“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” II Corinthians 3:12
To convince his friend that he is telling the truth, the youngster declared: Cross my heart, and hope to die! But he would not really hope to die. The words carried no weight. They were just decoration.
Far different are the words written by a German soldier fighting in the bloody snow around Stalingrad in the Second World War: “They were forever telling us at training camp how to service and use our weapons in order to kill our enemies, and we were trained, and proud to fight for Führer, Volk, and Vaterland, and if necessary, die. But no one told us what you might have to go through before you got killed. Nor that death might not be instantaneous—there are many forms.”
In the bloodbath at Stalingrad almost two million people were being killed. This soldier now wanted to be one of them. He was not the first warrior that hoped to die. He was not the last.
There was reason for his despair. German troops were under-equipped and ill-prepared to take on the Russians. The frozen bodies were piling up. But worse were the pitiful cries of the wounded. Snipers made it almost impossible to pull them to safety. The soldier wanted the misery to stop. The ancient words were true: Only the dead have seen the end of war. He wanted to be among them.
The Apostle Paul was also in desperate straits as he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. He had been beaten, robbed, shipwrecked, and imprisoned. Soon he would face the executioner. Danger and pain were there. But so was hope. He wrote: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:8-9).
His boldness rested upon the powerful mercy of God. He confessed that he looked forward to death. But for as long as he was alive he would carry out his mission on earth. He could not lose. He wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
We wonder if the soldier hoping to die at Stalingrad might have said the same. He had grown up in the Land of the Reformation. Had he been taught that salvation was a free gift of God? Had he sung the words, “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon?” Could he recite from memory the hymn that declared his Savior was always by his side? “And do what they will—hate steal, hurt, or kill—though all may be gone, our victory is won. The kingdom’s ours forever.”
Did he believe those words? We hope so. If so, then when he hoped to die it was because he knew he would live where perfect peace reigns forever. Then, we can expect to see him there.
We pray the words of the hymn:
“Lord, be my consolation, My shield when I must die; Remind me of your passion When my last hour draws nigh. My eyes will then behold you, Upon your cross will dwell; My heart will then enfold you—Who dies in faith dies well!”
(Christian Worship, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” Hymn #105)
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida-Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military