This past weekend US citizens did what people all over the world do to recognize those who have lived and died in the service of their country. We remembered and honored our heroes of war— and those whose lives were changed forever by their loss.
In remembrance, we probably sensed that this was not a time to talk about the dark side of our faith and fears. I’m guessing that most of us didn’t use our Memorial Weekend to talk with friends about whether our understanding of the goodness and love of God allows us to hope that our fallen heroes are in a better place, relieved of the torments of war, and finally at peace. If such thoughts did cross our mind, we probably found ourselves trying to fight off forbidden questions like— Does our faith require us to believe that many if not most of those who experienced the hellish conditions of war, woke with their last breath in a worse place—with no way back, or out?
In the past, some of us have fallen back on the words of Abraham who tried to negotiate for his loved ones in a soon to be judged city by reasoning, “Shall not the God of all the earth do right” (Gen 18:25). Or maybe we rightly reasoned that no one knows whether, in the moments of death, our loved one breathed something similar to the thief on the cross who said, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Followers of Christ often find ourselves in a difficult place trying to be honest about what we think we know and don’t know about those who die without making peace with their God. On one hand, we believe there is only one Savior who died for our sins and that, only by trusting his offer of salvation, can we enter into his love and mercy. But it’s just as true that many of us were raised within a system/and assumptions that gave us reason to believe in our own interpretation of Scripture— without helping us understand why other followers of Christ (throughout Church history) have read the same texts differently.
Could this be one reason the Apostle Paul urged his readers not to argue about words, but instead to focus on the Word/message of the good news— while leaving final judgment to the God who died to show his love for the world?
If there’s any merit to what I’m thinking, maybe a Memorial Weekend gives us a chance to hope that our God, by the sacrifice of his own Son, has purchased a way to mercifully love and forgive those who discover only in the price of war… and death… an opportunity to see and accept what they may have missed in life.