On April 14, 2004, Marine Corporal Jason Dunham’s squadron was manning a checkpoint near the Syrian border in western Iraq when an Iraqi soldier lobbed a grenade into the unit. Dunham dived on the missile and died shielding his comrades from the explosion with his own body.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez said, “Cpl. Dunham clearly understood the situation and attempted to block the blast of the grenade from his squad members. His action saved the lives of his fellow Marines.”
At a White House ceremony, President Bush presented the prestigious Medal of Honor to Dunham’s parents, saying, “Corporal Dunham gave his own life so that the men under his command might live.”
“Hero” is the word we use to describe a person who does what Dunham did. But it comes up short, for there is no word to adequately define someone that does something as big as intentionally dying so that others can live.
Who knows why a person does such a thing or what is going on in his mind when he does it? The cynic might say that the man must be insane; that no one in his right mind would willingly give his life for others, especially for some he hardly knows.
The idealist, on the other hand might say that sometimes the human spirit is capable of pulling off extraordinary acts of courage and valor.
But while it is difficult to know why a person would make such a sacrifice, it is not so difficult to imagine how we might react if it was our life that was saved.
For the rest of our life we would have flashbacks of a scene frozen in time, seeing the mangled body of the person who died so we could live. To our own dying day we would wish that we could have stopped him from doing what he did. But since we couldn’t, his death would lay an enormous burden on us.
We couldn’t live just for self any longer. We would have to also live for the one who died for us. Since we would be alive because of him, we would want to be sure that he now lived through us. If what he would have done with his life is to be done, we would now have to be the one to step up and do it. We would want to be involved in what he was involved in that he never got to finish. The things that were important to him would become important to us. The things he loved we would now have reason to love.
Because he cared enough to lay down his life for us, we would become passionately concerned about others, caring enough to invest our life for their good. His compassion for us would forever shape our compassion for others.
We would feel our debt so deeply that the only way we could come close to paying it would be by living a life as brave and sacrificial as his death was. We would feel obliged to honorably wear the uniform he so nobly wore.
We would be driven to find our purpose in life. “The two most important days in your life,” said Mark Twain, “are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” We would be obsessed with finding the “Why?” Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life?
Above all, we would feel compelled to live our life for what it really is—a life that is not ours by due rights, to live however we choose, but a life that is ours only because he preserved it by dying in our place. We would live this life that has been gifted to us in a way that would honor him and bring an approving smile to his lips.
Every last one of us is in this picture you know …
When we were unable to help ourselves, at the moment of our need, Christ died for us … Very few people will die to save the life of someone else … But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:6-8 NCV).