“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” — James 1: 2-3
I just finished reading a remarkable book: UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. If you read it, you know how Hillenbrands’s deft storytelling keeps you reading through even the most difficult stomach-turning chapters. And if you persevered to the end, you know that Louis Zamperini ultimately finds himself in a great place with a long satisfying life.
In short, Unbroken is the story of one of many soldiers in the Pacific sector of World War II who endured unspeakable horrors in Japanese prison camps. When his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, Louis and two others survived aboard two rubberized life rafts with essentially no food or water for 47 days. The few small water cans ran out in a couple of days. The only chocolate bar they had was meant to be shared and rationed over as many days as possible, but when one young survivor ate the whole thing, Louis forgave him. Louis demonstrated amazing resourcefulness during the long float, while the men neared starvation and exposure. They collected water when it rained and caught birds that landed on their heads. They dodged sharks and even ate one. One man kept screaming, “We’re going to die!” and was often despondent, but he was treated with grace as the three continued the survival test. Not many of us could have endured this ordeal. At some point in the long float, Louis turned to God and prayed. In fact at one point he had a vision of heavenly beings singing only to him.
I continue reflecting on this book. Especially in light of James’ admonition to persevere. Verse 4 says: Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Louis and the others lacked everything. Yet they persevered. They even used their knowledge to estimate precisely when and where they might drift ashore. God surely knew what trials Louis and Phil (the third man perished) would experience next. The horrors these men faced in the next two years would make the raft days seem like paradise in comparison. Would Louis have prayed his way through those horrors if he had not learned to pray while on the raft? Will we be ready for the next test if we fail to persevere through our current ones?
God wants us to be mature and complete and this cannot happen until we have persevered through some trials.
Louis survived the war. Then he sank in the difficult trial of learning to live a normal life. His life began to come apart. Though no one was beating him and no sharks attacked, Louis suffered mentally at the hands of the ultimate enemy. He struggled with depression, alcoholism, revenge, and hate. And then God sent a rescue team. Louis had persevered through much, and with the help of Billy Graham and his wife he began to see God’s protective hand even in the worst of his experiences. A light came on. He remembered the visions of singing angels while on the raft. He remembered his prayers. He remembered promising to live for God if he survived.
I believe God knew Louis would be an incredible witness one day.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” –James 1: 12
Our trials seem much less trying looking back. And if we reflect honestly, we see that the trial brought some maturity and completeness that we could not have obtained without it.
Thank you, Louis, for your perseverance. You have shown me what perseverance is really about. I hope to meet you one day, in heaven if not before.