Posted on | June 19, 2016 | 12 Comments
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply . . .”
— Genesis 1:27-28 (KJV)
Today is Father’s Day, and I have much to celebrate. All of my children are healthy and safe. None of them are in trouble with the law. It’s important to be grateful for our blessings, however ordinary they seem. We ought to be thankful for every day of life, because sometimes survival is victory. Every one of my children is a miracle, when you consider how long the odds were against any of them ever being born. Consider merely this question: How did I end up in Calhoun, Georgia, where in 1987 I met the future Mrs. McCain? Three months before I met her, I had never even heard of Calhoun, and couldn’t have found it on a map.
There’s a long story behind how I became sports editor of the Calhoun Times in 1987, but the relevant point here is, I prayed for that job.
When I arrived for my job interview in late August 1987, I parked my car out front and took time to say a brief but earnest prayer, and subsequently got the job. You may doubt that this involved divine intervention, but I repeat — a week earlier, I had never never heard of that town or its newspaper. When my friend and former editor Chris Barker called to tell me there was an opening for a sports editor in Calhoun, Georgia, my reply was, “Where the hell is Calhoun, Georgia?”
This was arguably the stroke of luck that changed my life, but I don’t believe in “luck,” and I don’t believe in coincidences. You are free to believe that your life is mere random happenstance — a fluke, a coincidence without meaning or purpose — but I know that my life is a miracle, and that my children are also miraculous. Trust me on this. If I told you the full story of my life prior to 1987, you would be shocked to imagine how I could have survived it all. What were the odds I would even be alive in 1987? Indeed, the odds were against my ever being born.
My father was wounded within an inch of his life in August 1944, fighting the Nazis in France during World War II. Dad had a deep scar at the base of his neck where the shrapnel hit him and when I say he was “wounded within an inch of his life,” I mean this literally — another inch, and it would have killed him. My Dad was the only boy in his family to survive to adulthood. His mother, Perlonia Bolt McCain, was the daughter of Winston Wood Bolt, who served as a private in the 13th Alabama Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. Private Bolt was captured July 1 at Gettysburg, along with Brig. Gen. J.J. Archer and about 120 other soldiers, when their brigade was outflanked by the Union’s famed Iron Brigade. I’ve actually walked over that terrain — south of U.S. 30, east of Willoughby Run, west of Seminary Ridge — where my great-grandfather was captured, and thank God he was captured. If he had not been captured on July 1, Private Bolt might well have been killed two days later, when the 13th Alabama took part in Pickett’s Charge, or in some other battle where the regiment was subsequently in combat. Being captured was a miracle that saved my great-grandfather’s life in 1863, then another miracle saved my father’s life in 1944, and otherwise I never would have been born in 1959.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.
— Deuteronomy 30:19 (KJV)
Why aren’t more people grateful for their lives? Why do so many people take life for granted, and never stop to contemplate the miracle of their own existence? All you need to do is occasionally glance backward — to your parents, your grandparents, and the many generations of your ancestors before them — and ask yourself, “What were the odds?”
No, I don’t believe in coincidences, because I have seen too many miracles in my own life to doubt that God must have some purpose in mind, a plan that preceded my birth by many years, and it is impossible for me to view life and death as mere coincidence. “Choose life.”
“Now are they going to chop him up into little pieces and suck his brains out?”
— Mrs. McCain, when Kermit Gosnell was convicted
My wife is a praying woman. Her mother is a devoutly Christian woman, and my wife has kept the faith, with daily Bible study and prayer, so that I tell my kids, “Don’t ever get in trouble. Never do anything wrong as long as you live, because you know your mother will blame me.”
All that energetic daredevil recklessness, where do our kids get that? That imaginative mischievous streak, where did it come from? Probably from my Grandpa Kirby. My mother’s father died before I was born, but his legend was handed down in anecdotes. He was a “character,” as they say, a tall lanky fellow, a hard-working man with an eye for entrepreneurial opportunity. Was it mere legend that he did some bootlegging back in the day, making the run out of Phenix City with a shotgun handy in the car? Honestly, I don’t know, but he was always looking to make a dollar and, as my Grandma Kirby said more than once, “He had what the ladies liked, and he knew it.” Some traits are hereditary, including arrogance.
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 KJV) and Hermit Eiland Kirby was only 54 when he died, after having suffered a stroke. Being 56 myself now, I think about that, just like I think about my mother, who died at age 47 when I was only 16.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
That old hymn has stuck in my mind for many years. During the hardest times of my life, when the menace of evil was quite real, I had to remind myself of all the miracles God had already wrought on my behalf: “Surely, God has not brought me this far just to cast me down now. Fight on!”
Every struggle is a school, every hardship is a lesson, and every defeat is a test: Can you take it? Are you strong enough to keep going?
A determination to persevere despite all adversity requires not only a belief that your own life matters, but also that something larger that yourself is at stake in your ordeal. If everything is just a random coincidence, what’s the point? No, you are here for a reason, your existence serves some purpose, and survival is victory.
One of the things that gets too little attention in Bible study is all the “begats,” the geneaologies where so-and-so begat so-and-so. A kid may wonder, why is this even in the Bible? What is the spiritual meaning?
Consider that the Jews are descendants of a single linear ancestry (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and that when the Hebrews entered Egypt in the days of Joseph, Jacob’s descendants numbered 70, not counting his sons’ wives (Genesis 46:26-27). By the time they followed Moses out of Egypt, the Israelites counted 603,550 men fit for military service (Numbers 1:45-47), not counting the priestly descendants of Levi. If we include women, children and old men, the total was probably about 2.5 million. Thus did God fulfill his covenant with Abraham, to make him “a father of many nations . . . exceeding fruitful” (Genesis 17:1-9). About 200 years separated the birth of Isaac from Jacob’s death in Egypt, by which time the Hebrews numbered 70, and another 200 years later, at the time of the Exodus, there were more than 2 million of them! Little wonder that Pharoah was disturbed by how “the children of Israel . . . multiplied, and waxed exceedingly mighty” (Exodus 1:7-10).
All those “begats” matter, you see. When God presented the Israelites with the choice of “life and death, blessing and cursing,” He did so after having already shown His power by working many miracles on their behalf, not least of these His promise to make them “exceeding fruitful.” Before we can do anything else, we must first be born, and our existence — our life — is the first blessing for which we must thank God. So my kids have wished me happy Father’s Day, and I suppose I can take some credit for their lives, but understanding all the miracles required for any of them to exist, my children should thank God: “Therefore, choose life.”