Eye in the Sky: losing one life to save many

CULTURE | Ben McEachen
Eternity #67 March 2016

To save many people, is it worth sacrificing the life of one person? No, I’m not going to jump straight to Jesus. The answer provided by his unique example on the cross is well-discussed (particularly at Easter). A much different example is presented by a new dramatic thriller at cinemas this month.

As Eye In The Sky follows a military mission to thwart terrorists, we witness impassioned debates about how to decide what loss of life is acceptable during war. The answer isn’t as easy – or “Christian” – as you might think.

Helen Mirren stars as Katherine Powell, a British colonel hunting the leaders of the al-Shabaab extremist group. These Islamic terrorists were responsible for the deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013. That real-life event is the backdrop for Eye In The Sky’s fictional account of Powell orchestrating a drone strike on a Kenyan “safe house”.

Eye In The Sky credibly comes to a tense stand-off over a Kenyan girl near the safe house. Explored with vigour and tension are the legal, political and philosophical consequences of this “collateral damage issue”.

Despite the impersonal “rules of engagement” talk during arguments about bystanders being killed, the human heart underneath cannot be crushed.

This is no training drill. “Dozens of lives are at stake, if these men leave,” warns Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) about what might occur if suicide bombers in the safe house are not executed. However, as the British Attorney General cautions, killing one child could mean al-Shabaab wins “the propaganda war”. The moral standing of the British government would crumble.

To save many people, is it worth sacrificing the life of one person? If you believe that has a quick answer, Eye In The Sky suggests the opposite. The meaty and engaging drama also reveals a lot about the reality of ethics.

Making decisions is often complex and messy. Even when applying Christianity’s framework of principles, teachings, rules and truth.
Apply it to Eye In The Sky’s extreme dilemma and you might be shocked to discover the solution isn’t clear-cut. Humans have equal value before God. That means the Kenyan girl in harm’s way, and the possible victims of suicide bombers. Forgiveness, mercy and care should be graciously exacted. But how best to do that in the face of an enemy’s attack? Sacrificing your own life for others is the ultimate act of love. But what if the choice to sacrifice your life is being made by someone else?

I could keep going because navigating life from a Christian perspective is rich with consideration and intricacy. No matter what the situation is. But here’s the good news: the framework Christianity provides will lead to making decisions in a way that echoes the perfect human, Jesus.

Author Andrew Cameron offers a Christian account of ethics in his book Joined-Up Life. He summarises the Christian framework as a “unified field” for living. It combines an understanding of God’s created order and character, with Jesus’ modelling of relationships, hope and Spirit-fuelled love.

Sounds complex. It is – and we’ll never be able to do it like Jesus did.

But imagine what might happen if we decide to make decisions in such a Jesus-shaped way.

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