One night in May several years ago, my five-year-old made a declaration while we were eating dinner. “Mom,” he said, “on Monday, we need to read the story of David and Goliath.” I looked at him quizzically. My husband glanced at me, knowing what was going to come next. “Wait for it,” he whispered.
“Why do we need to read that story on Monday?” I asked.
“Because Monday is Memorial Day, when we remember people who died in wars. Goliath died in a war. We should remember him.”
I looked at this small child, with his wide eyes and copper curls. My heart ached a little bit. My kids had a lot of fascination with the David and Goliath story. In one of their children’s Bibles, this story bears the title “The Young Hero and the Horrible Giant.” Goliath is huge and scary, a villain if there ever was one. David is small, innocent, and favored by God. When my children imagined this story, David looked like them and Goliath looked like everything that they’d ever feared—a sneering, snaggle-toothed bully, threatening God’s people.
And yet, on Memorial Day, my son wanted to read not David’s story, but Goliath’s story. He wanted to hear a story about the enemy, so that we could remember him, not as someone big or bad or ugly, but as someone who lost his life in an act of war, serving the nation to which he belonged. On this day upon which we remember the sacrifice that the service members of our own country have made, it might serve us well to also remember those who have died in service of other peoples and nations.
Some ideals are worth fighting for. Others are not, and countless people have lost their lives in service of ideals that were neither good nor holy. Often, more than one side in a conflict claim to have God on their side. Sometimes, we can’t know exactly what we’re fighting for until the rubble has fallen and the dust has cleared. Among the rubble lie the bodies of the dead, taken in an act of war.
When my son wanted to remember Goliath on Memorial Day, his words made me wonder what I had been missing when I thought of war, what we might be missing when we send troops to war—the stories of the people on the other side. What would it have been like for Goliath’s parents, to have such a towering child, one who drew attention wherever he went, who would be sent to war, over and over again, to strike fear among neighboring nations? What must that have been like for Goliath to live his life as a human weapon to be deployed whenever his imposing stature was needed to intimidate enemies?
My spouse and I strive to raise our children as peacemakers. We remind them that we keep no guns in our home, not even imaginary ones, and that pretending to shoot human beings is not allowed. And yet, kids can turn anything into a weapon. I often feel like we’re failing—siblings can always find something to fight about and playful wrestling turns violent quickly. To hear that my son wanted to remember Goliath, the horrible giant, on Memorial Day encouraged me.
The story of David and Goliath is a story about faith, a story about how the God of Israel lifted up the very least, a story about how a young boy without the protection of armor or strategy, defeated a huge giant. It is the story of God’s care for the littlest. Young David grew up to become a complicated king, who, despite the vast riches that came with his position, could not keep himself from taking things, and people, that did not belong to him. Even so, he became the King of Israel, the one from whose lineage Jesus would be born. And that unexpected ruler, born to a brave, unwed mother from a backwater region of Israel, in a land under military occupation, that ruler, Jesus Christ, refused to draw enemy soldiers, or anyone else, outside of the realm of God’s grace.
War is always complicated, both born from pain and the cause of pain. My child’s words remind me that on Memorial Day, we remember people who died in wars no matter which war they were fighting or for which side they fought. Beholding the full humanity of those on “the other side” will keep us from losing our own.