Well, now is not a time for melodrama but celebration. Eric came back healthy and whole from his first deployment. In fact, he came back healthy and whole from a second one a year later! But in a few weeks he will be coming home again--this time to stay. Four years have passed and he is now returning to civilian life. Wow. What a ride it was!
Knowing my son Eric I am sure he would be very uncomfortable with this reflection of mine. He would be even more awkward (perhaps annoyed) with my title. If there is anything I've learned about warriors it's that they generally don't view what they have done as anything that special. No matter that they might have a chest full of ribbons and a file full of commendations. They view themselves as just "doing my job." If there's any place for expressions of pride it's most often in the "band of brothers" with whom they fought. I won't say warriors like Eric are supermen or that they are untouched by the eternal ills of selfishness and pride. Just because they don't boast about their achievements doesn't mean they are selfless. Even so, if there is any kind of heroism we need to see in our world today this is it; more fixed on the efforts we've shared with others than the attention we can draw to ourselves.
The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about heroics--and pride. In one of my favorite New Testament passages, he detailed some extraordinary experiences:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12).
To many, getting caught up into paradise and hearing "inexpressible things that no one is permitted to tell" may not sound like much, compared to saving a squad from death in Afghanistan. But that's only because we don't really understand what Paul saw. Paul knew. And he knew that the "abundance of revelations" he was chosen to receive would have gone to his head were it not for God's gift of suffering. Paul knew there was something worse than physical pain and affliction (he had his share of that too): it was sinful pride: the arrogance of imagining that we are something more important than we really are. As Christian psychologist Ed Welch would say, "When we are too big and God is too small."
Though Eric is coming back from deployments with all his body parts and his mind in tact, many of his buddies did not. My heart goes out to them and their families. Even worse than the physical and emotional losses they've endured is the emptiness in most of their souls: they have no clue about the real meaning and purpose of the suffering they've endured. Without Jesus how can they?
But on this glorious celebration of my son's return I want to give thanks to God. I am certainly thankful for the way God returned him to us. As the saying goes, "All is well." But, I am even more thankful that he began this journey four years ago knowing that "It is well with my soul." Even if he did not come back healthy and whole it would have been so. And that's why I say that Eric is my kind of hero. Not just because of what he did over there but because of who he was before he even left: a warrior not just in the United States Marine Corp but a warrior in the army of the King of kings and Lord of lords.