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.
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.