Great Unimaginable Love

The article caught my attention in an e-mail I received this week, an electronic newsletter from the Little League Baseball Association. It was the story of a young man who had played Little League ball for six years as a young boy, then went on to join the military and give his life in Iraq for his country. The article focused on the fact that the young man, Ross McGinnis, posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration possible for a member of the U.S. military, and in so doing became the first known Little Leaguer to be awarded such a high honor.

I don’t know why I was compelled to read it or, for that matter, how I got on the Little League mailing list anyway. But read it I did, and I found myself in tears as I read how Ross joined the Army right out of high school, intent on building a career in the military, only to be killed by an enemy hand grenade within 16 months of graduating from training.

The article (you can read it here) described his death this way:

According to the official reports, on the afternoon of Dec. 4, 2006, Pfc. McGinnis and his platoon were on mounted patrol in Adhamiyah, Iraq, to restrict enemy movement and quell sectarian violence. During the course of the patrol, an unidentified insurgent positioned on a rooftop nearby threw a fragmentation grenade into Ross’ vehicle, a Humvee. Without hesitation or regard for his own life, Pfc. McGinnis threw his back over the grenade, pinning it between his body and the Humvee’s radio mount. He shouted “grenade” to others in the vehicle, then absorbed all lethal fragments and the concussive effects of the blast with his own body – giving his life to save his four comrades.

McGinnis was only 19 years old.

While this happened four years ago, I found I went through the rest of my morning thinking about this young man and how he died, or, more accurately, why he died. Why is it that stories like this resonate so deeply within all of us?

It may be that the strong emotions elicited in me had something to do with my mother’s heart, and a few uncomfortable similarities. I have a 20-year-old son, Nate, and he too played baseball for several years, beginning as a little boy and continuing up through high school. I imagine Ross’ mother and I both spent a great many years similarly cheering on our little boys. My son has also joined the military, the Army National Guard, and while he’s currently a full-time student at Mizzou, after his graduation he may well be deployed to parts unknown. It’s certainly true that I fear my own son being called to serve his country in such treacherous and dangerous conditions, and I can only imagine this, too, was something Ross’ mother wrestled with.

But I also think there’s a deeper reason.

For the Christian, of course, it’s an intimately-familiar story, someone taking the death that we all so richly deserve. But stories like this – the almost unfathomable reality of someone giving his own life so that others might live – seem to penetrate everyone’s heart, whether they believe the gospel or not, because God has implanted His story of redemption and a sense of eternity deeply within each of us. Believer or unbeliever, we all have a reaction to death that says, “It shouldn’t be this way.” We all innately seem to know there are deeper truths going on within these stories of redemption and sacrifice.

It’s a startling thing to read about a young man who was willing to die in order to save his friends, and I think it almost spontaneously sends us, believer or unbeliever, looking for answers. Why would he do that? What kind of instinct compelled such a young man to give up his life for any reason, especially when he was so young? I have to think Ross must have felt a great kinship with the other young men in the vehicle with him. I also wonder if he himself was a Christian. Of course, the article doesn’t mention anything about his faith, and even if it did we may well never know this side of heaven.

But no matter his motivation, his actions also took me again to a place I’ve often been: trying to wrap my head around the fact that Christ gave his own life for us – for me, personally – when we were not friends, but enemies. Hostile to His call, He nevertheless willingly accepted death for us before we ever cared for Him at all (Romans 5:6-8).

Unimaginable. Unimaginable great love.

And that same great love is what we’re all poised, this Christmas Eve, to celebrate. Jesus’ death, so willingly embraced for our sake, began with an obscure birth into a dirty, sin-stained world. That Christ would willingly die for me is still very hard for me to grasp. That He would first willingly step into humanity, leaving the glory of heaven to lower Himself into our hopelessly-broken world and experience every difficulty, pain and disappointment that this life has to “offer,” is an integral part of that great unimaginable act of love. God’s great sacrifice, magnificently made manifest at Golgotha, began in Bethlehem.

ESI readers, may God richly bless you and your families as you celebrate Christ’s birth and His great, unimaginable love for you.

1 John 4:9-10
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 3:16
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

John 15:13-14 (The words of Jesus, just prior to his arrest and death.)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

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