Lest we Forget

War is horrible. Christ’s love heals all wounds.

I just finished listening to the audiobook production by Edward Herrmann of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. The subtitle reads: “A WWII story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.” The subtitle is truth in advertising, even if the main title “Unbroken” is actually ironic (I will eventually explain why).

In all, the book is well-crafted and the story of Louis Zamperini’s life is nothing short of amazing. I also learned many fascinating and macabre things about the Pacific theater of WWII. I would recommend this book to anyone, just as my grandfather recommended it to me recently, when I called to wish him a happy Father’s Day.

Now, I am not a history buff like my Papa – who consumes works of historical nonfiction and historical fiction as voraciously as I devour fantasy novels and gothic romances – but I will occasionally read books in other genres if they come highly recommended by word of mouth. Even though Papa had repeatedly told me that Herman Wouk’s work was good I had declined to read the books because I’m just not into history or politics (even though these are the milieu within which we all live and breathe). Perhaps I was already feeling a little guilty because of that. Or maybe it was because Papa turned 90 on June 23rd, and I decided that it was past time that I have a real conversation with him on a topic he enjoyed so much. For whatever reason, this time I decided that I would read the book he suggested so we would have something to discuss the next time I called.

Resolved on this course, I decided to check out the audiobook from my library so that I could listen to it at work while I mindlessly entered data and printed off certificates of analysis for customers. The unabridged script is thirteen hours and thirteen minutes long. It took me over a week to complete, listening for blocks of several hours at a time. The narrative is riveting and compelling. At times, it is absolutely heart-rending. Needless to say, I am glad to have a box of tissues on my desk; I used quite a few of them.

There were many parts of this biography that really cut me to the quick. Any story coming out of war-time is bound to be harrowing, and the man it follows certainly endured horrors I cannot even imagine. However, the grace of God was with Louis Zamperini through it all, preserving and strengthening him and eventually delivering him first from the hungry ocean and then from cruel captivity.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

That was my main takeaway from Unbroken – the boundless grace and forgiveness of God.

Like so many other veterans, Louis Zamperini came home after the war a ticking time bomb, haunted by his memories and terrible flashbacks. He had endured much pain and degradation at the hands of his captors and his experiences left behind deep wounds. Outbursts of anger, depression and alcohol abuse was the result. Louis suffered nightmares and violent flashbacks about the psychopathic Japanese soldier (a.k.a. “the Bird”) who had abused him as a prisoner of war. He fantasized about killing the Bird in retribution. These murderous thoughts obsessed him to the point that he strove to accumulate enough money to travel back to Japan. All for the purpose of hunting down and killing his erstwhile tormentor.

I can only admire his wife’s fortitude and fidelity through it all.

Finally, when Louis reached his nadir his wife dragged him to a Billy Graham tent meeting (I will address the heresy of decision theology in a future post), where Louis heard Billy Graham preach from John 8:1-11. His wife convinced him to attend a second meeting, where a suppressed memory emerged. Louis recalled his prayer while adrift on the Pacific: that if God saved his life, then Louis would dedicate his own life to serving Him. God had delivered him from his ordeal and had now brought him to faith. Knowing Christ’s love, he could no longer cling to his hatred. Louis gave up his murderous obsession, alcohol and cigarettes and went on the serve the LORD as an evangelist. Having learned of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness, Louis went on to extend it to the Japanese soldiers who had abused him – even the psychopathic Bird.

I have not yet seen the film based on the book Unbroken. It’s on my list but after hearing that the movie leaves out the last chapters describing Louis Zamperini’s conversion I’m not certain that I will watch it any time soon. Assuredly, what the film does cover is probably just as inspiring and poignant as the book. However, by omitting what Louis did after the war the film only tells the first half of the story. Our increasingly secular culture does not like to hear the rest of the story of this man who found Christ after horrible war flashbacks finally broke him down. Our culture wants to convince us that a man can endure such trials by his own strength and remain unbroken. If you read the book, you will see that this is simply not the case.

Louis Zamperini was a brave, tough, resilient and amazing person. He survived a plane crash and circumstances as a POW that destroyed many other brave men. However, the traumatic abuse and degradation he suffered did not leave him unscathed. In the end, Louis was broken down so that God could build him back up into the man he needed to be in order to serve Him. I am sure if Louis was reading this that he would agree with me.

Well, enough preaching. I’ll hop down off of my soap box now. In any event, after reading Unbroken I feel that I have ample material for a great historical discussion with my Papa and an opportunity to talk about our savior, Jesus Christ.

As we head into another holiday weekend, I encourage you to check out Unbroken. Also, take a moment to reflect on the many freedoms that we enjoy because years ago men like Louis Zamperini fought and died in wars against tyranny.

Mere Anarchy

Could current events be dire portents of THE END?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Sound familiar? Yes, that could pretty much describe what is going on in the world today, even though Yeats penned it over 100 years ago. I adore that poem. It is a reminder that – time and time again – history enjoys repeating itself. Civilizations rise and fall. Nations and kingdoms will strive against one another. There are wars and rumors of wars. Plagues and pestilences, famine and earthquakes occur. In response to their questions regarding the end times, Jesus Christ told his apostles that the above were the “beginning of birth pains.” He also said that his followers would be persecuted and wickedness would increase in the world. And the gospel would be preached in the whole world (refer to Matthew 24:3-14.)

All of these things have come to pass, over and over again.

And yet, time marches inexorably on. We are still waiting – impatiently and with ill grace – for the return of our gracious savior. However, he will come in his own good time to wake the world up from its sorrowful history.

In the meantime and in light of the violence and injustice that has happened, is happening – and will continue to happen everyday until Jesus comes back – I find the following verses both instructive and comforting:

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land

Psalm 37:5-9

I might not fully comprehend the rage and pain of those experiencing racism, but I am praying for peace and equality. My heart and prayers go out to all who are suffering right now.

Fear Not

A Christian’s perspective on the coronavirus pandemic

My husband and I traveled to San Diego in February. By some miracle, we avoided infection by the coronavirus, even though we went through four different airports. Naturally, we were aware that the coronavirus was running rampant in China, and that there were already a few cases in the United States. Having a background in science and biology, I was a little concerned, but I admit that I didn’t think much of it. My husband certainly didn’t seem to be worried, and he followed the news more closely than I did.

All the information I heard amounted to this: 1) COVID-19 is an upper respiratory infection like a bad case of the flu that could develop into pneumonia 2) it’s lethality is restricted to the elderly and immunocompromised 3) the media is just trying to get everyone hyped up, as per usual 4) there aren’t many cases in the U.S. and 5) we’ve got this coronavirus thing under control.

“We’ll ride this out, just like we did with SARS and H1N1. This too, shall pass.”

That was the lulling siren song I subscribed to until we returned home from California. Until the reports grew ever more alarming – it was spreading like wildfire in Italy and young people were dying – and people had begun to die here, too. Here. In the invincible U.S. of A.

Far too quickly, this stealthy evil was found to be present and advancing throughout my home state. The peril is among us. If it continued unchecked, there was a real danger of overwhelming our health care system. Social distancing quickly became my new mantra, and I realized that our fragile eggshell society could crack and collapse beneath the weight of this threat. After all, I’ve always believed that – collectively – we Americans are a complacent and arrogant set of entitled brats who require humbling.

What if that is God’s will?

I guess we’ll find out, eventually, won’t we? This too, shall pass. In the meantime, I will trust in God. I pray for all our health care workers and all people in danger of contracting this virus (ahem, i.e. everyone). So far, my family has been spared, and for that I praise God. My husband and I are both still employed and working, and for that I praise God. We still have internet access so that our boys can keep up with their schoolwork, and for that I praise God. I have an outlet in my writing, and for that I praise God.

Throughout all of this, I am thankful for one other thing: so far this disease appears to be sparing young children. God-willing, this will continue to be the case until the end.

I can only pray that during these troubled times we see one another as beloved children of God, instead of as possible sources of contagion and therefore objects to be feared and avoided.

“May you live in interesting times,” indeed! I have always considered that saying as both a curse and a blessing. However, there is much to learn and much to be thankful for. There are opportunities for Christians to shine a light into the Stygian darkness.

Some words of comfort

Our savior is a risen Lord who has conquered death – namely, the fear of death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior from sin need have no fear of death, the sinful world, or the devil. God has promised us that this is the case, and he is a God who keeps His promises. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to read the entire Bible and point out a single instance where God made a promise and did not eventually deliver the goods. Keep in mind that we are creatures bound by time but that God is eternal.

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He took up our weaknesses and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:17 (After Jesus heals a man with leprosy, a centurion’s servant, and many other people)

In all things, God’s will is done and it is good. That is a bitter pill to swallow in times like these, when we look at the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases online and grow even more anxious and afraid. It might seem like God has abandoned us, but He has not. Our prayers for Him to take away this horrible new evil that spreads so efficiently via asymptomatic carriers seem to fall on deaf ears. However, this is not the case. God is always listening. He is not a wishing well, but He always answers our prayers…in His time and according to His good purpose. Meanwhile, our loving Father wants us to keep talking with Him and read His messages to us in the Bible. This is an excellent time to lay your fears down at the feet of Jesus in prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

Good health is a blessing from God. Our personal health is neither a prize for us to obsess and fret over nor is it a possession to abuse in debauchery. God gave us the precious endowment of good health for use in benefiting others, not only ourselves. If you remain healthy and symptom-free, praise God! And then, maybe instead of hiding inside of your fortress built of 200 rolls of toilet paper with your 14 bottles of hand sanitizer, you could be looking for ways to help others less fortunate than yourself. At the very least, you could donate a few of those containers of hand sanitizer to your local hospital or clinic.

In every way I gave you an example that, by working hard like this, we need to help the weak and to remember the words that the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

We are not in control. It was all just an illusion that we cultivated while things were going well. The fact is: we never were in control. God is and always has been in control of the universe that He lovingly created. It is human beings in their sinful arrogance that wrecked everything and brought death into God’s perfect creation. We have only ourselves to blame for this pestilence. Fortunately, despite our continually rebellious and arrogant nature, our loving God had a plan to redeem us all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

And finally, one of our pastors preached last Sunday on Psalm 42 & 43. I suggest you visit our church’s website and watch his sermon.

And here are the Psalms:

An Exile’s Prayer: Why Are You Cast Down?

Heading

For the choir director. A maskil by the Sons of Korah.

Longing for the Temple

As a doe pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and appear before God?
My tears have been food for me day and night,
while people are saying to me all day,
“Where is your God?”

I am overcome by my emotions
whenever I remember these things:
    how I used to arrive with the crowd,
    as I led the procession to the house of God,
    with loud shouts of thanksgiving,
    with the crowd celebrating the festival.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for salvation from his presence.

Remembrance of the Lord

My God, my soul is depressed within me.
Therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
from the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your rapids.
All your breakers and your waves have swept over me.
By day the Lord commands his mercy,
and at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go around mourning because of oppression by the enemy?”
10 It is like breaking my bones when my foes taunt me.
All day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”

Refrain

11 Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

Psalm 43

A Plea for Vindication

Judge me justly, O God,
and plead my case against an ungodly nation.
Rescue me from the deceitful, wicked man.
I know you are God, my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go around mourning
    because of oppression by the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth.
Let them guide me.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and gladness.
Then I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

An uplifting message from neighborhood kids.