“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
– Hebrews 11:1
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
After the tragic and frightening events in Charlottesville last summer, I decided to learn as much as I could about the rise of the National Socialists in Germany in the years running up to World War II. I did a series of lectures about it at church and have continued my personal exploration reading a number of books about mostly ordinary people who had to deal with this darkness that disrupted the world and ended so many lives and caused such deep suffering. The books I have read are both fiction and non-fiction, but all depict ordinary people dealing with a world gone mad that they cannot escape. Truly frightening.
It has been a fascinating journey with a very telling theme that runs throughout these books. That theme is faith. I am not talking about the clean, get up on Sunday, well ironed and brushed, go to church kind of faith but rather the persistent nudging of resilience that these people did not let go of. All of the stories are incredible whether it was about a Jewish family trying to survive wartime Poland or a German fighter pilot who ferried a very badly damaged American bomber across Germany. None of the stories are nice Sunday School fodder. They are all gritty life and death stories where faith was real, and faith was all these people had.
I am reading one now about Christian missionaries who got caught in the Dutch East Indies when the Japanese invaded. It is called Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose. It is written with a kind of positivity that I would be most suspicious of if I did not know what she went through. I do not cotton to that brand of Christianity that does not take the presence of evil seriously. I know that “aw shucks” approach because that is where I come from. In the Midwest it is believed that “nice” fixes everything. And the way this woman writes she sounds just like she believes it. And in fact, the writer grew up in Iowa. However, this woman’s faith was not just nice. In the end it proved to be fierce and inspiring.
To begin with I was so very impressed that she would be in the East Indies (Indonesia today) at all. She felt called to be a missionary (with her husband) to people so remote there was hardly any way to get to them and once they got there life was primitive at best. The challenges were myriad. And my first reaction was to be amazed that they would want to do this and then did it. Yes, we are much more sophisticated and cynical today and have a certain skepticism about the mission’s field. At least I do but I could not question the conviction of these missionaries. The faith they had in their mission and their God was incredible. If we had even a mustard seed of that we could bring world peace, today.
Their lives were as difficult as they could be and then the Japanese showed up. And again, this tragedy is told in the speak of one who lived by the signs and presence of God. Even in the worst situations the Bible is quoted, prayers are said, and an effort at good cheer is maintained. What a powerful weapon to combat all that afflicts us, but we hardly ever get there unless we are desperate. That is too bad because our lives could be much different, and the world could be transformed if we lived as if God was very present. I believe that I am a faith filled person, but I am not at all sure I could have lived and survived and thrived as she did. Hers is a story worth telling again and again.
Tim Ives is the minister at the Scarborough Presbyterian Church. He is also a New York State licensed Psychoanalyst in private practice in Bedford Hills, New York.