Saturday, March 27, 2010

NO PIT IS SO DEEP... (Romans 8:31-39)

(Romans 8:31-39)  

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 
As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been teaching my Year 9 pupils (13-14 year-olds) about the Holocaust – the unspeakable tragedy in recent history in which up to six million Jewish people and around four million others are believed to have died as a result of the deliberate policies of European governments.

My students experience mixed emotions during this series of lessons: they are regularly torn between horror, morbid fascination, and an uplifting sense of the courage and endurance people can be capable of when their world falls apart. And the part of the learning experience that always grips them is a powerful and moving film called “The Hiding Place”, which is based in the autobiography of Corrie ten Boom.

As the story opens, Corrie is running a large network of Christian children’s clubs, and works alongside her father Caspar and sister Betsie in the family business – a watch and clock repair shop in the Dutch city of Haarlem. When the Nazis take power in the country and start rounding up the Jews for deportation to the death camps, the Ten Boom family's faith leads them to form a Christian underground movement, using their home, their shop and their many contacts around the city to smuggle Jewish fugitives safely out of the country.

Of course they know from the outset that it will only be a matter of time before they are caught, and that in all likelihood they will die at the hands of the Nazis. And indeed they are soon betrayed, and taken off to concentration camps where every one of the family except Corrie herself pays the ultimate price for their rebellion. But the amazing thing about this story is that even the teenagers who watch the film come away from the end of it uplifted rather than depressed. Because while it naturally has harrowing moments, it is a story not of defeat but of victory, not of despair but of dynamic hope even when things seem hopeless. And the key to the film, the recurring message that comes through time and time again, is the passage of Scripture set out above.

These exact verses are the theme of the Bible study the family is working on together as troops gather outside their home, and it is just as a Nazi officer breaks down the front door that Caspar ten Boom is reading aloud these inspiring and timely words of comfort: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Of course the family need to keep this magnificent thought with them as they are separated from their loved ones, intimidated, starved, beaten or worked to the death from exhaustion. But the miracle that unfolds as we follow Corrie and Betsie's experiences in the Ravensbruck concentration camp is that the more they suffer, the more they are convinced that there must be a higher purpose to their suffering. Their hope rubs off onto others, expanding the borders of the Kingdom of Heaven, as coincidence after apparent coincidence reinforces the evidence that God is at work even in the hellish confines of Ravensbruck.

There are at least three levels on which these awesome words from Romans 8 were given meaning in the story of the Ten Boom family:

  • Firstly, it was the knowledge of the unconquerable love of God in Christ Jesus that challenged them to risk their lives for others in the first place, and should likewise challenge each one of us to show our love to others in our homes and workplaces.
  • Secondly, it was this same knowledge of unconquerable love that gave them hope and a sense of peace throughout their own ordeals of suffering – a thought that may help those of us here to transcend whatever painful experiences may be present in our own lives.
  • And thirdly, it was this self-same confidence in Christ’s unconquerable love that enabled Corrie to look back on her experiences without bitterness, and over the rest of her long life to travel the world, visiting over 60 countries, preaching a message of hope, trust and (above all) forgiveness.

As you read these words, struggling with who knows what hurts or resentments, it is my prayer that you may clearly visualise Christ’s body broken for us and his blood spilled for us, and that you may feel an overwhelming sense of his loving, living presence. And as you feel him draw close to you, may you be given the same strength that was given to Corrie and Betsie: to take a risk for the benefit of others, to triumph over pain and loss, and freely to forgive as he has forgiven us.

Finally, if anyone does find these words an encouragement; if their implicit challenge to show Christ’s love to others leads to a change of path in our lives; if their reminder of his presence helps us to find peace in our darkest hour; if their power to heal our memories lifts off our shoulders a long-lasting burden of anger, then God grant that we may tell others. Our stories of the power of the living Word of God to change lives have extraordinary power to draw people towards a saving faith of their own.

That was exactly the realisation that Betsie ten Boom, came to in the last days before she died of cold and exhaustion in Ravensbruck. It was her last words that inspired her more famous sister Corrie to the lifelong evangelistic ministry that she embarked on after the War, and these words were a direct response to the verses from Romans 8 that had inspired them: “We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us because we were here."

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