Sunday, June 9, 2013

Grace: Unmerited Favor


During the Civil War a custom began of hanging a flag in the window of one’s home with a blue star on it for each of the family members engaged in the war.  If a soldier was fallen, a slightly smaller gold star was put over the blue one so that a blue outline still showed around the gold. This practice continued during WWI and was most prevalent during WWII.  Businesses and community associations also hung these in support of their members engaged in the war. They are known as Service Flags or Blue Star Flags.

The church I attend now is one that my parents and grandparents and great grandparents attended.  Many of the current members have ties that go back four generations or more, so we have a lot of shared history.  During WWII our little group of believers had a Service Flag hanging with a blue star for each of the soldiers that were fighting in the war. Some were Army, some were Navy, some were pilots and some were foot soldiers and some were in ships and submarines.  Over the course of the war  45 men and women from our church had a blue star on the flag representing their action in the war.  My dad is one of them, the sixth star down along the right hand side. Several of them are his cousins and most were close family friends.

The most amazing thing is that there was not one gold star among these 45.  They all returned home safe, and it was not because of having light duty.  There are harrowing stories of fights in the air, of emergency ocean landings when the fuel ran out, and horrible conditions in Africa, Europe, and the South Pacific.  But every one of them returned home without major injury.  The  odds against this are staggering from a temporal standpoint.  When you hear the numbers and percentages of loss from WWII it becomes clear that our 100% safely home is astonishing. It has been called a evidence of God’s faithfulness, of answered prayer, and certainly it was a blessing.  I have hesitated over that word “faithfulness”  because elsewhere, good men died.  Righteous men and women perished.  Was God not faithful to the ones who died?  Were the prayers of their family not good enough?  How can we say that our banner is an evidence of God’s faithfulness?

I have been thinking this over.  We know that it rains on the just and the unjust alike. [Matthew 5:45]  We know that good people hurt and suffer even though they pray. Everyone dies eventually. Every generation experiences 100 % death. Is God not faithful to the suffering? Is God not faithful to us when we undergo loss? I believe He is, but that we don’t understand His ways.  Job is a classic case in point and he says, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 13:15] David says in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

There are many books exploring the problem of evil, pain and suffering and ‘unanswered’ prayer.  I will list some of them  at the bottom for those who are interested.  For the limited purposes of my blog,  I resolved the issue by thinking of it as grace, not the faithfulness of God.  Grace is unmerited favor. God is faithful, no matter what.  He is consistent in His nature.  We experience grace without earning it, without doing anything to deserve it.  Our men and women did not “pray better” for their loved ones than the families who lost loved ones. The soldiers who came home did not fight better or outwit the enemy better than their counterparts who died, except by God’s grace.  I will say that this flag is a testimony to God’s great blessing on our little church and the families represented.  His extreme grace, unmerited favor.

The women  in the church had a Ladies’ Missionary Class which met regularly to pray for and write to the young men and women in service.  They included news from all the letters received from the other servicemen of the church and also bits about what was going on at home, who was getting married, and so on.  This practice of writing a group letter continued until the end of the war.   The letter of September 1945 says “…looking at our service flag, we see no gold stars, we know of no serious wounds, but we have heard of marvelous escapes on land, in the air, on the sea, and under the sea; proof of His ever abiding care.  His answer to our prayers…”

A few years ago I uncovered the Service Flag in a storage closet at the church.  I asked a friend who is a military history buff to write something about it to accompany it as a display on Memorial Day. His concluding paragraph says, “Even though nearly seven decades have passed, this banner continues to stand in testimony to the faithfulness of our God to the members of our fellowship who placed themselves in harm’s way but trusted in His deliverance…”


I am grateful to those who served our country and the Allies and I am extremely grateful for the grace shown to us in preserving those who came home.


Recommended Reading:

Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain

Elliot, Elisabeth,  A Path Through Suffering

Yancey, Philip,  Disappointment With God

Crabb, Larry, Shattered Dreams

Tada, Joni Eareckson and  Steven Estes,  When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty

Ten Boom, Corrie,  The Hiding Place


ellen b. said...

Thank you, I enjoyed reading this post and how your church was so faithful in supporting these young men and women in prayer. We hung our blue service star in our window while Andrew was in Afghanistan...

Connie said...

A very meaningful post. Grace and faithfulness - both have a 'God interpretation' we simply cannot fully understand - we just do not know enough - but we do know for sure that we have a very loving God who cares about all of us.

What a wonderful testimony from your church. What a thrill to know they all came home - God did do many miracles to bring so many home and to bring an end to those wars.

Great authors you have referenced.

Anneliese said...

OOps, I just lost what I wrote..
As a Canadian and a Mennonite, at that, I have never heard of these flags. What a blessing for your family to have had this miracle .. this miracle of dear ones who came home. Your thoughs are worth thinking about. I was reminded of a song by Laura Story that goes...
What if a thousand sleepless nights is what it takes to know You're neat. What if trials in this life are Your mercies in disguise? We will not know until we see Him... why the answer was sometimes yes and other times no.

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Such a beautiful tradition.

I adore the saying "There's no testimony without the test". Sometimes we all have to grow in different ways.

Gilly said...

I love the idea of those flags. never come across anything like that in the UK.

I too have struggled with the suffering/praying/answers to prayer conundrums. I don't think I have reached any answers yet! But I do think that God's ways are so very different from our ways. Some of "answers to prayer" that are claimed leave me thinking, well why them and not so-and-so, but maybe when we finally see God it will become apparent to us. I hope so.