Yesterday was Memorial Day and it is an important holiday in the minds of many people in this country. And in mine. It is important for us to remember those men and women who have died in defense of the United States. Many of their sacrifices have ensured that America remains free. I honor them for that. But I also pray for the day when we will no longer be adding names to that list.
I first arrived in Vietnam in early June of 1968. I landed in Ben Hoa and then spent about a week in Saigon before being sent to Phu Bai, an area a few miles south of the old imperial capital of Hue. On my journey north I spent a few days in Da Nang. Now the army didn’t want people in transit just sitting around so we were all sent on details. I was sent to work at the morgue. While I had already seen a fire fight in Saigon, I had yet to see any dead Americans. I got to see quite a few that day. They were all young men, some probably weren’t even men yet. They were laid out naked with cotton over their eyes and genitals and tags on their toes. I can still close my eyes and see those bodies and if I ever smell formaldehyde it will trigger that memory.
Lots of people died in Vietnam after that day. And then in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and not to forget other places where we have chosen to project our power in the world. Some of those who have died were “good” people–others not so “good.” But they all died young. The saying used to be that young men die in wars and nothing can change that. Now, I guess, we have to say that young men and women die in wars and nothing can change that.
I’m not a pacifist, but neither do I believe that Christians ought to be blase’ about this. Ought not those called by the One who said that we are to love our enemies and pray for them be just a bit more vocal about not going to battle at the drop of a political hat? Ought not Christians, when praying for those who defend us, pray also that they will never be deployed without to do so without something more than an economic or political goal to be attained?
War is the result of sin–each and every war, each and every time. Jesus came to save us and to change us into men and women more like Him. Think about that.
A few years ago the talking heads on television were all debating who was responsible for the recession and the collapse in housing. Some said it was greedy bankers. Others said it was the fault of government policies that encouraged the greedy bankers to make bad loans. Everybody had a villain in mind–except the blame was never directed at the real culprits–us. You see people in this nation had amassed an unsustainable amount of debt and when the least little fluctuation happened it all fell apart. As Pogo once said, we have met the enemy and it is us.
Debt is never our friend, it is always our enemy because as long as it exists we can be called to account. It is, I fear, what awaits our nation in not too many years.
There’s another type of debt that all of us owe. That’s the debt we owe for being poor sinful beings who have sinned against God in thought, word and deed without any excuse. If you default on your mortgage, you can walk away from your house. But there is no walking away from the debt sinners who to God. It must be paid in full. The only way we could pay that debt on our own is to endure the eternal wrath of God.
But God, pure and holy, perfect and just, had mercy upon us and sent His Son to bear our punishment. We didn’t have to pay what we owed. Jesus paid that debt. We didn’t have to suffer for what we have been and done. Jesus suffered for us. We didn’t have to see the grim visage of an angry God. Jesus did that when He cried out on the cross, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
This was far better than having someone pay off our mortgage for us. This was life eternal in the presence of the divine. We owed a debt that we couldn’t face paying. Now we owe a debt that we could never pay and so we cling to the cross, where we meet the God who saved us.
Have you seen the pictures of how bad the air pollution is in parts of China? Everyone seems to be walking around with surgical masks on and you can see, even in a photograph, particles floating in the air. If you breathe that in, you are not just pulling in the life giving oxygen and other gases natural to the world, but the evil and potentially deadly result of mankind’s mindless misuse of God’s world.
One thing I’m pretty sure of–when Christ comes again and His people live for eternity in a remade world, there won’t be any air pollution. Everything will be perfect and all of His people will receive nothing but benefit when we fill our lungs with the air of glory.
In a way, though, we sample that pure air when we come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus. For at that point we aren’t standing in the middle of a smoggy metropolis, our feet aren’t searching for a foothold on soil made unproductive by the sin which distorts all of God’s good creation–for at that point, we are standing right on the dividing line between this world and the next. As we breathe we breathe in a whiff of the pure air of heaven. We smell, ever so faintly, the beauty of glory. Our eyes see as in a glass darkly, but still we see the beauty of what God wanted for us. God’s people walk, as the old hymn tells us, on the verge of Jordan and we see afar, but yet we see all we have ever hoped for.