The Hiding Place – ‘She risked everything for the sake of others’.
Corrie ten Boom – Hodder & Stoughton
Available from Christian Bookshop Ossett, Price £7.99 + P&P
The Hiding Place is the famous story of a courageous Dutch family who sheltered Jews from the Nazis in the Second World War. The book is narrated by Corrie ten Boom, a most unlikely heroine – a middle-aged spinster by the time the war broke out, who lived with her sister Betsie and her elderly father, helping in the family watch-making business. Their quiet, ordinary lifestyle was shattered by the war, as they found their quiet, Christian integrity landing them in situations of astonishing difficulty.
This book is well-written and easy to read, and it gives a lively sense of what the times were like – the excitement of defying the Nazis, the fear of being caught, the terrible humiliations which they endured, the sparks of humour in their astonishing situations, and all along, the hope in God which kept them going.
Although it would not be possible to endorse everything that Corrie ten Boom believed, or did, or wrote, there are still several reasons in favour of reading this book.
For one thing, because it shows ordinary Christians acting in extraordinary circumstances, trying to live obediently while evil reigned and atrocities were being committed on every hand.
Today we look back to the 1930s and 1940s as another time-period in history, and observe as a historical process how Nazi totalitarianism took over Europe, but The Hiding Place gives us a vivid, personal eye-witness account of how this Christian family survived in real life, in concrete circumstances of ruthless violence, brutality, and godlessness.
There is a very clear belief in God’s providence – that God rules and over-rules even in the greatest wickedness. On several occasions Corrie shows how she had to be utterly dependent on God’s guidance – minute by minute and second by second, in order not to say or do something which would stupidly give away their secrets and put many people’s lives at risk. It is striking too how Corrie and especially Betsie developed the habit of seeing God’s good hand in everything, and seeking to thank him even when things seemed unbearably bleak. There is also a clear attempt to obey that most difficult of commands – to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.
Another reason for reading this book is because it is a case study in honouring the Jews, God’s ancient people.
From the way that Corrie describes the early months of the war, it becomes clear that her father’s natural reaction, as a Christian, was to treat the Jews in his neighbourhood with respect and love. One aspect of the notorious wickedness of the Nazis was their outrageous anti-Semitism, their groundless hatred of the Jewish people. Today, there are many political issues connected with the Israeli state, and Christians’ opinions differ about the right political solutions to these issues. But it is a disgrace for any Christian to be anti-Semitic, to bear any ill-will towards Jews as individuals or as a people. We should never forget that the Christian Saviour is the Jewish Messiah – we should long for the day when Jews and Christians will join together in recognising Jesus as ‘the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the living God,’ the Saviour of the world.
Corrie and her family were betrayed to the Nazis because of their love and care for the persecuted Jews. Jews would turn up on their doorstep after having been beaten and chased from their own homes, and Corrie and her family took them in every time. They built a special secret room in their house for some of them to hide in, and others they smuggled away to safety. When the Nazis caught up with the ten Boom family, they suffered greatly for this. They were beaten, imprisoned, put in concentration camps, and both Betsie and their father died as a result of this abuse. But there is never any doubt that they were doing the right thing by sheltering these Jews in this time of need.
A third reason for reading this book is because it will force you to think hard about difficult ethical questions.
In times of calm and peace, it is perfectly easy to resolve that we will live morally – I would never tell a lie! I would never let the innocent suffer! When saw we thee an hungered, or a stranger, or naked, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?! But in real life, when it suddenly becomes a crime to harbour a Jew, or treat a fellow-prisoner with courtesy, there is often a struggle even for a saved sinner to know how to obey God in every situation.
There are incidents in this book where you will wonder whether the person really did the right thing. (You need to read the book to find out – there’s no space to give examples here!) We know that we must obey the moral law always – God’s holy providence does not include circumstances where the only option is to sin – but sometimes good people fail to have the wisdom, or the courage, or the trust, to follow the Lord fully. In these situations, we cannot condone their sin, but neither can we judge them too harshly, or easily assume that we would do better in their circumstances. These puzzles are thrown up in The Hiding Place and should make us think, and repent, and pray for God’s people to be strengthened, and seek grace for ourselves.
Finally, this book is worth reading because it should prompt us to steel ourselves to live in a thoroughly Christian way in our own personal circumstances.
It is interesting to see that Corrie and many other people were wholly unprepared for the horrors of Nazism. They did not believe how serious the situation was in Germany, and they certainly did not expect the Netherlands to be crushed under the same ruthless ideology. They were not particularly brave people, not particularly clever, not particularly special in any way – except that they trusted God. They were sinners saved by grace, and the God who saved them also strengthened them and looked after them.
So this book provides us with evidence that ordinary, unremarkable believers can be equipped by the Lord with grace and strength to live in a God-honouring way, in their everyday circumstances and even when things become exceptionally difficult.
[A00026 – 06/04/2017]