On March 7th, 1945 the Allies were pushing east and on the brink of crossing the Rhine River as Germany struggled to mount a meaningful resistance. Crossing the river looked to be a daunting task for the Allies and could delay them at a crucial moment in the war. The Rhine had proven a formidable strategic defensive point for military conflicts in the past, and the Germans, knocked back on their heels, might use the time to reorganize and improve their defenses.
That same day, Lt. Harold Larsen of the 9th Division artillery flew his Piper Cub looking for targets when he spotted the Ludendorff Bridge—an intact railroad span that crossed the Rhine. This was an astonishing discovery. The other strategic bridges along the river had been long since destroyed by the Germans to prevent an easy crossing. Somehow this one was still standing.
General Hoge, commanding the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion and the 14th Tank Battalion, had a big decision to make. He had just received direct orders to proceed south until he linked up with the Third Army. Should he disobey orders and face a potential court-martial by attempting to cross the bridge, or should he proceed south as instructed and set up a defensive position along the Western side of the Rhine?
General Hoge ordered his officers to cross. As the first GIs approached, the German engineers worked feverishly to blow up the bridge. There was a huge explosion and the bridge lifted into the air but instead of crashing into the swiftly flowing river it settled intact into its original position.
Without further delay, the GIs began to fight their way across. The Germans realized they were about to lose a vital position if they could not repulse the American onslaught. Machine guns and small arms fire hailed down from the opposing shoreline as the first American units dashed across. Courageously and miraculously, the GIs seized the bridge before it could be destroyed, and men, tanks, and artillery crossed over, allowing the Allies to gain a major strategic bridgehead. After ten days of intense bombing, the Ludendorff Bridge finally collapsed, but not before several pontoon bridges had been established and 125,000 men had crossed to the eastern bank.
When General Bull with SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) heard of the development, he told General Bradley that “you’re not going anywhere down there at Remagen. You’ve got a bridge, but it’s in the wrong place. It just doesn’t fit the plan.” Thankfully, however, Eisenhower was elated and told Bradley, “Get right on across with everything you’ve got. It’s the best break we’ve had.”
How could two commanding officers react so differently from one another? One was displeased with Hoge’s actions and one was ecstatic. Military historians agree that seizing the bridge likely shortened the war. Eisenhower’s ultimate purpose was to end the war as fast as possible with the Germany’s unconditional surrender,
and the bridgehead at Remagen was in line with
One of the striking lessons from these events is the importance of keeping our ultimate purpose in mind so as to be ready to press the advantage when the opportunity arises. A bridge is a vulnerable place when there’s a war on. Its purpose is to span otherwise impassable terrain, but crossing it leaves one exposed to the enemy. Crossing a bridge while at war might not feel like a smart move, but once it’s taken, the impact cannot be overstated. It could even mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Spiritual bridgeheads can be similar. As Christians we can sometimes feel like we’re fighting a losing defensive war. Perhaps we view the campaign through the eyes of our little corner of the battle—we might not see the victories that are occurring every moment of every day, as souls are won for Christ and hearts are healed and the world is restored by His love.
Evil often seems to be dug into impossibly strong defensive positions and is mounting violent attacks all around us. When we see how strong it seems to be, our first instinct might be to dig in and defend what we’ve got, rather than risking ourselves in more exposed forward positions. But we’re not called to dig into foxholes and wait out the war. We are called to be at the front lines, starting in our own lives.
Like General Hoge, we must know our purpose so we know how to meet the next opportunity. We are not called to live lives geared toward slowing down our spiritual death as we are slowly asphyxiated by sin. We’re called to “go out” and “make disciples.”
We’re called to take the offensive, to rock evil on its heels with our faith, our love, our pursuit of God’s heart. Our purpose is to follow the greatest com-mandment of all, to love God with our whole hearts and to love others.
Paul sums it up this way: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14). Fixing this purpose in mind will show us when we need to cross a bridge. When we come to a barrier that is keeping us from loving God or loving others at a deeper and truer level, that is when a bridge must be crossed at all costs.
As followers of God, our lives will invariably take us to these barriers and bridges, as our lives come into increasing submission to the Lord. These
bridges should not be viewed negatively or turned away from. Spiritual bridgeheads are strategically significant opportunities that will lead to eternal gain though they may hold the risk of worldly loss.
Addiction is one of these barriers. Most folks have struggled with addiction (“besetting sin” is another term for it). I know I have. Addictions should not be stigmatized and hidden. As humans, we are bent toward addictions as coping mechanisms for painful experiences in our lives, and we must be open and honest with one another about them and find God’s healing from them. Unresolved hurt from the past has a way of resurfacing in behaviors that make us feel temporarily better but are ultimately destructive to the body and soul. These must be healed, not hidden.
There are commonly mentioned addictions like alcoholism, porn, and drugs but there are others just as prevalent but perhaps not acknowledged as such: “workaholism,” cutting, rage response, anorexia, and more. These are all unhealthy coping mechanisms that affect our walk with God and our ability to love Him, ourselves, and others as fully and freely as the Lord desires. These are barriers that need to be crossed.
Thankfully, God is faithful and provides a bridge for every spiritual barrier: “With the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The bridges that God provides may not be easy to cross. Anyone who is taking a bridgehead will find freedom on the other side, but there will be opposition along the way. Crossing requires taking a first step with the great animating purpose in mind: to love God and others.
Peter exhorts us, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom to cover up for evil; live as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Crossing will often make us feel vulnerable. Honesty and the truth can hurt initially. The crossing might take a while, too. I speak from experience. It can be a process. But it is worth it! The implications of creating a bridge to freedom are enormous, and the ripple effects will spread into the future and touch the lives of those you know and even those you don’t.
There are plenty of other barriers besides addiction in our pilgrimage through life: how do we love each other well? How do we help the needy, the lost, the hungry? How do we stand for truth without coming across as arrogant? How do we resolve differences of opinion? How best to evangelize?
There are specific callings to our hearts as well. God didn’t ask everyone to go to a specific country, but He did ask Abraham. Perhaps He is asking you to cross a bridge no one else needs to cross. Perhaps you will be misunderstood for doing it by others, but you will be understood by God. He will always be faithful to lead us each step of the way.
Barriers are really opportunities in disguise—opportunities for God to affirm His love for you, opportunities to take the fight to the enemy, opportunities to go on the attack instead of taking a defensive posture. If we look for the miraculous standing bridge we will find it, and it will take us closer to the heart of God and to the freedom our souls desire.
Thankfully, the reality of our situation is a lot more like the Allies heading east to end the war in 1945 than the Nazis heading west in 1939 and 1940. In the redemptive arc of God’s history, we are living in the age of Christ’s completed work—there is no better time to be alive. We are on a major offensive that ends in total victory and complete freedom for the world.
So it’s a time to be encouraged! Jesus knows what it means to cross a bridge and establish a bridgehead of freedom in enemy territory. He did it on the Cross, and He intercedes on our behalf today. He is the reason we can cross. He is the reason we can be free. He is the reason we have a future and a hope. “It is finished.” The river of sin is crossed, and victory is ours!
—Ben works as a realtor in upstate New York, and his wife Jessica is employed at a local café.