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September 24, 2007

Living with sacrifice

Lee sends in an article with the sobering title, "In Iraq, coping after a hero dies saving you." We've all heard of such heroes, and we hold them in reverence, but have we ever stopped to think about what it must be like to be the beneficiary of such a sacrifice? (Going back to one of the books we blogged, I have occasionally wondered, what would Charles Darnay have felt like after he woke up and found out what Sydney Carton had done?)

According to these military members, it's not easy.

Survivors, while deeply grateful for their lives, find the aftermath complicated. According to interviews with a dozen surviving soldiers, sailors and Marines, there remains an overpowering sense of guilt and an unspoken feeling that they need to be worthy of the sacrifice. . . .

Emotional damage surfaces later when a survivor tries to square his life with his friend's death, says Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Johnson, who counsels frontline combat soldiers in Baghdad.

"The guilt that those left behind have is sometimes compounded by a sense of unworthiness," she says. "They cannot accept that their lives were worth more than the life of their loved comrade. They are left with the heavy burden of trying to measure up to the great sacrifice so that they could live on. For some, the burden is too much."

As Lee points out, the issue is peculiarly relevant for Christians. . . .

He writes in his e-maiI,

It's especially interesting when you read it while thinking of the penultimate hero, who died to save us all. Reading in that light, you see the possible source of many issues that erupt in church. (I think Breakpoint's "Big Guy" commented on this some time back, while reflecting on the movie "Saving Private Ryan". But even he didn't - as I recall - draw the conclusion that not everyone reacts in a healthy way to having their life saved.)

Yup, the pressure to "live a life worthy" of John 15:13 can be unbearable - if you try to do it in your own strength. 

Excellent point. Where would we be if the one who sacrificed Himself for us were not also present with us, helping us to live a life worthy of that sacrifice?

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Thanks for posting this, Gina!

I think where we would be, if we didn't have Jesus, would be here: susceptible to cults and other religions who seem to offer an easier way to live a life worthy - by following these simple steps. (This would include, of course, tithe-like donations that insure the success of the other steps.) We would soon discover, of course, that the steps multiply ad infinitum, are sometimes self-contradictory, and can be extremely frustrating. (Ravi Zacharias has done great work in explaining how world religions tend to have far more rules than they appear to have.)

We also might be embittered against "the church" (i.e., our particular upbringing, but also Christianity in general), especially when we go off to college. (J. Budziszewski does some excellent work in this area.) We could become ranting anti-Fundamentalists, haunting the skeptic forums for confirmation that religion is a sham. We might even publish a bestseller or two.

Worst of all, we might just resign ourselves to live a life of quiet desperation, going to church all the time and volunteering enough to keep other people happy, but never gaining any satisfaction from it.

In all cases, the cross would become for us not a symbol of comfort, but one of just the kinds of emotions expressed in the article - guilt, frustration, rage. Just seeing one, especially one on public property, would set us off.

The most fascinating part, though, is that the survivor (for whom a life was sacrificed) now lives in two worlds: the mundane one that existed pre-sacrifice, and the new one wherein everything is new. It's quite a discomforting dual citizenship, and it's tempting to adopt an either-or mentality that is pathological in both cases.

I think I'll go re-read the Pauline Epistles with all this in mind.


I believe that was the message of _Saving Private Ryan_.

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