PostHumous Book Review: The Mundane Miracles of the Hiding Place

PostHumous Book Reviews: Personal reflections on books worthy of a re-read.

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Corrie Ten Boom's now classic autobiography The Hiding Place recounting her time working as part of the Dutch underground during World War II and her enduring of Nazi prisons and concentration camps with her sister Betsie is a surprising book on a number of fronts. 

In many ways what is most remarkable about the it is how unremarkable Corrie's story is—it is the account of a group of incredibly normal and almost boring people, humble people of faith attempting to live out their lives in faithfulness to God and their neighbors. The power of her story, however, is found in what these normal people decide to do when placed in dire and extraordinary circumstances. And thus, interspersed all throughout The Hiding Place are ever increasing miracles of the mundane. They are miracles to be sure, instances where God meets people and the truly miraculous occurs, but they are low-key miracles bound up in the ordinariness of life. Corrie ten Boom's story has been inspirational to millions but it also offers a direct challenge: Will we allow God to be present and move in our everyday lives? Even when we do not seem to be heroes or extraordinary people can God use us to bring about the miraculous?

Let's take a look at a few of The Hiding Place's miracles, some more mundane than others.

To start with, The Hiding Place is a preachy book that somehow manages not to be preachy. This entirely has to do with all Corrie and her family endured. Sure there are lots of little teaching moments, little prototypical "Chicken Soup For The Soul" inspirational anecdotes, but we believe Corrie fully because of everything she had to endure. And unlike the Chicken Soup brand of inspiration Corrie never trivializes suffering, never succumbs to the "and everything is going to turn out alright in the end and life will get back to normal again" temptation to wrap up her story into a neat little package. Instead, throughout the book she continually never understands why all this evil is happening to her, her country, and the Jewish people. Many questions go unanswered, but with Scripture as her everpresent anchor (as in she reads it numerous times every day, both by herself and in groups) she learns to rejoice in all things (Phil 4:4) and rest in God's will, even when evil seems to envelop their very existence:

There are no "ifs" in God's kingdom. I could hear her [Betsie's] soff voice saying it. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don't let me go mad by poking about outside it. (from chapter 15 "The Three Visions")

In instance after instance we get these little mini-sermons, little vignettes of how Scripture challenged, convicted, shaped, and rescued her, and every single one of them rings true, such as "Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone" from 1 Thessalonians 5:14, reads entirely different from within the terror of a concentration camp, than say the safety of one's affluent home in a time of peace. Nothing is cliche or overly spiritualized. When we allow the Scriptures to cease being pithy nuggets of advice, detached philosophy, or inspirational moral narratives as Corrie did, but to instead speak into every aspect of our lives, a miracle has occurred, the Spirit of God has met us in the everyday.

The next set of miracles in The Hiding Place fall into the category of "the grace of the unknown", of those things which happen to us that we do not understand in the moment and perhaps never will, where God protects from something greater than we can bare. Little moments like this happened to Corrie throughout her life, especially when she was younger, which she argues prepared her for all the moments later on where she was pushed to the limits of herself.  Sometimes it is better to not understand. Instead we are called to trust in God's faithfulness and the plan he has for us. From being exposed to death as a child, to nearly dying from a piece of shrapnel, to her family members being taken from her, and even to the miracles she witnessed the lesson Corrie learned was (said in the words of her sister): "Don't try too hard to explain it, Corrie. Just accept it as a surprise from a Father who loves you." (from chapter 13 "Ravensbruck") Sometimes it is best to accept our limitations as finite people. There is a rest in knowing when we no longer have to depend on ourselves, but instead can simply cling to God.

But to my mind the biggest miracle of The Hiding Place occurs in the relationships Betsie and Corrie form in the concentration camps. Here they see God move more than in any other way. The miracles of hiding hundreds of Jews, the replenishing vitamin bottle, the numerous times Corrie is allowed to keep her Bible, the detestable fleas in their barracks which cause their guards to keep their distance from the prisoners, allowing them near absolute freedom to hold Bible studies and times of worship—these are all testaments to God's sustaining provision. However, nothing is more astounding to me than when a few grace-filled individuals proclaim God's good news in word and deed and it softens the hearts of those living in fear and bitterness and torment.

We see this happening everywhere Corrie and Betsie go. Their rooms in the prison camps get organized and become cleaner. People learn to joke with each other again, they find joy in simple activities, and their humanity—which was being systematically crushed out of them—began to be restored through love, patience, and devoted worship toward God. Instead of a group of women barely surviving and trying to grasp every little bit for themselves, they began to let go and consider the needs of others:

"Lord Jesus," [Betsie] said aloud, "send Your peace into this room. There has been too little praying here. The very walls know it. But where you come, Lord, the spirit of strife cannot exist..."

The change was gradual, but distinct. One by one the angry sounds let up...[the prisoners began to lightheartedly joke with each other and help each other]...

A ripple of laughter widened around the room at this. I lay back on the sour straw and knew there was one more circumstance for which I could give thanks. Betsie had come to Barracks 28. (from chapter 13 "Ravensbruck")

Betsie, who did not let herself be closed off from God or people despite all the suffering she was going through, Betsie, a frail and dying conduit of the love of God became a dynamic crusader of change. Even in the most terrifying place on earth the light of Christ was allowed to shine and transform a people. When it would have been so much easier to despair or turn to bitterness, as a work of the Holy Spirit she remained open to God's love and God's will. She did not let her pain and misfortune become an avenue to a cold heart, a fearful disposition, or a self-centered mode of primitive survival. 

This is a miracle greater than any healing or unexplainable provision, as great as those are. It is the miracle of God moving on the human heart when and where it would not seem possible; of showing love where it was thought only hatred could exist, a miracle of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. Corrie and Betsie's story is remarkable for how small it is, a story of understated perseverance, of seeing God move in one's own life and seeing that extend outward to others exponentially. This love and perseverance and grace continued on after the war when Corrie returned home and began the process of creating homes for those who suffered during the war, both those who endured the prison camps as well those who betrayed their country, joined the Nazis and thus needed a healing of a whole other kind. My prayer for myself and for all of us is that we could be so mundane, that God could move in our lives in such "normal" ways.

Other PostHumous Book Reviews:
"The Time Travelers Wife and Sanctification" by guest writer Dan Leman
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