Wednesday, August 17, 2011

World Turned Upside Down

Two periods of 20th Century history fascinate me: The Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War II in the 1940s. I guess one reason for my interest is that I heard stories about them from my parents and grandparents. When I was born in the 1940s, both events were fresh on everybody’s mind.

In both cases, many people’s worlds were turned upside down, and many were changed forever by the experience. For some, their world came crashing down with the stock market crash of 1929. For others, it came as their life savings were wiped out by bank failures, or jobs lost, or farms and homes foreclosed, or crops failed (particularly in the “Dust Bowl”), or your main source of food becoming the local soup kitchen, or your home ending up being a shanty in a “Hooverville.” Years went by with little improvement in the economy. The government seemed unable to do anything, despite various initiatives. The future looked bleak.

In Europe, people’s worlds were turned upside down by Nazi occupation. What you once took for granted was now forbidden. You feared every knock on the door. Friends and neighbors mysteriously disappeared in the night. You heard rumors, but they were too outrageous to be believed. You averted your eyes whenever you passed a soldier or policeman. There was no hope in sight as Nazi armies seemed unstoppable. Was this the “birth pangs” of the End of Days?

My wife and I recently watched a movie made in 1975 called “The Hiding Place,” based on the book by the same name. It is the story of a Dutch family, the ten Booms: Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their father, in occupied Haarlem, Holland. The book is excellent and I highly recommend reading it. If it’s out of print, order a used one on line. In the book and movie, you get a sense of what life was like in a Nazi-occupied country, and you also get a glimpse at the horrors of a concentration camp. The movie isn’t terribly graphic, but you can certainly get a sense of what camp life was like. Without spoiling the story for you, the family is arrested and Corrie and Betsie end up in a Nazi work camp (arbeitslager) for women where they essentially worked you to death.

What fascinates me about Corrie and especially Betsie is that they kept their faith in God despite their unthinkable and seemingly hopeless circumstances. They admitted they couldn’t explain why God allowed such terrible things to happen, yet they kept faith in God’s love, even in a work camp. I’m not sure how I would react in such a situation.

Of course you and I do face times when our worlds are turned upside down: loss of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, financial difficulties, a terrible diagnosis, etc. While we might question God – Why me? – hopefully we’ll also look to God for the strength to deal with the situation. We’ll never be able to understand why certain things happen, but we also have to realize that God doesn’t owe us an explanation. That’s where faith comes in: trusting God even when God doesn’t seem trustworthy to us.

We are told time and time again in the Bible that God loves us, and that he will never leave us nor forsake us. That doesn’t mean we will be exempt from the conditions of the world and won’t suffer pain and heartache. What I think it means is that God will have good come out of tragedy, will uphold us during times of trial, and will give us acceptance of those things that won’t be changed. So despite your circumstances, look to God, even if it is hard to do because of the pain.

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