It is as I am reading Unbroken that I suddenly feel a rage toward a people group I don’t even know.
Unbroken, a book by Laura Hillenbrand, is an epic story of the Pacific side of World War II. It is a tribute to brilliant writing and detailed research. The story focuses on the life of Louis Zamperini and his experience during World War II. Zamperini is an Olympic runner and a war hero and the book took seven years to write. The result is extraordinary.
It’s while I am reading about the horrors of the POW camps where Zamperini was held captive that I begin to feel the stirrings of hate.
The documented evil perpetrated on prisoners of war is indescribable, and yet the author describes it. The inhumane treatment at the hands of prison guards, the worst being a lower level officer of discipline, strips the prisoners of all dignity as they are starved, beaten, and forced into submission.
But what is fascinating is what I see happening in my own heart. None of this was done to me, none of this was done to family members, yet, I find myself hating these men. I hate the prison guards. I hate their arrogance. I hate their treatment of fellow man. I hate the starvation, exhaustion, and disease that was rampant in the camps and perpetrated by evil guards.
The frightening reality is that I begin judging an entire people group by the actions of prison guards, who – themselves humiliated and degraded – were inflicting the same on these prisoners.
I find myself condemning all Japanese people because I am reading a book that describes the awful realities of war. I forget about my friend Lara, whose father is Japanese. I forget about the many Japanese friends we made in Chicago during our first year of marriage. I forget that the civilian population of Japan suffered greatly during the war, two of their cities bombed into oblivion. I forget all that. My heart is lost in hate and rage.
I toss and turn in my anger and rage and halfway through the night, I realize I am a perfect example of the anatomy of a hate. And is this not what I am troubled about with Franklin Graham’s public statement about Muslims? That he has judged a billion people based on the actions of a few? As I point my finger at him, I feel fingers pointing back at me and I hate it. This was not the intent of the author. This was the result of my reaction to the words I was reading. The intent of the author was to show the extraordinary power of the human spirit, the resilience of the human will to live and to forgive.
I think about the human heart and how it can be influenced. I think about stories that come down through generations of people – stories that cause hate and bitterness to breed or offer the opportunity to show forgiveness and resilience. Stories of slavery; of the Armenian genocide; of the Nazi death camps; of the Spanish Inquisition; of partition between India and Pakistan. They all have the same thing in common – violence and evil perpetrated to large groups of people. And as the stories are told they can breed prejudice and hate. Prejudice and hate left unchecked, unforgiven, lead into years of conflict.
Ultimately this is all about the human heart and its ability to be deceived and influenced. We cannot hope to rid ourselves and our world of prejudice and hate without a change in the human heart. Education can only take us so far – ultimately its about the heart. And no one can change the human heart but the God whose image we bear.
So I stop myself and I ask for forgiveness, for allowing hate to breed in me through the pages of a book. I pray for grace. I pray that I will immediately respond to the voice that offers Truth and Grace, the voice that reminds me we are made in the image of God. And though that image is sometimes distorted beyond recognition, it can be restored to beauty through a God who redeems.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” CS Lewis