Growing in Christ - Meditation


The Miracle of Forgiveness

September, 2017

Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of the life of Louis Zamperini.  If you have ever felt that you have had more than your share of bad breaks in life, then this book is the cure for you.

Mr. Zamperini was a soldier in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II. His plane crashed in the South Pacific. A number of the crew died in the crash, but Zamperini and two others survived, and managed to climb aboard two small canvas lifeboats. They floated helplessly for about a month with almost no food, surviving by saving rainwater and catching the odd small fish. They were constantly in the presence of sharks.  Finally, almost on the fatal brink of dehydration and starvation, they were spotted by a plane.


Just one problem - it was an enemy plane, which proceeded to strafe them. Amazingly, while the canvas raft had numerous bullet holes, none of the three men were shot. They proceeded to repair the raft with a repair kit, and to pump up the boat.


They kept floating. One of the men died, apparently as much from the mental as well as the physical strain. Finally, the two remaining men saw land. Just one problem - it was enemy - occupied land. No sooner did they land on the beach than they were surrounded by Japanese soldiers. They were taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. This is where the bad luck really began. The Japanese were notoriously cruel to their prisoners. One guard paid particular attention to Zamperini and singled him out for beatings, torture and humiliation.


Zamperini was a prisoner for the rest of the war, over one and a half years. When the war was over he was extremely thin and suffering from dysentery. With medical care and lots of food, however, he recovered from his physical illnesses. With the excitement and joy of the war being over, one would think that he would find nothing but happiness in peacetime.


Just one problem - the war might have been over as between the combatants, but it was still raging in Zamperini's mind. He was plagued by nightmares, anger, and a desire for revenge, particularly against the one Japanese guard who had so cruelly singled him out. He experienced unstable moods and alcoholism. His wife was bewildered by his behavior, to put it mildly, and was on the verge of leaving him.


What happens next is too good to be quickly summarized. The Christian reader - or any reader - will want to read this book in its entirety. He or she will want to savor and enjoy every aspect of the sequence of events that follows.  Suffice to say it ends well.


One of the great themes of the book is that of forgiveness. There is discussion of the story of John 8:1-11, concerning the woman who was about to be stoned to death for adultery.[2] We remember Jesus saying "go, and sin no more." But what on earth can the story of an adulterous woman of two thousand years ago have to do with a soldier in the twentieth century who has been tortured almost to death? Simply this-- in order for them both to live, one had to be forgiven, and the other had to forgive.


Forgiveness has little to do with human reasoning, and everything to do with the mysterious power of God's grace. It is unlikely that Zamperini's heavy heart - his post-war anxieties and burdens - would ever have been relieved had he relied on human will alone. Mere human reasoning and philosophy will not suffice to empower true forgiveness and rebirth.


This is not to suggest that Christian forgiveness should be thought of as a quick and easy therapy. It may well take much time, prayer, counseling and fellowship before spiritual healing well and truly takes place. No doubt there are Christian chaplains in the military who are experienced in this field.


But the true story of Zamperini is dramatic and exciting. It succeeds on so many levels. It is a biography, a military history and a story of a life being changed by Almighty God.


"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"  Romans 3:23.


In faith and fellowship,

Patrick McKitrick

Outreach Canada Ministries

[1] Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption (New York: Random House)2010.

[2] Page 379.