Tag Archives: Christian

Book review: The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom

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I’ve just finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and what a wonderful book it has been. Corrie was a Dutch watchmaker during the second world war. The biography of this incredible woman reads like a conversation you might have with your grandfather or some other old, insightful person who seems to ooze wisdom and life experience. The story centers on the the Ten Boom family and its involvement in the Dutch underground movement which aimed to help Jews and those being persecuted by the Germans, with the second half of the book about her time in concentration camps and her rehabilitation work after the war was over.

The book canvases everything from heart-break, poverty and oppression to hope, forgiveness and new beginnings. To read the conversations and thought-life of this remarkable woman opened my eyes to what it must be like to be a person of deep faith in troubling times. And yet what I found most endearing about the book is that she is so honest and human – complete with insecurities and failures. When she is filled with anger towards the Germans and her sister starts praying for them she simply prays: “Oh Lord,” I whispered, “listen to Betsie, not me, because I cannot pray for those men at all.”

I would recommend this book to any Christian who needs to regain perspective on their world. On numerous occasions I was tangibly moved by their Christian responses to unspeakable horrors. Sharing what little they had in concentration camps, praying for their oppressors, and (after the war) rehabilitating prisoners and German soldiers by providing opportunities for forgiveness and healing.

Some quotes from the book:

When she was in solitary confinement:

“And I was not alone much longer: into my solitary cell came a small, busy black ant. I had almost put my foot where he was one morning as I carried my bucket to the door when I realized the honor being done me. I crouched down and admired the marvelous design of legs and body. I apologized for my size and promised I would not so thoughtlessly stride about again. “

When she was being interrogated by a German lieutenant in the concentration camp and was explaining her pre-war Bible study with mentally handicapped people:

“The lieutenant’s eyebrows rose higher and higher. “What a waste of time and energy!” he exploded at last. “If you want converts, surely one normal person is worth all the half-wits in the world!” I stared into the man’s intelligent blue-gray eyes: true National-Socialist philosophy, I thought, tulip bed or no. And then to my astonishment I heard my own voice saying boldly, “May I tell you the truth, Lieutenant Rahms?” I knew it was madness to talk this way to a Nazi officer. But he said nothing so I plunged ahead. “In the Bible I learned that God values us not for our strength or our brains but simply because He has made us. Who knows, in His eyes a half-wit may be worth more than a watchmaker. Or-a lieutenant.”

When Corrie’s family is unexpectedly brought into the concentration camp for the reading of her late father’s will (a requirement of Dutch law that the Nazi’s were oddly unwilling to break), her sister smuggles a package into the prison and surreptitiously gives it to her in the midst of an embrace. When Corrie generously gave away her last Gospel to a fellow inmate the day before, she had no idea that she would be briefly seeing her family the following day and that they would smuggle in an entire Bible for her:

“Swiftly I opened the package that Nollie had pressed into my hand with the first embrace. It was what my leaping heart had told me: a Bible, the entire Book in a compact volume, tucked inside a small pouch with a string for wearing around the neck as we had once carried our identity cards. I dropped it quickly over my head and down my back beneath my blouse. I couldn’t even find words with which to thank her: the day before, in the shower line, I had given away my last remaining Gospel.”

and some other quotes:

“More time passed. I kept my eyes on the ant hole, hoping for a last visit from my small friends, but they did not appear. Probably I had frightened them by my early dashing about. I reached into the pillowcase, took one of the crackers, and crumbled it about the little crack. No ants. They were staying safely hidden. And suddenly I realized that this too was a message, a last wordless communication among neighbors. For I, too, had a hiding place when things were bad. Jesus was this place, the Rock cleft for me. I pressed a finger to the tiny crevice.”

“Perhaps a long, long time. Perhaps many years. But what better way could there be to spend our lives?” I turned to stare at her. “Whatever are you talking about?” “These young women. That girl back at the bunkers. Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes….”

“They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A single meeting might include a recital of the Magnificat in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a sotto-voce chant by Eastern Orthodox women. With each moment the crowd around us would swell, packing the nearby platforms, hanging over the edges, until the high structures groaned and swayed. At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the lightbulb. I would think of Haarlem, each substantial church set behind its wrought-iron fence and its barrier of doctrine. And I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”

“There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s kingdom. I could hear her soft voice saying it. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it.”

“When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. “

Years after she has left the concentration camp and started her rehabilitation centers, Corrie goes back to visit Ravensbruck and finds out something amazing:

“Corrie learned that her own release had been part of a clerical error; one week later all women her age were taken to the gas chamber.”

“What feeds the soul matters as much as what feeds the body.”

Seeing through a glass dimly

“The vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy:
Thine has a great hook nose like thine,
Mine has a snub nose like to mine….
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white”
-William Blake
Phillip Yancey quotes this poem in his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” which I’m reading at the moment. It strikes at something that is so blatant, and yet I forget it all the time: we do not see things as they are, but as we are (cf Anais Nin). We walk around with lenses on our eyes and filters on our ears. We may hear the same words as each other but interpret them differently, or better yet, remember them differently (on that note, see this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman). This is surely what David meant when he said:26“To the faithful you show yourself faithful,to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

27to the pure you show yourself pure,

but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

Is God different to different people? Or do we see the same God differently? I think we do not see God, or the Bible, or each other objectively. Since we are a product of all that we have experienced, we see and interact with everything in light of that fact. You are the product of the people you meet, the books you read, the movies you watch, the courses you study – like a traveler learning new phrases and acquiring new mannerisms, we are far less ‘individual’ than we think we are.

Importantly, this is not just an interesting fact – a little thought experiment to brighten a dreary day, it really is of utmost importance. If I read the Bible differently to you, if I hear the same words of God differently to you, this is a problem. I’m not talking about the legitimate variety of expressions and ways we respond to God, I’m talking about deciding who God is, what his priorities are, and thus what ours should be. These should not be open to wide interpretation. Either God is something or He is not.

I wonder to what extent the Gospel writers were influenced by their own experiences? Their Jewishness, or their medicalness, or simply their personality type. Perhaps some degree of variation is actually what God wants, after all it was Him who chose 4 gospels and not one.

Contemplation and service

“No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due his neighbor; nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life as to neglect the contemplation of God” – Augustine