The Speed of Grace


With that in mind, my wife and I finally summoned the courage to watch Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's haunting window on the days surrounding the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach. When the film was first released, war veterans broke down in theaters, many unable to process the memories invoked by the soldier's-eye view of the horrors of battle. I don't blame them. I sat with my trigger finger on the remote control's "fast-forward" button during the first 30 minutes. And I must confess to covering my eyes with a pillow on two occasions.

When the scene finally switches from the bloody beaches to a peaceful America, we see a mother glancing up from her sink as a U.S. army car creeps up the dusty driveway and stops before her farmhouse. Ever since her four sons had enlisted, in hopes of halting Hitler's bloody advance, she has been praying this moment would never come. One of her boys is gone, she realizes in horror. Which one could it be? But the news is worse than she could have imagined.

That day she is handed not one, but three telegrams. Three of her four boys are dead. And the fourth is missing. Sinking to her knees on the porch, she watches the dishtowel slip from her trembling hands.

Stirred by the grief-stricken woman's plight, the U.S. Army chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, resorts to unusual measures. He orders Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), a hero of the Omaha Beach battle, to lead eight men across the picturesque French countryside to find the fourth son, paratrooper Private James Ryan. His mission: Bring Ryan home alive. Together they strike out, heading in the general direction of Cherbourg. Though their mission is eventually accomplished, the cost is high. Most of the eight lose their lives, and in an act of the ultimate sacrifice, Captain Miller gives his own life to save Private Ryan.

The film concludes in modern-day France as an aging war veteran shuffles up to a grave in the sea of white crosses memorializing those who died liberating the country. His family stands back, giving space to his memories. Five decades have passed since he was rescued and returned home. Five decades since the men gave their lives that he might live. Overcome by gratitude, Private James Ryan kneels before the tomb of Captain John Miller and breaks down in tears, like his mother on that porch so many years before.

Turning to his wife at last, he cries, "Tell me...tell me that I've lived a good life." She walks forward and wraps her arms around him as they weep together.

The tears come for me too, as I write. You see, I too have knelt before a cross. A cross that reminds me of the monumental sacrifice of the One who gave His life that I might live. And like Private Ryan, I feel a sense of unworthiness. Such love, such sacrifice, makes me want to do something. It seems to demand that I repay the Giver, that I sacrifice something in return. "Tell me," I want to say, "that I'm worthy, that I've lived up to this, that I've done enough, that I've run fast enough."

Then comes the gentle reminder: "You haven't, Phil. There is nothing you can do to deserve this. Just accept it, it's all been done."

God's finished work in Christ Jesus has brought us salvation, redemption, reconciliation, resurrection, and eternity with Him. His death has brought us life. His grace has brought us Home. Nothing we do will ever make us worthy of such grace. Nothing we do will ever repay the debt. What can we do but accept the gift and live the rest of our lives with thanksgiving, reflecting that grace, mirroring for all around us the reality of the greatest reversal in all of history? God loves the unlovely, forgives the unforgivable, offers grace to the graceless, and provides a resting place to the busy and the burdened.

Callaway, Phil. Who Put My Life on Fast-Forward? Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2002, p. 258-259. www.philcallaway.com

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