Thursday, August 6, 2015

No Greater Love Than This

The killings of four U.S. Marines and one Navy petty officer in Chattanooga, Tenn. on July 16 marked yet another episode in the growing, tragic narrative of extremist violence across our land. The debate about the how’s and why’s rages on, but in the days following the tragic events, in which the shooter also was killed, two positives emerged – if such a thing is possible.

One was the incredible bravery demonstrated by the military personnel and law enforcement officers who responded. In fact, after doing all they could to guide innocent bystanders to safety, two Marines reportedly rushed back to the reserve facility hoping to subdue the shooter and protect others that were in harm’s way.

Marine Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan had guided nearly 20 people out of a building and beyond a security fence before returning when they discovered two were missing. Wyatt and Sullivan lost their lives attempting to save others.

Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). He said this prophetically about His own crucifixion for the sins of mankind, but the principle is universal. What greater, more courageous sacrifice can anyone make than to offer their life for another?

A poster at a memorial site shows photos
of the Marines and Navy petty officer who died.
We hear of acts like this in times of war and in response to violence, but it also applies any time we willingly place the interests and well-being of others ahead of our own. As Philippians 2:3-4 states it: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Surely those noble Marines didn’t re-enter the building with the intent of dying, but were willing to do so if necessary. They were looking out for the interests of others.

The other positive was the incredible show of compassion and pride exhibited by citizens of Chattanooga and its surrounding area, as well as hometowns of the other fallen military heroes. For each of the funeral processions of Wyatt, Sullivan, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” Wells and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, many thousands lined the routes.

American flags of all sizes were waved all along the roadways, on highway overpasses and in the cemeteries. Homemade signs of support were held high, and tears were shed, even by those that never personally met any of the shooting victims. I’ve never seen such a mass display of the Stars and Stripes, even on July 4th.

Those that assembled were not warmongers – just men, woman and young people with great pride in being citizens of the United States, greatly appreciative of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, and sharing sympathy for the great losses by family members and friends.

A wooden cross joined a display of American flags
at a memorial set up near the recruiting office.
While the grief shared by the mourners was profound, this great show of support must have helped to provide much-needed strength. The Scriptures tell us about, “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Most in the crowd certainly had not experienced that kind of loss, but we’ve all known our share of sorrow, enabling us to offer some small measure of comfort to the survivors. In a letter to the Chattanooga community following her son’s funeral, Sgt. Wyatt’s mother, Deborah Boen, wrote. “Even in our sorrow, we feel that God’s blessing us with the outpouring of love from this community. We…were in awe of all who stood in the hot sun to honor our son and all the fallen heroes. We saw it all, and felt all the love showered upon us.”

Even in times of great tragedy and the aftermath of heinous acts of violence, God’s grace and mercy – and the best of humankind – can shine through.

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