This month, almost 80 years ago, John Dillinger died. Called “public enemy number one,” John Dillinger brought a kind of glamour to being a gangster, but controversy surrounded his death.
Story has it that in May of 1934, he was hiding out contemplating plastic surgery to alter his appearance. His lawyer had located a German-born surgeon by the name of Dr. Loeser who needed money. The arrangements were made and Dillinger arrived at a weather-beaten, two-story shack on Chicago’s North Side. He received a general anesthetic and so began the procedure to remove three moles and a scar, fill in a depression on the bridge of his nose, and erase the dimple on his chin. The fingertips would also be removed.
In his nervousness, the young assistant gave too much ether too quickly. Dillinger’s face was turning blue and he swallowed his tongue. The doctor used some forceps to remove his tongue from his throat, but he still was not breathing. From all appearances, John Dillinger died.
Dr. Loeser, however, would not give up. (I suppose it had something to do with the fact that he might lose his life if could not save Dillinger’s). He began artificial respiration and eventually Dillinger, who had technically expired, revived. But as history would record, twenty-five days later, after successful surgery, John Dillinger was walking from a Chicago theater with a “Lady in Red” when the FBI shot and killed him. That’s why some say he died twice.
It reminds me of a first century “gangster” who also had an inclination to break the Law and defy the odds of death. His name was Saul and he likewise had an identification change on a road to Damascus that resulted in a new name, Paul. Perhaps his greatest, death-defying pronouncement came in his letter to the Corinthians when he said, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Rumor has it that this “Saul who became Paul” died more than once too. He died to the Law, to sin, and then even to a physical death. But each time He died, the attending Physician who finally granted him eternal life revived him. And as Paul Harvey would say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
Fortunately for you and me, this attending Physician, Jesus Christ, is still attending to those of us who stand in need of a new hope, a new identity and a new life. May you discover it today!