This Remembrance Day evening, my family and I are watching the 1998 World War II movie Saving Private Ryan. I find this movie mostly disturbing rather than enjoyable. It does have its moments of beauty, but mostly I appreciate it because it provides such a powerful opportunity for reflection, making it well worth the investment of time and emotional energy.
I won’t attempt in one blog post to explore all the levels of meaning that can be teased out of this complex story, but will content myself with the one over-riding question that it poses.
In the opening and closing scenes of the movie, Private Ryan returns as an old man to the grave of the officer who died leading the mission that rescued him. He remembers the awful horror of the battle for his freedom, and looks for some reassurance that he has lived a life worthy of the sacrifice that was offered up for him. He recognizes that his life in some sense is not his own. He says that ever since eight brave men died so that he could live, every day of his life he has thought about the debt he owes to those eight men who gave up their lives so that he could be saved from death and restored to his family.
The great question posed by this movie is also the great question posed by Remembrance Day, and – on a different level – the great question posed by the cross of Jesus Christ. In response to the sacrifice that has given me my freedom, how am I to live?
One of the sad ironies of the current state of Western civilization is that while on Remembrance Day we claim to appreciate the sacrifice of those who paid for our freedom, most of us have a very truncated view of what freedom really is. We seem to think that thousands of men died so that we could have freedom to do as we please, to gratify our desires without anyone making unreasonable demands on us or infringing on our personal space, to amass increasing material wealth, and to provide for our personal comfort and security. We salve our consciences by saying that of course we want to do all this while not harming anyone else.
Yes, I know, not everyone lives as I’ve just described. Some of us are a little more idealistic than that. But let’s be honest – Western civilization doesn’t look very noble these days. We are mostly focussed on trying to keep ourselves comfortable and reasonably prosperous. Not many people understand what true freedom is, where it comes from, and what our response should be to this amazing gift and the price that was paid for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against prosperity. When acquired without sacrificing integrity and justice, prosperity is a blessing from God, and it can be used to accomplish great good. But whenever we make pleasing ourselves the primary goal of our lives, it ends up robbing us of the freedom that Jesus desires to give us – the freedom to lay down our lives in service. Jesus said that no-one can serve two masters. If we truly value what he has done for us, only one response is possible – to surrender the rudder of our lives to Jesus, and let Him and His Kingdom become the goal of our living.
I love the words of this song by Brenton Brown and Tom Slater
Lord, the love you give
You give so generously
You were my sacrifice
You gave your life for me
So let my life be like a love song
Let my life be like a love song
Let my life be like a love song
To your heart
(Tom Slater and Brenton Brown, © 2001 Vineyard Songs UK/Eire)
That’s the kind of response that Jesus’ sacrifice is calling forth from my heart. I want to live a life that is poured out in service, motivated by gratitude to Jesus for His amazing sacrifice for me. I know that I am weak, and can only sustain such a life by His help, but with the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, that’s how I am determined to live my life. How about you?