Today is a day of national remembrance for the United States: Memorial Day. We pause collectively to remember that many have died for our benefit. On this day of remembered sacrifice, it is humbling to consider why so many have offered their lives so that we could live in freedom. We could think, as many do, that these sacrificial deaths are proof of an inherent goodness in man, and that despite all man’s negative traits, the spark of goodness remains. Surely, the willingness to die in battle shows that man is basically good in some way. But such thinking would miss the mark, eliminating the need for Christ to die for sin. But if man is totally depraved, then how can he aspire to such selfless acts as dying in battle for others?
Millions of soldiers have entered battlefields throughout history, knowing that they might not survive, but believing their deaths would accomplish some good for those that they loved. This concept is not natural to fallen man. However, the tarnished, blurred, almost obliterated image of God in fallen man still reflects something of the nobility of man as the magnificent creature that Psalm 8 describes. Man, as a creature, was created to live for something greater than himself. He was created to bring honor and glory to God. Memorial Day reminds us of human deaths for human freedoms. But apart from the example of the love of God to man shown in Christ, there would be no thought of death given for others. No, instead, all men would be like Cain—death would be the tool of fear, vengeance and self-preservation (I John 3:12). Only because of the hope of the gospel message first delivered in the Garden does death bring hope. This hope was first given in seed form to Adam and Eve. Since then, there have been some people, even the lost, who have been willing to die for the good of others. To be sure, many soldiers have lived by a more violent creed: kill or be killed. But others have seen that without death there can be no life. Embracing this one fact does not make these folks Christians. However, without the impact of the gospel, all men would view death as Cain did, as a way to advance their own glory.
In fact if there is no death, there is no life. This is the reality of our sin-cursed world; if there is no vengeance for wickedness, there will be no freedom, no peace, no love. This theme resonates with creatures made in God’s image, even though that image is horribly tarnished and distorted. We only know what love is because Jesus laid down his life (I John 3:16). Christ died so that life, joy, peace and love for God would be possible for mankind. He died to bring honor to God the Father. This powerful, consuming love, springing from the ultimate character of God, displayed in Jesus Christ, impacted all of mankind from the first announcement of the gospel in Genesis 3:15.
In this way, even fallen man can bring glory to God. It is this powerful image of God that, though almost obliterated, shows the wonder of God’s creation of man. If not for this image, no one apart from Christ would show any nobility. Millions more babies would be aborted. There would be no real just rule of law. Fidelity in marriage would be non-existent. All would be ruled by sexual lust and depravity. No one would be willing to die for another. There would be no Memorial Day.
Jesus Christ truly is the light and hope of a lost world.