Friday, December 17, 2010

True Glory

I recently watched a television show called “Who do you think you are?” Apparently the show follows public figures as historians trace their family lineage through previous generations. The particular episode that I watched summarized the personal history of actor Matthew Broderick and two of his ancestors: a grandfather who fought through, and survived, World War I; and his great, great grandfather, Robert Martindale, who fought and died in the Civil War.

After surviving the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert Martindale was killed in a subsequent battle. Martindale’s body is buried in a grave marked not by his name, but by a number—number 2469. Martindale’s relative anonymity as a Civil War casualty is particularly striking given Broderick’s acting role as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw in the award-winning movie, “Glory.” In that film, Broderick plays Shaw, the son of a wealthy abolitionist family, who volunteers to lead the very first formal units in the federal army comprised of African-Americans. While certain aspects of the film are fictional, most of the film is based upon the true story of Shaw and his regiment. At the end of the movie, Shaw leads his unit into certain death against a well-entrenched Confederate fort. Approximately one-half of Shaw’s entire unit died (including Shaw himself) or was injured or captured. The selflessness, leadership, and tenacity exhibited by Broderick’s character in that movie were certainly worthy of human award, of human notice, of human “glory.”

In light of the award-winning movie, Shaw’s leadership and selflessness have received human attention (“glory”). But while Shaw’s actions have received significant attention, what about Martindale’s sacrifice? What was Martindale’s reward for fighting and dying for his country? To be given grave stone #2469? Until the making of this television show, it appears that no one knew where Martindale was even buried.

Micah’s earthly body is currently buried in a row of graves of children in a large cemetery in Minneapolis. Not far from this row of children’s graves are some of the oldest graves in the cemetery. On these graves sit huge grave markers erected in honor of the deceased. In death so as in life, it seemed that these ostentations markers are not only a display of wealth but of the competition that likely existed between the prominent families of the day. In comparison to these ostentatious markers is the simple marker for Micah Robert Wessman. Micah’s life was so short that he had no opportunity to “distinguish himself,” from a human perspective. His earthly life was not long enough to be worthy of human recognition or human “glory.”

In speaking with other parents who have lost children, I find that like other grieving parents, I want to keep our child’s memory alive, to honor and remember how God blessed us through our little guy. Particularly around the Christmas season, it is very difficult to be missing your 2-year old son. But as it relates to what is eternally glories, what is worthy of our affection and attention, Micah is not “missing out” on any notoriety, any glory, from having lived a full life. Robert Martindale has a nice human legacy because he made the sacrifice of his life. But the legacies of the greatest political leaders, the greatest soldiers, and the greatest athletes of all time are like drops in an ocean compared to the greatness of God’s own legacy.

King David notes, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” Psalm 103:15. Similarly, the Apostle Peter, citing the prophet Isaiah, contrasts the brevity of human life with the eternal application of the Word of God. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24.

In the end, we should be grateful that God’s glory will infinitely outshine any human glory. In comparison to the glory due to God, the greatest human beings who have ever lived will receive about the same glory as my son Micah. While Americans might feel that certain individuals, such as Robert Martindale, should receive greater recognition, and while parents feel like their deceased children should not be forgotten, we will someday all agree, whether we currently agree or not, that the attributes and activities of God are of infinitely greater worth than any and all human achievements. Our eternity will be defined by God’s glory, not our own.

· “Your name endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages. “ Psalm 135:13.
· “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” Lamentations 5:19.
· “All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.” Psalm 138: 4-5.
· “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. “ Ecclesiastes 3:14.
· “But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; You are remembered throughout all generations….Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: That he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord look at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, when people gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.” Psalm 102: 12, 18-22.
· “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11; Isaiah 45:23.

From an eternal perspective, I believe Micah did not “miss out” on any opportunities to “make a name for himself.” Any attempts to do so would have detracted from his ability to find true joy, found in Jesus Christ alone. In fact, Micah already has a great head start on where all of us are headed--to be more and more consciously aware of the superior worth, praiseworthiness and glory of God over anything in creation. I pray that even now, while “waiting” on earth, we might become more God-centered in our affections.

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