For the Other World

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14.

Times looked dark for Esther and her people. She had become queen, but all Jews were marked to die. And she was a Jew.

Our days seem dark too. In America, Christians’ freedom to speak truth is under attack. In other places, Christians, as well as Jews, are marked to die as Esther and her people were. Many die for their faith.

“For such a time as this” is a phrase that’s been repeating itself. Why are we here? And why now?

It’s a question that perhaps a Nazi’s brother also once asked himself.

In Germany of the 1930s and ’40s, Hermann Goering was a terror. As Hitler’s right-hand man, he held the power of life and death in his hands. For Jews, his word meant death.

His brother Albert risked all to undo Hermann’s work.

Albert Goering was in his place for such a time as those days. He was once arrested for helping a Jewish woman whom SA soldiers taunted and beat before a jeering crowd. Upon learning his identity, the arresting officers immediately released him.

So Albert wrote letters and demanded that prisoners be freed. He used family stationery and signed his missives simply “Goering”. The singular name alone held the power of freedom.
He became bolder. He saved many.

But he died in poverty. Allied forces didn’t believe he acted honorably. Just recently, a documentary filmmaker learned about Albert’s work to save Jews and tells his story.

Many Christians in America are downhearted. Our culture’s decline continues. But we can ask ourselves. Why are we here and why now?

We are here because we are meant for “such a time as this.” We are here for this day to work in our time. In this day. In this place. And, like Albert Goering, our work may not provide a result we see on this side of heaven.

Such a possibility occurred to Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the same period. The Gestapo had hounded Bonhoeffer’s ministry into virtual oblivion, so he got a job with the Abwehr, a rival Nazi organization that dissenters had infiltrated. (Eric Metaxas compares the rivalry to what we might see in the United States today between the CIA and the FBI (369).)

Undercover as an Abwehr agent, Bonhoeffer had the freedom to travel and conduct ministry, albeit much more privately than he would prefer. In the meantime, he continued his work as a member of the conspiracy that would twice attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

But also in the meantime, the circle where he could share his true views and the work he was doing (that would not fully manifest itself until after his death) had shrunk to very few people.

Many of Bonhoeffer’s faithful associates could only infer that he had sold out to the Nazis (377). Metaxas says the situation “represented [a] ‘death’ to self for [Bonhoeffer] because he had to surrender his reputation in the church (376).

Imagine that. We Christians pride ourselves on our testimonies. We consider it crucial that others perceive us as faithful Christians.

Perhaps we might admit we do so to a wrongful degree of pride. Bonhoeffer sacrificed what other people thought of him for the sake of how God (and history) would ultimately view his work.

He gave up his place in community to secure a right conscience toward eternity.  

The early Church had the same view toward maintaining a right conscience. Roman society knew Christians by their love and trampled them in persecution because they spoke truth without compromise. But it was those very Christians who turned the world upside down.

How would we act if we found ourselves in the throes of persecution? What if our world suddenly became dangerous for us and even for those we argue with–over culture, over politics, over faith?

Whom would we be willing to sign our names to save? Whom would we love enough to help? How much would we care what others think about us?

We work in this world. But the work we do is for another one.

“You know plain enough there’s somethin’ beyond this world; the doors stand wide open. ‘There’s somethin’ of us that must still live on; we’ve got to join both worlds together an’ live in one but for the other.'”
Sarah Orne Jewett, from “The Foreigner

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Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Freedom No One Can Take Away

“There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?” (161) 

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presents Ivan, a man yearning to be released from the Soviet gulag. Near the end of the one day the book depicts, Ivan has a conversation with Alyosha, a Christian whose joy defies the prison atmosphere.

In their exchange, Ivan acknowledges the existence of God but he’s seen corruption in the church. Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail.

Only the faithful pay a price.

As the conversation continues, Ivan questions the power of prayer. “However much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch. You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.”

What Alyosha says in response is surprising. Stunning, in fact.

“Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds” (163).

Now there’s a thought that seldom creeps into the minds of American Christians. For more than two centuries, America has been the land where faith is free. There is little if any cost. We only see advantages to our freedom, never disadvantages.

Right now religious freedom in America hangs in the balance between two ways of thinking.  

We are not quite one vote away from the gulag. But we may be closer than we realize to losing our freedom to speak and write, to proclaim Christ without cost. The threat that stands in the shadows now is our right to stand on the moral ground shaped through the blood and tears of martyrs, missionaries, visionaries, and great heroes who came before us.

One was William Wilberforce, who devoted his life to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor who resisted the Nazis in Germany. One of his co-conspirators was Claus von Stauffenberg, who planned the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life to save a prisoner he never met before. Mother Teresa cared for the poorest of the poor. The list goes on and dates back to the earliest days of the Church.

These heroes lived in different times; they faced different challenges. All of them made great sacrifices for their faith. Those who lived with less freedom than we know still spoke, still acted. 

Someday, religious freedom may be no more in America. But make no mistake, we will still be free. We will still be able to speak, write, petition, proclaim. The only difference is that, then, doing so will cost us.

I remember something a friend quoted to me by Allen Boesak many years ago: “When we go before Him, God will ask, “Where are your wounds?” And we will say, “I have no wounds.” And God will ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

Our times are troubled. There are reasons to worry. But there are more reasons not to worry.

Alyosha said, “Of all earthly and mortal things Our Lord commanded us to pray only for our daily bread” (162).

Ask for daily bread. Thank Him when it comes.
And leave the rest to Him.

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Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Freedom Nobody Can Take Away

“There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?” (161) 
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presents Ivan, a man yearning to be released from the Soviet gulag. Near the end of the one day the book depicts, Ivan has a conversation with Alyosha, a Christian whose joy defies the prison atmosphere.
In their exchange, Ivan acknowledges the existence of God but he’s seen corruption in the church. Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail. Only the faithful pay a price. Continue reading “Freedom Nobody Can Take Away”