The Bible has taken on several colloquial narrative uses. As in “Bible-thumping” politicians or the “Bible Belt”, or as a personal basis of truth and conviction, exemplified by “I swear on a stack of bibles.”
In many cases, but not all, the George Washington Inaugural Bible is used in the secular swearing-in of our presidents. That’s an inescapable image in my mind. The hope, understandably, is that a beneficent and wise God will serve as a presence in domestic and international affairs.
God requires no special invitation to attend a presidential inauguration.
In deadly combat, the Bible serves another purpose. It is carried into battle, providing a spiritual weapon for soldiers thrust into the sporadic outburst of weaponry that spares no one.
A Bible-bearing American combatant may believe that the most sacred book provides a link to God and hence survival. It also represents a family connection if given as a gift.
Philosophers can argue whether God chooses sides based upon the motivation and purpose bolstering each opposing force in a war. I hark back to the epic film about George Patton, who felt no compunction to ask his chaplain to pray for clear weather and favorable conditions for his military units to advance and triumph, as they did in this cinematic instance during the Battle of the Bulge.
In Patton’s mind, the initially stunned chaplain enjoyed a direct connection to God. The weather cleared.
Patton delegated successfully. After all, the daring and cocky general was simply using the chain of command. And he believed that God was on the
side of goodness—and U.S. armor forces led by the charismatic and daring George Patton.
What motivated me to write about the Bible? My biblical familiarity is shallow, I must admit. Nonetheless, I well understand its singular importance as a book that overrides any compilation of must-read books.
Bibles often are passed down through generations of families. Its value is inestimable, withstanding the multiple moves of American citizens.
Occupying a special place in my wife’s heart is a Bible given to her late father in 1938 when he was 12 and confirmed by a beloved Presbyterian minister in Baltimore. The Bible bears a wonderfully warm inscription from the minister.
My father-in-law would read the Bible story about the birth of Christ every year on Christmas Eve, originally to his children and then his grandchildren. Frenetic activity would cease. A special, solemn overtone permeated the room.
As a newcomer to the family, I understood that the Bible reading by my wife’s dad was a necessary part of the holiday ritual.
Recently, I read about a Bible borne by a 29th Infantry Division soldier killed as part of the first wave of troops that stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. A fellow soldier had found the Bible, which had fallen out of the victim’s assault vest, and sent it with a letter to Raymond Hoback’s parents in Bedford, Va. They had given the Bible to Raymond in Christmas 1938. He and his brother Bedford were both killed during the deadly D-Day invasion, as were 18 others from the small town of Bedford.
The Bible had remained in the Hoback farmhouse, enshrined by the mother. Just recently, the Hoback brothers’ sister donated the Bible to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. More young men were killed per capita in this southwest Virginia town than any other in the United States.
The Bible is more than a best-selling book. It symbolizes faith in God. It offers lessons learned in coping with life. It underscores humanity and kindness.
It can provide a link between someone in distress and God. And an attachment to the giver of the Bible and the grateful recipient. Ties that bind for a lifetime.
In the case of Raymond Hoback, engaging in the greatest amphibious invasion in military history, it offered hope amid the chaos and killing on bloody Omaha Beach. After his death, it offered solace, as well as an acute sense of loss to his bereaved family.
Raymond sought God. So did his family.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.