One of the minor but substantial bragging rights for a US Army paratrooper in World War 2 was to claim to have four combat jumps. There were 4 large scale jumps in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) and another 4 large scale jumps in the Pacific Theater of Operations, but obviously no one ever jumped at all eight. At most you could claim 3.
If you were a member of the 82nd Airborne, you would have to have jumped at Salerno (1943), Overlord (June 1944), Market Garden (Sep 1944), and been a liaison at Operation Varsity (1945) since the 82nd Airborne officially did not participate in Varsity.
You see, paratroopers led the way in every major conflict. They were the first ones in, often arriving before everyone else did. And the bravest of the first ones in during Operation Overlord were the Pathfinders, the ones who dropped even before the paratroopers and their mission was to mark the DZs in the dark.
This got me thinking. Not about bravery in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane in the dark while taking fire – I’ve seen Band of Brothers many times. Or about sacrifice – giving up a civilian comforts and serving your country, or even the ultimate sacrifice – dying for a friend. Nope. I’ll save that for Memorial Day next week.
Rather, I’m thinking about who goes before me. When I was a boy, when I went hiking with my family, I like to play scout. I was always walking in front of the group, partly because I also walked faster than most people. I liked to run ahead and see what’s out there, then run back to my dad and report in. I would be with my brother and my friends and we’d find holes, broken sticks and imagine they were mines and ambushes. We’d shoot them with our makeshift stick-guns or the occasional BB gun we’d brought along. It’s all great fun, harmless, and just letting our imaginations run wild. Of course, reality is much different; IEDs are no laughing matter and there are plenty of hot zones in the world.
But what about life in general? Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own pathfinder? Someone who calls out to you: “Watch out! The career equivalent of dog poop is 300 yards to the front!” Or, “Don’t talk to that girl because she wants to start something you’re not ready for.” Or, “Hey, that job you’re thinking about taking? That company will go under in 3 months.”
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, however much we would like it. At least not with that level of specificity.
When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”Joshua 3:3-4 (NIV)
This quote comes from the story of Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan river. The LORD God has just told Joshua to let the Ark of the Covenant travel to the front and follow it about 3000 paces back. Remember that the Ark represented God’s presence and what God is telling his people that he will march in front of them and lead the way. Why? Because they have never been that way before.
It’s hard to imagine that scene for the Israelites in the 21st century. Why? When I go places I have never been before, there’s always Google Maps. The mystery of going to a place I’ve never been before – more or less gone in the 21st century. And according to the map below, there are definitely ancient trade routes the Egyptians knew about.
And as I said, we all wish we would have the same signposts and maps for our lives. A Google Map for Life.
However, maybe it’s not far fetched because there may be someone in front after all. Just like horror movies where the monster always jumps out from behind the heroes and hapless victims, God is front of us, leading the way, scouting ahead and telling us why lies ahead. Some things God has told us ahead of time in biblical prophecies. Others unfold slowly, daily, or even hourly.
The future is the undiscovered country and it is most certainly a place where we have never been before.
A lot of people ask: “Where is God?” Some ask that question with derision while others ask genuinely. They look around or look up. Perhaps they should be looking ahead.