My husband’s a World War II buff, and I too value the rich legacy bequeathed by that generation of heroes. Sometimes I wonder how the stories and screens of the past century would have looked different had the dramatic and traumatic events of two world wars never happened. Certainly, both Hollywood filmmakers and New York publishers would have experienced a poverty of plot material.
Yet the flush of new literature, based on both World Wars I and II, produced over the last decade or so is striking. It’s as if the world’s writers suddenly perked up and realized that the Greatest Generation is fast dying out. Firsthand testimony won’t be available forever, so we scramble to interview the final witnesses.
Even the troop of postwar babies is stretching toward the finish line. The tail-end of the Baby Boomers like me have reached the decade of retirement. We may be the last generation that remembers V-J Day commemorations, fallout shelters, and poppy posters.
And perhaps the meaning of the phrase: “Lest we forget…”
Having recently observed the naval heroes’ holiday here in Chile (May 21) and with upcoming patriotic celebrations in our home countries, I’ve made it a point to meditate lately on my inheritance from the past generation—of personal mentors and national heroes.
The Lost Generation
Lest we forget, between the world wars, a generation of lost souls existed in the cities of western Europe. Often these survivors, not only of the Great War but of the Spanish flu epidemic, suffered from PTSD. Disoriented, directionless coteries of writers and artists (such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Picasso) drank the decade of the ’20’s away in Paris.
But lest we forget, on the other hand, the Greatest Generation largely consisted of the fatherless sons and daughters of WWI. That generation of orphans became the generation of heroes.
“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
The book I’m re-drafting at present, Legacy of the Linnebrink Light, traces the mystery of a shipwrecked stranger who impacted the island of Cocotúe in a mighty way before his untimely death. The story, told many years later, recounts the lost generation who no longer remembered Kurt Linnebrink, his adventures and achievements, or the transformational legacy he left in their island.
The Oblivious Generation
A forgetful generation consigns its divinely bestowed blessings to rapid oblivion. The generation of heroes, too soon forgotten, can become a generation of misty memories.
In biblical times, the Egyptians forgot the Hebrew who saved their country from starvation. “Joseph died…and all that generation… A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph…” (Ex. 1:6, 8, NASB). And didn’t care either, we might assume. That crisis was ancient history, as WWII seems to some of us.
Later God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and brought them in victory to their Promised Land. But in Israel, they once again forgot the great deliverance: “Joshua…died…and… All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor…the work which He had done for Israel” (Jud. 2:8, 10, NASB). The generation of heroes who secured their homeland vanished like a whiff of dust from their collective memory.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” –George Orwell
What will be said of our generation? Are we a generation that ignores our heroes and deletes our history? Have we forgotten the works of God on our behalf or the Word of God and its power to heal and restore?
Generation of Judgment
Will our generation come under the righteous judgment of God? Or…can our generation save the future for the next generation?
In the days of Judah’s king Josiah and the prophet Jeremiah, Hilkiah the priest rediscovered the scrolls of Scripture during a restoration project of the temple. With their obedience, these three initiated a spiritual revival which changed the face of their country after a 55-year slump into evil and apostasy. Young men in their 20’s at the time, Josiah and Jeremiah saved their generation. Theirs was the last generation before disaster struck.
Ten or fifteen years after Josiah’s early death, the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon. But the generation of heroes had prepared a remnant of the people spiritually for exile. While Judah was far from a repentant nation, still some among the captives faithfully sought and served the Lord, even within the royal family. (Consider Daniel, for example.)
King Louis XV of France, the final monarch before the revolution, is said to have remarked, “Aprés moi, le déluge” (“After me, the flood”). Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, the oldest man ever to live, died the year of the flood, at age 969. Dr. Henry Morris says his name might be translated as “When he dies, judgment.”
What will happen after our generation? Is ours the last generation before…?
“Our generation is lost to the truth of God, to the reality of divine revelation, to the content of God’s will, to the power of His redemption, and to the authority of His Word. For this loss it is paying dearly in a swift relapse into paganism.” —Carl F. H. Henry
Generation of Vipers
Our Lord Jesus Christ had much to comment on of the generation in which he was born and lived. “To what shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another…” (Luke 7:31, ESV).
I have to smile, ironically, when I read that. Children playing games in the marketplace? Yes, that pretty well describes our generation, doesn’t it? All about marketing—buying, selling, finding the right spin. Like capricious children, we focus on little more than the commerce of entertainment. Our faithless and fickle hearts continually chase the latest toys.
Until the Greatest Generation has degenerated into perhaps the Least Generation.
“This generation is an evil generation,” Jesus said. Why? “It seeks for a sign…” (Luke 11:29, ESV). His generation was always looking for something spectacular, a good show, an extravagant sensation. Something, anything, but never God.
Has a more image-driven generation ever lived than our modern culture? I worry that my generation just may be the last to read! Many Chilean youth prefer anything to the printed word. “Just give me the video.”
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” –Ray Bradbury
Jesus goes on to make this astonishing denunciation: “The blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation…” (Luke 11:49, ESV). Here we find a culmination of evil and consequent judgment.
It’s no generation of heroes but of cutthroat assassins. In fact, Jesus calls them a “generation of vipers” (Matt. 12:34, KJV). Dangerous, venomous killers.
What Kind of Generation?
Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, describes a series of common generational sins. The Hebrew word used for “generation” here designates a “kind of man.” You decide. What kind of a person is this, a hero or a villain?
“There is a generation [kind of man] that curses its father, and does not bless its mother” (Prov. 30:11, NASB). The arrogant defiance displayed here shows up in the life of a person or group of people who disregard their forefathers and fail to honor the generation of heroes who’ve passed on before. Their attention is self-absorbed; they don’t need the old folks.
“There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (Prov. 30:12). Plenty of self-deception works on the imagination here. This kind of person sees him/herself as perfectly righteous, but they are mistaken.
Perhaps from a distance, their lives look fine—fantastic, in fact, on Facebook or Instagram. But it’s all about image. Up close, the cracks in the façade show. The below-the-surface grime glares in a different light.
“Our generation has lost the value of romance, the value of trust, the value of conversation. Sadly, small talk is the new deep.” –DeepLife Quotes
“There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up” (Prov. 30:13). A lot’s going on here. Although this kind of person may have (artificially) high ideals and lofty ambitions, their long list of aspirations indicates disdain of others less entitled or valuable than themselves.
This ultimate stuck-up generation may appear knowledgeable and even mature. They think they know! Yet their pursuits are directed inward rather than outward. They lack any genuine wisdom or inclination to serve.
“There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:14). This statement describes in part a generation’s greedy assault upon the oppressed and disadvantaged of the world—certainly worth considering—but I would like to highlight here the merciless wielding of words as weapons. On the verbal battlefields of society, a massacre is taking place.
In an overconnected, technology-dependent culture, life has become hazardous and violent on every level. Especially in the area of communications and media.
The Last Generation
The apostle Paul warns that “in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1, KJV). Read the passage (2 Timothy 3:1-5) and see if it doesn’t sound like a generation you know, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 7, NASB).
What can you and I do about it? Paul talks further about another kind of person: “You man of God…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith…” (I Tim. 6:11-12).
Friends, I believe that the two best things I can do for my country, my culture, and my generation is to teach by example what a godly generation might look like and to raise men and women of God. While I’m past the direct child-rearing stage of life myself, I certainly exercise a continuing influence in the lives of my children and can intimately affect the future of my grandchildren and therefore the upcoming century of generations.
Our generation may not live through any great world-shattering war. (And please God, not my little ones either.) Yet we and they are at war every day of our lives. A spiritual battle of the ages rages.
“There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.” –Elisabeth Elliot
Like some of the heroes of the Greatest Generation, we work with a Resistance Movement. Some undercover or behind the scenes, some front and center. What if this were the last generation with a chance to turn the world around from its blind and reckless race into chaos, corruption, and confusion?
An Epic Generation
So what does an epic generation of heroes look like? I attempt to explore that thought every time I pick up my pen, every time I open my mouth. I pray that that wisdom and kindness flow out. And I hope I have the courage to speak the truth in love and the grace to probe every wound with both tenderness and grit.
“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” –Native American proverb
To start with, I point the next generation to authentic heroes to emulate. They can’t read the stories if nobody writes them. I can use words with skill and creativity to exhibit a clear vision of reality. This means we open our eyes wide to the shoddy morals and flabby thinking that permeate our society. And we shift our sights off ourselves and our comfort.
Next I work at exemplifying the kind of godly intelligence and perceptiveness I’d like to see developed in my generation. It’s never too late to get smart. Undeniably, this will involve exertion and discipline, discernment in decision-making, and training in mental muscle and spiritual insight.
But no generation of heroes has the luxury of laziness.
Or the option of forgetfulness.
Then I can help write the heroes’ sagas, lest we forget their sacrifices. Lest we forget the works of God in our midst or the Word of God in our hearts.
Like the Legacy of the Linnebrink Light, may our lives shine on with the story oil of legends.