Looking for a Reason to Live
As told by Gerhard Pluntke
I WAS coming back to our army camp on the Russian front when an intense bombardment began. Two grenades exploded in the trees directly above me. The first threw me between two trees, driving several large splinters into my body. The second perforated my leg from one side through to the other. The pain was unbearable.
I could not move. Only after the bombing stopped could I be freed from my torturous position. After first-aid treatment, I began the trip to the hospital. Two people had to carry me on a stretcher for several hours through dangerous territory. They got lost. They continually fell. They had to take refuge from enemy attacks—a trip difficult even to describe.
Finally, I ended up in a hospital in southern Germany. There were four people in the room and it seemed that after having experienced such terrible things, we all had spiritual hunger. We read many books on religion, occultism, philosophy and things of that sort. We talked at length about these things. But no one could answer a disturbing question for me: What is the purpose of life?
That all happened many years ago, when I was a German soldier during World War II. Now, however, I have a reason for living, a powerful one. How did I find it?
Religion had no importance for our family, although nominally we belonged to the Lutheran Church, which is the major religion in northern Germany where I was born. Instead, my interests were centered around sports and having fun, and the city of Hamburg offered more than enough opportunities to pursue these interests.
The big change in my life came in 1939 with the beginning of World War II. Since my profession, mechanics, was highly specialized, I was exempted from military service for the first two years. But as the war intensified I was called to an infantry regiment for military instruction. Up until then there was quite a bit of enthusiasm among the youth in Germany. To me, the training was like a sport. But soon I would have my eyes opened to the real meaning of war!
That time came when our training ended and we were transported to the Russian front. I can still see my mother with tears in her eyes as our train pulled away. She knew what was involved. She had been through the first world war, in which my father had fought.
The Horrors of War
It took us four days to get to Russia, and then began the most difficult time of my life as well as the time of the greatest changes in my personality.
We arrived in northern Russia in an area of swampy wilderness. The train took us only part of the way, then we were taken closer to the fighting front by truck. Finally, we had to go on foot. One night we walked 32 miles (51 km) carrying heavy equipment.
We newcomers were distributed among several army units that had had great losses. I was assigned to a telecommunications company at the very battlefront. How different it was to face the reality of war!
We had to cross one stretch that was very visible to the Russians, and that is where I had my “baptism by fire.” The Russian artillery gave us such a “warm” welcome that our initial enthusiasm cooled down fast! This was nothing like our regiment training. Now it was a matter of life or death!
I will never forget those first corpses. They were obviously Russian soldiers whose bodies had not been buried. Although from then on death was like an intimate acquaintance, still I could not get used to the scenes of horror, the mutilated remains of those who had fallen. It seemed such a shame to me that these young men were dead. It pained me to think of the parents who would never see them again and of the families that had lost husbands and fathers.
I could not help but wonder: Why are we alive? And why are such atrocities committed in time of war? It seemed so absurd to me that I had to kill people whom I had never seen in my life, who had never done me any harm, who had families that loved them and were anxiously awaiting their return home. Why, it was just the opposite of the moral code that had been inculcated in us previously!
In times of peace, if one should kill another, the murderer had to face a severe penalty, possibly capital punishment. But now, in war, the same authorities that condemned murder were obligating us to kill unknown and innocent people. And instead of punishment, we were given medals of honor; more honor for killing more people! War is absolutely irrational!
On the front we maintained telephone communications with the different combat groups, and it was my job to keep the lines functioning. It was an unending job because the grenades broke the cables constantly. On my rounds to repair the cables, I came upon many graves of German soldiers. They were recognized by a rustic cross made of branches upon which hung the steel helmet of the dead soldier—or at least its shot-up remains. I had never prayed to God in my life. I did not even know to whom I should pray. But many times I stood beside those graves and silently prayed to an unknown God, asking about the reason for life.
Something else clashed with my way of thinking. According to the preaching of the Lutheran pastors and the Catholic priests, God favored the German troops in the war; he would give us the final victory over our enemies. In fact, on the belt buckle that each German soldier wore, there were engraved the words Gott mit uns, which means “God is with us.”
But we knew that our “enemies” were of the same religion as we were. And the pastors and priests on their side preached the same words, except that to them, we were the enemy that merited God’s punishment. The deception of these clergymen was so obvious. ‘What hypocrites!’ I thought. Nevertheless, I kept asking myself over and over, “Why does all of this happen? What is the purpose of life?” No one could give me a satisfactory answer.
The human losses were very great. Of the approximately 180 persons that originally made up our company, only 5 remained. The rest? Either dead or wounded. For several months we lived in forests. Whatever hole we dug immediately filled up with water. In order to sleep we had to cut branches from the trees and put down a layer thick enough to protect us from the water. I do not know how we were able to keep physically sound. There was also tremendous mental strain. We knew that each minute could be the last.
Finally, my time came also—the grenade attack that landed me in the hospital in southern Germany. When, after many months in the hospital, I could go back to Hamburg, I was incapable of further participation in the war.
The war ended, and I resolved that I would never again in my life have a weapon in my hands. I kept on searching for life’s purpose, more energetically than ever. I became a member of a cosmology society. We studied occultism, astrology and many other themes. But nothing answered my basic question: Why are we alive?
In 1947 I married Dolly, the girl I had been courting. But our happiness was interrupted because I decided to look for better horizons overseas. My goal was South America—Chile, to be exact.
So in February 1949, I arrived in Valparaíso and began to build a new life. My wife arrived a year later when I had established myself economically. But we still lacked something, something important—a reason for living. Many nights, before going to bed, I would look out our bedroom window, raise my eyes to the starry heavens and pray to a God who was still unknown to me. Little did I realize how close I was to finding a reason for living.
Finding a Reason for Living
In 1953 I accepted a Bible study with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. There was a small congregation in Valparaíso, and it was a German Witness who studied with me in my own language. How overjoyed I was when he first told me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are neutral when it comes to worldly affairs! That coincided very much with my way of thinking.—John 15:19; 17:14, 16.
But I had a long way to go. I had never read the Bible. It was very hard for me to accept it as God’s Word and to make changes in my life. At each study I argued until two or three in the morning. I acquired a Bible in German and over a period of several months read it from cover to cover. I confronted the Witness with the “contradictions” I found. But, little by little, I was forced to admit that the “contradictions” I saw were really due to a lack of knowledge and understanding on my part.
I surely made things very difficult for the Witness. But he had a lot of patience, and gradually Bible truth began to penetrate my mind.
What really convinced me that the Bible is the Word of God was the fulfillment of its many prophecies. I reasoned: What man is capable of predicting some event hundreds, even thousands, of years in advance? For example, one prophecy that impressed me was Daniel 9:24-27, where the time of the Messiah’s appearance was foretold over 500 years in advance. In fulfillment, Jesus appeared in 29 C.E., exactly on time! (Luke 3:1, 2) Another convincing prophecy was Micah 5:2, where, over 700 years beforehand, the birthplace of the Messiah was foretold, namely, Bethlehem. Sure enough, Jesus was born in Bethlehem! (Luke 2:1-7) It became obvious to me that a superhuman Author guided the Bible writers.
My study of mechanics was a big help to me. I found so many irrefutable proofs of the existence of an all-knowing Creator. For example, once I found a crab’s claw on the beach and examined it. It was amazingly constructed. The tendons that make movement possible were fixed at the best point possible, mechanically speaking, to ensure optimum force and movement. Who made the calculations? The crab? And so, the more I investigated nature and opened my eyes to the marvels that surrounded me the more I realized that a Superintelligence exists, one who is over all.
And a reason for living? Does one exist? It certainly does! And how simple and logical it is! What is it? This: Our loving Creator purposed for man to live eternally, with perfect health, in peace and happiness in an earthly paradise under a perfect, heavenly government. And God purposed that our way of life should reflect enduring love for him and for our neighbors. I was thrilled to learn that the time is near at hand for this purpose to be realized! What a wonderful reason for living!—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; Luke 23:43; Revelation 21:1-4; Mark 12:29-31.
When I came to appreciate this, there was no longer anything holding me back. So in 1957 I began sharing this “good news” with others. Then, in February 1959, I dedicated my life to doing Jehovah’s will and was baptized. My wife continued to study, and it was a happy occasion when, in 1961, we could travel to Hamburg to attend an international assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and there she was baptized.
I am happy to say that our two daughters have been active Witnesses for many years now, one having served as a regular pioneer (a full-time preacher) for six years. Bible knowledge has been such a help in our family life. We have a united and harmonious family with each one of us sharing the same hope and goal.
Over the years I have had the privilege of helping others to know Jehovah. What a pleasure it has been to share with them the purpose of life! In particular I have enjoyed showing others how to identify true Christianity. I have a favorite text for that, one that is really close to my heart due to my past experiences. Said Jesus at John 13:34, 35: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” It is one thing to apply this commandment in times of peace, but which religion lives by it at all times, even in times of war?
What a joy it is to serve together with true Christians, looking forward to a new order of things, where there will not be any more sickness, tears and death, and where the lovelessness of war will no longer mar man’s happiness! Yes, we have a powerful reason for living.
[Picture on page 22]
It pained me to think of the parents who would never see their sons again and of the families that had lost husbands and fathers