I’m currently preaching through the life of Joseph, and was looking for a quote about thanking God for fleas and then realizing that God used that hardship for good. In the process of looking for it, I saw so many great quotes underlined that I decided to read The Hiding Place again.
Corrie ten Boom died in 1983, on her birthday, 91 years after she died. Hers was a remarkable life in many respects. Many younger Christians have not heard of Corrie, much to their loss.
The Hiding Place starts in an odd place- the 100th anniversary of the family’s watch repair business. They sold watches too, but her father was a renown repairman. At this party, you meet the people that will play key roles in her life story. A great bit of story telling, actually.
She spends some time talking about her family so we might know the ways in which God prepared her for what was to come. What was to come would not be easy. We hear of her parents’ piety and great faith. There are some folksy lessons that make so much sense and will become important later in her life. We learn how her father, despite a poorly managed shop, took in at various times 11 different children and helped raise them to adulthood. And then there the aunts who lived with them. Such a rich heritage that is so uncommon in this age of the nuclear family and the broken family. It was a training ground for helping others in suffering.
We learn about how her young heart was broken by the customs of the day. So she and her sister Betsie remained at home, unmarried, caring for their mother after her stroke, their aunts and their aging father. There was much love in that family.
“How grateful I was now for Father’s insistence that his children speak German and English almost as soon as Dutch.”
What makes the story interesting to me, as a Presbyterian pastor, is their Dutch Reformed heritage (there is a strong sense of sovereignty here in keeping with that heritage). Here in the States, they don’t have a reputation for being the warmest people. But this family was full of warmth and caring towards many. Unlike most Reformed people, her father still thought the Jews were the chosen people. I can’t go with him there, recognizing Christ as the Chosen One the true Israel to whom we must be united whether Jew or Gentile. Even more interesting is the reports of visions, dreams, miracles, special insight and wisdom. Reformed people are usually cessationists. But here we find extraordinary circumstances, and God’s extraordinary grace. These things were not “new revelation” to be believed by all, but God guiding specific people in the midst of great evil that covered the continent. So, for some people, aspects of her story will be hard to believe. Not an altogether bad thing.
“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.”
What happens is World War II. Unlike the first war to end all wars, this time Germany did not honor Holland’s neutrality. They conquered it in a mere 5 days. After a year of occupation, Corrie and Betsie began to help their brother Willem who was a member of the underground. They began to hide Jews and other people that the Germans wanted to imprison or conscript into service. These were 2 women in their 50’s who became key members of the Resistance in Holland. Quite unlikely! They had no thirst for adventure. But they had faith, hope and love.
“This was evil’s hour: we could not run away from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.”
Eventually, the vision she had on the night of the invasion comes true. The home is raided and the whole family is arrested (amazingly, they never found the people hidden there). The most important parts of the network are also picked up and brought to jail in February, 1944. The next 10 months would be filled with unimaginable horrors in a variety of jails, prisons and camps. Her father would die 10 days after their arrest. All but Corrie and Bestsie were released. Eventually they found themselves in a death camp. They would not only face unjust treatment, the sins of others, but also discover the sin in their own hearts.
Here is one of the weaknesses of the book. The time line during the imprisonment. I shouldn’t complain- who can keep track of time in such places. But I kept wondering “how does that fit?”. Perhaps I am cynical after the Mike Warnke debacle. But in the midst of the suffering, we see God sustaining them. For instance, they are able to smuggle a Bible into the camp (later in life she would travel with Brother Andrew, smuggling Bibles into Soviet Bloc nations). They would hold “services” in the barracks. Later she would realize that those cursed fleas kept the guards away which allowed them to read the Scriptures out loud. The women would pray, and they saw the tenor of the barracks, and some of the guards change.
” … 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, Corrie, because we have been here.”
Betsie, who was sickly, was the strong one when it came to faith. She often supported her younger sister, gently admonishing her. It was Betsie who had the vision about having homes for people damaged by the war so they could finding healing for the soul. It was Betsie who told Corrie they would leave the camp before the end of the year. And they did, but in different ways.
What Corrie experienced in those prisons, both the horror and the grace, prepared her for the next stage of her life. She did open homes for healing. She found that forgiveness was the key to healing the soul, and she taught about the forgiveness of God found in Jesus Christ, who died to save sinners. It was something she too had to practice as she would meet former guards. It is something that our world, reeling from numerous genocides, racism and more needs desperately to know.
“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Hers was a remarkable life led by an ordinary woman. She was not a strong personality, a gifted person. She was not an outlier. But she was a prepared instrument who depended on God’s Spirit. That, too, ought to be a lesson to us. It is not our “giftedness” or dynamic personality that matters- but a life surrendered to God no matter where He leads. Sometimes that might be a death camp, but He used even that for good- bringing spiritual life to so many. I hope new generations continue to discover Corrie ten Boom that they might discover her God.