“I didn’t want to kill them all. I didn’t want to kill anybody! I’m not a killer!”[1] Ender Wiggin could not believe what he had done. While fighting what he thought was a simulated, training war, he annihilated an entire race of aliens, derogatorily called buggers. When faced with what he had done, his mentor offers him very little comfort. He is told, “Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart. But you didn’t know. We made sure you didn’t know. You were reckless and brilliant and young. It’s what you were born for.”[2]

But can it truly be what Ender was born for? Was this really his purpose in life? Certainly, in the eyes of the government, it was his calling. Facing the looming threat of an alien invasion that had the potential to wipe out the entire human race, they became desperate. They sought for a special young person from a special family. Third children were not allowed to exist except in this case because the government sought a unique combination. With an older brother who was too ruthless and an older sister who was too empathetic, the war effort required a blend of both, so his parents were allowed to have one more, dreaming of the potential of a more ideal balance. The government allowed him to be born to develop into what they hoped would be the savior of the human race. It seems quite clear that, at least for them, becoming that commander was his purpose.

After his victory, what should have been the triumphant achievement of his life’s purpose, Ender is not satisfied. In fact, he is distraught. While most people would love to know that they have achieved their purpose in life, Ender cannot believe that his was only to kill. In fact, he questions his own criminality as he ponders, “In battle I killed ten billion buggers, whose queens, at least, were as alive and wise as any man, who had not even launched a third attack against us, and no one thinks to call it a crime.”[3] He decides to become a colonist who establishes a settlement on the planet where the buggers had dwelt. He justifies his decision by concluding, “Maybe if I go there I can understand them better. I stole their future from them; I can only begin to repay by seeing what I can learn from their past.”[4]

How often do we steal the future from those who are most vulnerable? How often do we forget that millions of young members of our own race have been killed without as much consideration as a fictional child gives to killing a planet of aliens? And ironically, we oftentimes couch our language in the context of purpose. It is not the right time. Our circumstances are not right. We don’t know where we will find the resources. All of these things imply that what is happening is not what should be happening or what was meant to be happening. We believe that there must be a better way, and we intend to take that into our own hands. We make those decisions, stealing a future from children who have never taken their first breath and never even taking a moment to consider what we can learn from them.

When given the opportunity to save the buggers and the one remaining larval queen, Ender originally considers death. He says, “Your children are the monsters of our nightmares now. If I awoke you, we would only kill you again.”[5] If he allows the queen to live, he is tempted to believe that it is only going to lead to future wars. One more kill could save millions of human lives depending on the severity of the eventual conflict. All of their troubles could be swept away and forgotten. However, he is struck with a powerful consideration:

We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other’s dreams. How were we to know? We could live with you in peace. Believe us, believe us, believe us.[6]

Ender is privileged to have a connection to a voice that no one else can hear that helps him make the decision to preserve a life. His mercy comes from trust. He is tempted to respond in fear, but he ultimately saves a life by faith. He does not know what the future might hold. Sorrow and pain might come from this unexpected development. As much as he wants to believe this queen and hope for peace between humanity and this extraterrestrial race, his fears might be justified. There might be more wars. Nevertheless, he takes a stand for life in faith.

The unknown is never a reason to descend into immorality. We justify our decision by using some type of magical foresight that we think we possess. We think that we can predict a lifetime of misery when in reality we cannot even predict tomorrow’s successes and failures. Rather than have faith that there might be good, we have faith that there will necessarily be evil. It is all a matter of faith, and the difference is simply where we put that faith.

Faith is not easy; in fact, it is oftentimes very difficult. To admit our own fears and weaknesses makes us wish that what we perceive as a problem would just go away. If there is an opportunity to settle the problem and put it away quietly, that is what we want because it seems simple. But things are rarely that straightforward in general and certainly not that straightforward when talking about something as complex as a life.

Each life is an individual privilege. Without the impact of just one life, the world would literally never be the same. No matter how small you think your impact is, the world would not be the same without your unique person in it. The tapestry of humanity is made up of billions of interconnected parts, each influencing other ones in innumerable ways. Some of those connections will never even be known this side of eternity. To remove even one is to remove an important part of the pattern. As it is a pattern that we did not design in the first place, it is incredibly arrogant of us to have more faith in ourselves and modify it. Instead, we should trust the Pattern Maker and put our faith into a work of art that is grander than anything we could have designed ourselves.

As for Ender, without reading additional books in the series, the reader is left wondering whether or not he found his resolution. As he traveled around the universe, “Always Ender carried with him a dry white cocoon, looking for the world where the hive-queen could awaken and thrive in peace. He looked a long time.”[7] He learned what humanity needs to learn about members of our own species, “If we had kissed, it would have been the miracle to make us human in each other’s eyes.”[8] Perhaps someday we will recognize the humanity of those who are still unable to be kissed and unable to speak for themselves. If we put our faith in them and the One who created the miracle of life in the first place, maybe we can be a little bit more like Ender.

Citation Information

Zak Schmoll, “To Save a Life,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 2. (Summer 2020), 175-194.

Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com///to-save-a-life/


[1] Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (New York: Macmillan, 1991), 297, Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid., 298.

[3] Ibid., 309.

[4] Ibid., 314.

[5] Ibid., 320.

[6] Ibid., 321.

[7] Ibid., 324.

[8] Ibid., 322.