“After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’”
If there has been a David of our time, it seems it might have been Senator John McCain. Some have laid claim to it recently, but Senator McCain truly lived and merits the comparison with his signature maverick style of service, honor and courage.
Both were descendants of powerful men of their communities — David was the great grandson of Boaz, while John McCain was the son and grandson of Navy admirals.
Military leaders, brave in the face of giants.
Principled, even in their humanity and flaws.
Mavericks and mortals.
Both of them husbands, fathers and both men after God’s own heart.
John McCain left this world on Saturday, and already it feels a bit emptier, less feisty and sadly silent. Though we knew his departure was imminent and his years on earth many, it does not make our loss any less.
Whether or not one agreed with Senator McCain on the issues, nearly everyone respected him for his military service, admired him for his courage and tenacity and was grateful for his commitment to his country. He was a hero, a patriot and an advocate.
McCain inspired us, at times even without words, incited us when necessary and inflicted his straight talk oration on hypocrites and poseurs.
When God chose David to be king of Israel, He did so after the first king that Israel had so forcefully demanded proved to be unworthy of the title. That first king, Saul, reminds me an awful lot of a certain man today who seems to want to be a king but appears not worthy of the honor.
Interesting, perhaps, that the White House initially did not issue a formal statement or eulogy regarding Senator McCain’s death but merely a sparse tweet of hearts and prayers, as though 140 or 280 characters could honor this son of a sailor who gave his life in service to his country.
The flags were quickly raised again from a brief stay at half staff, begging the question of whether the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue couldn’t stand to see his rival honored with a lowered American flag – the very flag that John McCain fought for and suffered for while in the military and in great service to our nation in the decades that followed. As of this writing, the flags have been lowered again after much outrage and consternation from loved ones and veterans’ groups across the country and a lengthier statement issued.
Do you wonder if John McCain is chuckling over all this up in heaven, perhaps laughing at the irony?
Because while this administration spends so much time talking about how athletes need to stand for the national anthem in order to properly honor the military and our nation, when given the opportunity to honor a man of the military – a scion of service that spanned decades – this administration did so begrudgingly and half-heartedly.
John McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, bearing scars both visible and unseen upon his release and return to the United States and he truly lived out the sacrifice and service to which some politicians just pay lip service. Yet simply honoring him in an intentional and sustained way was just too hard for some folks in Washington.
Time and again throughout his life, Senator McCain refused to pay back or retaliate against those who denigrated and demeaned him — even when given the chance to do so. His conduct bears a striking resemblance to the instances we read of in the Bible with David hiding in a cave, suddenly in the presence of King Saul – the very man from whom he was on the run. When David could have retaliated, he refused to do so and submitted himself to God’s will and purposes even as he pointed out to Saul that he chose not to seek vengeance against the king.
Whether people were spreading false rumors about his children, mocking his military service, ridiculing him for having been taken as a prisoner of war or questioning his competency, Senator McCain showed us – just as David did – how to take the high road and how to live a life of integrity and honor.
After lies had been told about Senator McCain during the 2000 presidential primaries, he memorably said, “I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land.”
He did not get even, he did not seek revenge and he refused to wrestle with pigs.
When presented with the opportunity to insult, attack and besmirch the reputation of his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, John McCain instead strongly defended and praised his then fellow senator, Barack Obama. This is who John McCain was. This was his nature, his integrity, his honor and character.
Perhaps it is because John McCain cheated death that he was able to live such a full life when he was finally free again. He had already faced death and he knew some of the worst that life could bring after living as a prisoner of war and suffering unspeakable torture and terror for five and a half years. He did not forget the pain he endured and he had great compassion for others who were suffering. When he returned from war, he brought with him a burden to fight for others, a commitment to bring about change and a resolution to make our world better, stronger and more just.
John McCain lived out the prayer of Moses:
“So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
Like David, John McCain was flawed and imperfect, which is to say, he was a human being, the same as you and me, though I can hardly claim to be even half the person that John McCain was. Yes, he made mistakes – but like David, he owned them and took responsibility for them. Where some might blame others, McCain shouldered them and took full accountability.
Perhaps if ever there was a man who should have been president at some point in his life, that person might be John McCain.
In the first book of Samuel, we are given a glimpse into what people saw when they looked at young David, after he was anointed but before he was appointed king.
Saul was still king, though God had removed His Spirit from Saul and he was being tormented by an evil spirit. Saul’s attendants had suggested that perhaps some soothing music played by a skilled harpist might comfort Saul and chase away the evil spirits. Saul agreed to the arrangement and his attendants recalled such a man, David the son of Jesse.
“Then one of the young men said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.”” 1 Sam. 16:18
The same might have been said of John McCain – a man of valor, a warrior, wise in his speech, and the Lord was with him through unimaginable trials and tribulations.
And like David, John McCain knew days of solitude and imprisonment. While David was hiding in a cave on the run from a violent and irrational King Saul, John McCain had been captured and was being held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
While some flippantly say they like their heroes not to be captured, McCain is an American hero, full stop.
McCain had the opportunity to leave Vietnam and return home to America. He chose to stay as a prisoner in Vietnam.
Contrast McCain’s service with that of others.
Some had the opportunity to go to Vietnam to serve their country. And yet they chose to stay in America rather than serve in a dangerous war in a foreign land.
John McCain served and John McCain stayed and John McCain endured. He is a lesson in courage, dedication and service.
And just as David knew what it was to be betrayed, so did John McCain. Betrayed by members of his own party in the past and even recently, many were envious of him and sought to disparage and discredit him. It is telling that a recent poll shows about 40% of Republicans support John McCain, while more than 60% of registered Democrats indicated they support John McCain. There is perhaps no greater compliment than that your opponent stands in solidarity with you on the issues and principles.
Indeed, some of John McCain’s greatest legislative and professional accomplishments are the result of his willingness to cross the aisle and work with Democrats. Senator McCain knew intrinsically that the common good was a much greater cause to fight for than the vanity of self. He worked with Russ Feingold to bring about their eponymous campaign finance reform legislation and regularly worked with other Democratic senators, among them Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. McCain was aware of our interdependent nature and understood that we truly are better when we work together, compromise and are able to look at life through each other’s eyes. John McCain chose to be a patriot over a partisan over and over again.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama and John McCain made Top Ten lists of their favorite songs.
President Obama had the late Aretha Franklin’s amazing song “Think” on his list, a challenging and, pun-intended, thought-provoking song so fitting for our time.
John McCain chose as one of his favorites a song that marveled at God’s goodness and the simple joys of this world, “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong, a song that in many ways evokes some of David’s psalms as he wrote of God’s majesty and glory.
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.”
John McCain chose a song that extols the beauties and joys of this world in spite of the tragedies and sorrows he had experienced and endured in it.
His friends have spoken in recent days about how much fun John McCain was to be around. They have said that as serious as he could be on the Senate floor, he was jovial and joyful whether he was grilling on his patio, at a black tie event or hanging out with family and friends.
I’d like to think that up in heaven, John McCain, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong and David are singing amazing songs of thanksgiving and glory as they worship at the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I hope that doesn’t sound sacrilegious or irreverent, as it’s not meant to be. I just treasure the idea that even in our loss and grief, there is rejoicing in heaven that a saint has come home.
We can imagine the words John McCain heard as he was welcomed into heaven by his Heavenly Father and Savior, surrounded by familiar faces of family and friends, fellow sailors and senators.
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Though he is not with us on earth, John McCain will forever be an American hero. His legacy will live on and his service and sacrifice will be remembered and cherished for generations to follow.
We are a better nation and a better people because of John McCain. He left this world better than he found it and he never ceased striving to champion the underdog, lift up the needy, fight for the hurting, protect the weak and serve his nation.
In the end, he gave so much more than he received. He was selfless, even in his final days.
He laid his life down for his brethren time and again throughout his journeys across this earth.
And, in dying, he reminded us how we ought to live.
Selflessly, courageously, bravely and for others.
The entire McCain family and Senator McCain’s many friends are in my thoughts and prayers. May God comfort you as you grieve and may He bless you as you remember and celebrate the life of your husband, father, grandfather, son and friend.
“Eternal Father, strong to save,Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!”
From “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”
May John McCain rest in peace and may his memory inspire us always.
“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”