Never Bet Against God

My son’s not a six-footer anymore. After too many parachute jumps with the 75th Ranger Regiment, medics told him his skeleton has compressed by a half inch, and that he’s not getting it back. It probably didn’t do his skeleton (or brain stem) any good to get blasted off a ladder by an improvised bomb, either. Even the routine and repetitive discharge of Army weaponry at the firing range can result in cumulative concussions that complicate questions of free will and moral accountability.

The burdens of defending our freedoms and our country’s strategic interests have never been equally or fairly distributed. But he came home reasonably intact and upright, and is having a great life now as an entrepreneur, inventor, husband and fierce soccer dad on the grassy battlefields of California.

His cousin Jake wasn’t as fortunate. Jake’s mom and dad got his body back from Syria in May. I don’t know much about how he died, but thanks to a remarkably meaty, substantial funeral, and thanks to long talks with his comrades at the wake, I know how he lived.

Not that Jacob Klipsch was ever a stranger to me. I remember him as a freakishly intelligent child. He talked with smart adults all day and I’m not sure he ever learned baby talk. He was so big and so articulate that most people assumed he was much older.

We got back in touch after the invention of email chat rooms. His was a restless intellect. He had not paused from reading broadly and thinking deeply. It was never a superficial conversation with Jacob.

He was at least agnostic, maybe an atheist then. Not a sneering, dismissive secular humanist like I was at that age, but rather a sincerely unconvinced pagan. He wasn’t going to pretend he believed, if he didn’t.

He knew of ancient “god-slaughter” cults with suspicious similarities to Christianity, and was conversant in the Gnostic claims of Roman hanky-panky in the selection of the Biblical canon. I thought he was mistaken, but too smart and inquisitive to stay wrong. He was young, and had plenty of time to sort it all out.

But he was dead by age 36. I felt some panic when I heard he had died, and guilt. Throughout his lengthy funeral, I thought that despite all his virtues and selfless deeds, I’d have to bet he is probably roasting in Hell now, and from now on. We had let the clock run out on Jacob.

But it’s not our clock.

The final speaker at the funeral mentioned in passing that Jake tried to take Communion last Christmas at an ancient Syrian church near the front lines. Anybody sitting behind me at the funeral may have been startled to see my head snap up sharply. It was the only thing I heard all morning that actually matters anymore.

He wasn’t able to get to the church last Christmas, but that’s not the point. Jacob wouldn’t have just gone through the motions. He wouldn’t even consider taking Communion unless he was a believer. I’m sure of that. Glory!

I learned later that he had told his dad that he was operating in “Yahweh’s stomping grounds.” The contested Syrian territory includes Chaldean villages that still speak Aramaic, the native tongue of Jesus. They trace their lineage to Aram, son of Shem, who was on the ark with his father, Noah. It’s from Shem that we get the term Semite. Aram’s brother Arphaxad is the ancestor of Abraham.

Of course it’s ALL Yahweh’s stomping grounds, including the next gazillion galaxies past ours, but I get Jake’s point: Yahweh had worked many judgments and wonders in Syria, according to the Bible. And He wasn’t done yet.

Maybe Jacob was called to Syria, not just to fight for the freedom and human dignity of complete strangers (which God could have accomplished much more efficiently), but for an intimate and unmistakable encounter with Christ, who knows a thing or two about unequally, unfairly distributed burdens. Death was in the offing, but not annihilation. I believe Jacob received something more than a mechanical, algebraic cancellation of sin; he entered the Savior’s lavish hospitality.

I remember the period just before Jacob sought Communion with Christ. It was, for me, a time of unusual spiritual dryness. Now, I like to think of it as a time when the Shepherd left the 99 to seek the lost lamb, the hard-headed one, because He alone grasped how precious that lamb is in the sight of the Father.

Never bet against God.

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