As a young boy, my weekends were filled with imaginary World War II battles. Nearby parks fielded the Battle of the Bulge, and the skeleton of a local building project (fatefully a new funeral home) formed the bombed-out buildings.
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Dirtballs were our hand grenades, ditches our foxholes, and blankets our pup tents. We sacrificed our bodies (and the knees of our jeans) to save the world from Hitler.
One Friday evening I watched the movie, D-Day. I was captured by the airborne parachute jumps, the bravery and heroism, and the infiltration behind enemy lines.
The next day I made my first (and last) parachute jump. I confiscated a bed sheet from the linen closet and requisitioned ropes from my dad’s tool room. I tied the ropes to the corners of the sheet and fastened the other ends around my chest.
I slithered through an upstairs window and crept onto the roof. With my parachute and lines carefully laid out behind me, I perched at the edge of our second story, and I hurled myself into the air behind enemy lines. I waited for the tug of the opening chute.
Lying on my back, I looked up. The parachute still lay on the roof, and the carefully cut lines hung limply over the gutter. I had forgotten to measure the height of the roof.
My rope lines were five feet too long.
Modern Heroic Virtues
Our ancestors considered courage to be the highest of virtues. They faced daily threats from diseases without antibiotics, farming accidents unrelieved by 911 calls, high infant mortality rates, and marauding bands of outlaws. They needed daily courage.
Before COVID, technology and modern medicine had largely eliminated our need for everyday courage. How many of us in the Western world regularly face real terror? Over the last century, intellectual elites scorned the old-fashioned value of courage.
This contempt of courage is evident in the silly stars of modern sitcoms. They are often good for nothing, cowardly nincompoops, or effeminate moral slugs. Aren’t we a bit ashamed of our attraction to sitcoms like Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory?
I wonder if my parent’s World War II generation would have tolerated such shows
Our Modern Problem
Our culture’s medicine and technology shield us from the ancient horrors faced by our forebears. Yet—despite ambulances and antibiotics—our mortality rate remains unchanged: One hundred percent of us die.
And death is an enemy we are unprepared to face.
Much of our technological drive is an attempt to hide from death. We have a deep, hidden fear of death. If death is “it,” everything we do is insignificant. Nothing makes a difference. So we repress the horror of death. But deep down we still fear it.
If death is annihilation, then nothing we do—in the long run— will ever matter. I’d like to live an epic life. I bet you do too. But if death is the final end, our heroism will be forgotten when the sun dies.
Yet if death isn’t the end, our self-centered cowardice will haunt us forever.
What Are We To Do?
Our Goliath is Death. Sure, the soldiers of King Saul’s army were chickens, but they were smart chickens. They knew that Goliath would slaughter them in a fight. They had no chance of victory. They would be flash-in-the-pan heroes, and then die. And soon be forgotten.
When we read the story of David and Goliath, where do we see ourselves? Are we the hero David? Of course we aren’t; we are the cowardly army; the selfish Seinfeld and the gutless Sheldon. We are not the epic hero we long to be.
Because Death is the enemy that will kill us.
There Was One
When little boy David faced Goliath, he face the monster alone. He didn’t call to Saul’s soldiers with “Hey everyone, group huddle.” He didn’t trigger courage with the silly self-hypnosis of visualizing: “Come on, let’s imagine ourselves beating him up.”
He faced Goliath alone. With unimaginable courage.
Jesus was our David. Only he didn’t face a hulking human, he faced a giant we had no weapons to fight: unconquerable sin and unbeatable death. And he didn’t fight with the hope of winning, he fought knowing that his only hope for us was his death.
Unlike any god of the ancient world; unlike the sappy stars of sitcoms; unlike modern superheroes relying on their superhero strength; our God has courage.
Our Last Jump
When I jumped—like the idiot boy I was—from our second story roof, I don’t know how I survived unhurt, but survive I did. No broken bones, no twisted ankles, and no pulled muscles. Not even a tear in my jeans (my biggest fear was fear of my mom).
But there is a jump everyone inevitably makes; it’s the leap of faith we all make with our hopes. Will we make that leap with the worldly, jury-rigged parachute of sheets and ropes of self-created heroism, numbing self-compassion, false self-esteem, and denial of death?
Or will we leap with only parachute that will truly save us? Once sin and death has been destroyed, we can finally be heroic, our worst enemy is dead; and our parachute lines are sized perfectly.
We can face anything.
I appreciate the way that this article names our specific fear about death. I don’t hear this mentioned very often though it strikes me as being of a personal and universal importance. Who of us wouldn’t like to hear more about the skills of dying aright — in a way that annihilates the fear associated with dying?
About fifty years ago, Ernest Becker (an atheist) wrote a fascinating Pulitzer Prize winning book: Denial of Death. In it, he claims that we frantically turn to sex, drugs, greed, power (etc.) all as an escape to numb our fears of death.
It’s a great read, and convicting.
A timely article for me. Thanks for the reminder Sam!
You are most welcome!
A timely and well thought-through article as usual. I particularly appreciated “Our Goliath is Death. Sure, the army of King Saul’s Israel were chickens, but they were smart chickens. They knew that Goliath would slaughter them in a fight. They had no chance. They would be flash-in-the-pan heroes, and then die. And soon be forgotten”
As with the Israelite soldiers in David’s time, we allow our pre-existing attitudes to shape our beliefs and our actions, rather than seeking the Lord’s input to our circumstances. Some folks, even believers, are very upset at the unfolding of events of today, There is no rationale for that attitude. The Bible is clear about our future. Just read Revelation.
I was in the hospital, having “Minor Surgery” on my ankle, and interestingly, in the recovery room, my conversations with the Anesthesiologist and her Nurse were focused, not on death, but on the Rapture – soon to come.
As believers, through The Rapture, we get to “Leave the Planet”, not through death of our bodies, but through a transformation of our Sprit and a “Transmogrification” of our “Earth Suits”.
Thus, as believers we should not “fear death” in an era such as today, but rather, eagerly anticipate our reunification with Jesus and our friends and relatives in Heaven!
My Nurse said she was, “so excited I can’t even sleep some nights, anticipating the nearness of the Rapture. It’s like when I was a little girl and I knew the family would leave on Vacation in a day or two. I was imagining all the sights we would see and the fun we would have together!”
I suggested she read Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven” as a “Travel Guide” to what she might find there. It is a very long and detailed book, entirely Biblically based and like an extended “Brochure” to read before you go.
A believer need have no fear of death. We can all be like David going to “face the Giant”, confident of our destination and “Final Victory”, with Him. Like my hospital nurse, yesterday, we can anticipate “Fun and Adventure” with our family and friends there. ….
Yes, we have a future hope that should conquer our fears. But we should also be willing to admit them, and go to God for His help. Faith is a gift, not something we conjure up like a magician.
But as we receive that faith, our hope and confidence grow into a new way of looking a life, with our minds transformed.
Because we can’t face our Goliath anymore than Saul’s soldiers could. We needed a Savior. Only when we have the gift of faith to see that Savior can we rest in the shadow of His wings.
Michael Knower, MD
Sam, thanks again. I will need to add Becker’s book to my to-check-out-once-I’ve-finished-reading-all-the-books-I’ve-purchased list. In reciprocity, I would recommend Tim Keller’s “Growing My Faith in the Face of Death,” The Atlantic, March 7, 2021. As Keller puts it in the face of his recent diagnosis, “I spent a lifetime counseling others before my diagnosis. Will I be able to take my own advice?” In my thirty-two years as a hospice physician, I have been at the bedside of believers’ passing when the truth of “precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His godly ones” was driven home with a force that brought my medical students to tears. I have also worked with believers who have told me early on in their hospice course, “I’m not afraid to die, I know where I’m going,” or “I am not going to need to worry about death, Jesus will come back first.” Some of these folks do okay; some do not. Jesus has conquered death. We indeed have nothing to fear, IF we are consistently following and focused on Jesus. However, a measure of humility is in order, recognizing that only God knows whether or not we will stumble as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Keller is really good in that article, good and personal and honest. I love the question, “Will I be able to take my own advice?”
I love your closing line:
This article, as humorous and relatable as it is, encapsulates the gospel in a very simple and understandable way. Death is the enemy Jesus came to conquer for us. Once Death is destroyed, at the Final Judgment , nothing but life remains.
However, I observe that the Resurrection is the primary promise many Christians seem to ignore as much as the topic of death. No one gets to glory before anyone else. As Paul says, and is pointedly ignored by many , “All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.” Paul’s view is that this is the next step; the resurrection of his physical body has to occur before he achieves everlasting life.
For Paul, the resurrection is the entire point of faith in Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no immortality. Death, for everyone, is simply going to sleep until Jesus returns and gathers His own to Himself. Unfortunately for many, the next thing they experience after death is the ultimate rejection that mirrors their own of Christ.
I so strongly agree with all that you said that I want to simply post it again and repost it and then quote it.
Why do we forget or ignore the resurrection?
Amen to your amen!