It was like watching a familiar movie, knowing the ending already and feeling dread.
I read Shelby Foote’s account of the Battle of Gettysburg years ago, but read it again this month. As I got closer to his account of day three, I began to feel sadness at the coming slaughter of my countrymen. Both sides suffered unspeakable losses in what had to be Gen. Lee’s greatest blunder.
I remember using Gettysburg as a sermon illustration once and being challenged by a Civil War buff in the congregation. I forget the point I made, but did suggest it wasn’t Lee’s finest hour. My friend insisted Lee was getting over dysentery and wasn’t quite well, and he blamed Gen. Longstreet for the debacle known as “Pickett’s Charge.”
“Lee wanted to attack at dawn, and Longstreet dawdled until mid-afternoon,” he insisted.
Foote didn’t mention any sickness Lee had. He wrote the attack was planned for 10 a.m. but was delayed for several reasons. Longstreet wasn’t the reason. He argued with Lee that a full frontal attack over one mile of exposed ground was terrible strategy, but, in the end, Longstreet did all Lee required.
Another of the “what ifs” of history had Lee been successful is Washington City, as it was called in those days, was only a few days’ march away and perhaps vulnerable. Instead, federals took Richmond two years later.
According to Foote, Lee admitted he thought his troops, who had performed so magnificently until then, were “invulnerable.” Obviously, they were not.
The Apostle Paul warned Christians not to fall into a similar trap: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The Christian church has witnessed several tragic falls in recent years. A minister I admired greatly got into a succession battle with his son and his church is a shadow of what it once was. A great church network is reeling because of the sexual immorality of a leader who also played fast and loose with church finances. And most of our churches are stymied because of formerly faithful followers of Christ who have fallen away due to various reasons. These range from broken relationships to disagreement with church policies to unresolved moral failures.
What must we do with so many lying wounded on the field of battle?
Scripture exhorts us to discipline those who fall, as necessary, but to restore them gently (Galatians 6: 1-2). What exactly restoration looks like depends on the situation, but at least we must try to help our brothers.
And those of us seeking to restore others know that none of us is invulnerable; thus we ask God for courage to persevere in our faith.
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.