The fact that the world remains a dangerous place is hard to refute. The recent images of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base are a stark reminder of that reality. We grieve and weep with the families and friends whose loved ones gave the “last full measure of devotion” and lost their lives in service to our nation. We pray for their comfort. As President Lincoln eloquently expressed to Mrs. Bixby in his letter of 1864 to that Massachusetts wife and mother who lost five sons in the Civil War, “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
The chaos and violence in Kabul shock us all into the sober realities of war, even as that war comes to a rough-edged end. Whether it was the length of the conflict in Afghanistan, the comparatively low impact of the war upon our daily lives, the political and ideological divides over our involvement, or the myriad of everyday distractions and diversions we enjoy as Americans, I believe most of us have not lived as though we were a nation at war. We have not had to ration food, participate in scrap drives, practice air-raid drills, or read publicly posted lists of those killed in action on a daily basis. But then this happened. As I watched the footage of America’s sons and daughters returning home to be laid to rest, I was moved to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of those in the military. As a family whose son is presently serving, we are acutely aware of just how thin the line is between Blue-Star families and Gold-Star families. As citizens of this nation, we must remember that our safety, well-being, and national interests are advanced and guarded by those who stand in harm’s way.
It is also helpful for us to remember that the United States Armed Forces is composed solely of volunteers. There is no draft; there is no compulsory service. The men and women who wear the uniforms of our military have chosen that work and life. It is true that many join for different reasons. But whatever the reason, the fact remains that they chose it and that they bear the potential of making the ultimate sacrifice. And whether they realize it or not, in doing so, they are manifesting a biblical principle of love. This principle is that of self-sacrifice. The men and women who gave their lives in Kabul were there to provide security and to execute the safe exit for their fellow citizens and our allies. As senseless as their deaths may seem to some, it does not diminish the fact that they made the ultimate sacrifice as they came to the aid of others. It may be of little comfort to our grief, but it is a truth that bears significant gravitas. It should humble us and make us grateful for them and all like them.
In the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what it means to abide in him and to bear good fruit. He is teaching them to love one another, as he has loved them. And in verse 13 he says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In one simple line, Jesus is both telling his students how much he loves them because he knows he is about to lay down his life for them, and he is giving them an example of the greatest expression of love. He is charging them to love in this way. It is a love far deeper, more robust, and more profound than infatuation or feelings. It is love in action with weight and force behind it.
Regardless of our political affiliations or our attitudes toward the military, the nation, or patriotism, it is fitting for us to recognize the sacrifices made. It is appropriate for us to see this eternal principle of love in those sacrifices. It is in the interest of our country, our culture, and our children to uphold the virtue of selflessness and honor those who manifest this kind of brotherly love. While we grieve and mourn and ask the hard questions that must be asked, we can also be grateful for our volunteers who have chosen a life that may require of them the ultimate sacrifice and love them in return.
This article first appeared in-print in the Bucks County Courier Times on September 12, 2021.