book as a whole gives the impression that you don't really need God because some people do truly good works without God. The former enemy soldier had forgiveness towards his enemies, and the book never mentioned that that soldier was a Christian, it also gave other accounts of other, presumably non-Christian, people selflessly living for, dying for and forgiving others.
Any righteousness we come up with on our own isn't righteous enough and is actually offensive to God. Without Christ's perfection being applied to our account, we will ultimately end up experiencing God's wrath forever (See the books of Romans and Ephesians) . Only Christ's righteousness will get us into Heaven. This book, by it's 'living for others' is true living message, just seems to present believing in Jesus Christ for salvation as an optional thing with no consequences for not believing whereas the Bible never presents it that way. As it says in John 3, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."(Joh 3:36 ESV) This isn't something that we can just take or leave. It's serious. It's literally a matter of life or death.
I wouldn't be so critical if I didn't think that this book was supposed to be about a man who discovered that true living is living for God. But it didn't, it made it seem as though anyone can have true living without Christ. Understanding our position before God and His requirements of us, is the most important thing to realize, even more important than sacrificing oneself for others.
The Bible doesn't say that we will find true life if we deny ourselves and sacrifice for others. We will only find true life by denying ourselves for Christ's sake. And not just denying ourselves but taking up His cross and following Him: "And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"(Mar 8:34-36 ESV) We WILL deny ourselves and sacrifice for others and consider them more important than ourselves if we are Christians (followers of Christ), but we do not do these things in order to GET and FIND true life, but because we already have true life: "When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."(Joh 17:1-3 ESV)
Again, I feel compelled to say all of this because this book is intended as a potential means to introduce people to Christ but it offers a means to life fulfillment, true living (loving others) that falls short of the Christian/Biblical message of fulfillment.
Thanks for the folks at Waterbrook Multnomah for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).