Denison Forum – Yale football star dies during Navy SEAL “Hell Week”

Kyle Mullen was a football star at his New Jersey high school and for Yale (where he was a second-team All-Ivy League selection) and Monmouth University. He was also an honor society student described by a former coach as a “great athlete but a better person.” The coach added that Mullen was “probably one of the best kids I ever had. Great, great kid on the field but even better off the field.”

Mullen, age twenty-four, died last Friday during Navy SEAL “Hell Week” training. The commander of Naval Special Warfare Command said, “We are extending every form of support we can to the Mullen family.”

That same day, five-year-old Rayan Oram died after being extricated from a Moroccan well. He fell one hundred feet into the well the previous Tuesday; the rescue attempt captured global attention. Moroccan King Mohammed VI called his parents after he died; French President Emmanuel Macron added on a Facebook post, “Tonight, I want to tell the family of little Rayan and the Moroccan people that we share their pain.”

Leaders are right to extend every possible support to these families. Society’s attention will soon shift from these two tragedies, but their parents and families will be marked by them forever. This is how it is with families and how it should be.

As Queen Elizabeth II noted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

A story I will not forget

Yesterday, we began a week-long focus on the transformational implications of the biblical declaration that Christians are the “children of God.” I wrote that “this changes everything. Knowing that we are now and forever the beloved children of the God of the universe gives us status and significance the world can neither bestow on us nor take from us. It fills the deep hunger of our souls for meaning and worth.”

Here’s the story behind this metaphor’s recent impact on my life.

Last week, Dr. Mark Turman and I were honored to speak to a group of ministers in the Houston area about my new book, The Coming Tsunami, and the larger topic of cultural apologetics. At one point, several of the men described ways they are engaging their culture with redemptive truth. One of them told a story I will not forget.

I would guess that this man is in his fifties or sixties. He is a minister and a professional building inspector who shares Christ wherever he can with whomever he can. He told us that his starting point is usually to tell people that he was adopted by his parents.

He makes this point: “They knew nothing about me when they chose me. Unlike biological children who inherited their genetics from their parents, my parents did not know my parents or anything about my story. They chose me as I was, where I was.” He notes that such unconditional love obviously changed his life, then explains how God’s unconditional love has been even more transformative for him.

He had tears in his eyes when he finished his story. I had tears in mine as I heard it.

Why being adopted by God is so empowering

Upon reflection, I realized that there is another way to tell his story. Unlike his adoptive parents, his heavenly Father knew everything about him. He knew everything about his parents, his genetics, and his background. He knew everything about what he had done before coming to Christ and who he was when he became a Christian. He knew everything that this man would do for the rest of his life, including every sin he would commit.

And yet, the God of the universe chose him and adopted him as his child.

Paul described this miraculous reality: “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). There was no Jewish process of adoption: if a man died, his brother immediately became the head of his family and the father of his children. In Roman context and thus for Paul’s readers, however, the concept of adoption took on a powerful meaning.

Patria potestas (“the power of the father”) extended to a father’s children from their birth to his death. He could disown them, sell them as slaves, and even have them killed if he saw fit. However, if he adopted a child, that child could never be disowned, sold, or executed. They would be a permanent part of the family.

When the Spirit inspired Paul to use adoption in describing our status with our heavenly Father, he meant us to understand that nothing can cause God to disown us. To the contrary, as Paul declared later in Romans 8, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38–39).

The biblical answer to the “human condition”

In a culture that measures us by our appearance, possessions, performance, and popularity, it is terrifying to be known as we truly are. In Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, psychologist John Powell writes of “the imprisoning fears and self-doubt which cripple most of us and keep us from forward movement on the road to maturity, happiness, and true love.”

He adds: “None of us wants to be a fraud or to live a lie; none of us wants to be a sham, a phony. But the fears that we experience and the risks that honest self-communication would involve seem so intense to us that seeking refuge in our roles, masks, and games becomes an almost natural reflex action.

“After a while, it may even be quite difficult for us to distinguish between what we really are, at any given moment in our development as persons, and what we pose as being. It is such a universally human problem that we might justifiably call it ‘the human condition.’”

Here’s the biblical answer to this “condition”: the God who is love (1 John 4:8) loves you more deeply, passionately, and unconditionally than an earthly father can love his children. He grieves your struggles and suffering even more than parents grieving the death of a child. He stands ready to guide your path with omniscient wisdom no human father can match. He will empower your obedience with omnipotence the strongest father cannot begin to offer.

What hidden pain, shame, or grief do you need to entrust to his loving grace today?

What temptation, challenge, or decision do you need to entrust to his omnipotent providence?

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