A Certain Hope in Uncertain Days: 30 Days of Hope-filled Focus
Day 11: Hope for the Hopeless
Romans 5:3-5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Ernest Gordon was one of many British soldiers captured by the Japanese in the battle for Singapore in WW2. Ultimately, he and thousands of other captives were taken to Banpong, Thailand. The Japanese command forced these prisoners into hard—sunrise to sunset—labor in building a 258-mile railway to further the Japanese war effort. They were mistreated and tortured, fed little, and given no medical attention. Work was not going fast enough, so workers were beaten. Many died as a result of torture, beatings, and disease.
Gordon was not a Christian, but during his captivity he saw things that caused him to consider Christ. One such occasion was when a soldier was determined to save his best friend when he became ill. He gave up all his own rations, without telling of his sacrifice, for the benefit of his friend. His sick friend recovered. He himself later died of starvation.
On another occasion, at the end of a day’s work, a guard declared that a shovel was missing. In a fit of uncontrollable rage, he yelled, “All die! All die!” Just as the guard was to begin shooting the captives, a man stepped forward. “I did it,” he said. The Japanese guard slammed the stock of his rifle onto the captive’s head. The captive sank to the ground, dead. When the shovels were counted afterwards, they were all there. The guard had been mistaken. The captive laid down his life for the sake of the others.
These acts of sacrificial love caused some of the prisoners to think. One of the captives was a Christian, but Gordon argued against his faith. He couldn’t understand how God could allow the death of 20 men a day to such ill-treatment. “Why doesn’t God so something?” he asked.
Another incident spoke again to Gordon’s heart. Frequently as the prisoners made their way through the local Thai villages, they would come across yellow-robe Buddhist priests. The philosophy of these priests was non-attachment to the world. If a prisoner dropped at the side of the road, and was obviously dying, they would purpose to ignore him. They demonstrated no concern for the plight of the captives. One day the captives passed through a village where the people, at risk to themselves, gave them food and medicine. Upon inquiry, it was discovered that the village had been evangelized to Christ through the work of a missionary. Gordon was forced to again question the ultimate source of such love.
These three instances, amongst others, ultimately were used by God to draw Gordon into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus. Other prisoners trusted in Christ as well. The prisoners began to hold worship services. They prayed. They created a Bible-lending library. They shared their faith with others. On Christmas day 1943, over 2000 men attended a service. Though captive in a camp, Jesus worked to set them free to worship–their captivity was transformed by numerous acts of faith and sacrifice.
Years following his rescue and release, Ernest Gordon wrote his great spiritual classic, “Miracle on the River Kwai.” The book includes this quote, “I know the depths to which men could sink and the heights to which they could rise. I could speak from the experience of despair, but also of hope; of hatred, but also of love; of man without God, but also of man sustained by God. God in Christ has shared man’s suffering…even that experience which seems to defeat us all, namely, death.” The book ends with this sentence, “He comes into our Death House to lead us through it.”
The activity of sacrificial love by the Spirit-led believer flows ultimately from the One who died on Calvary (Cf. 1 John 4:19; Romans 5:5). Its presence in one’s life gives testimony to the Risen Christ and the greater love He has demonstrated in laying down His life for us (Cf. John 3:16; 1 John 3:16). That we might replicate His self-sacrificial manner is a mysterious and wonderful work of His grace. Apart from Him we can do no such thing (Cf. John 15:5), but by His gracious presence His love can indeed flow through us. What loving word or deed, in obedience, does God have planned for you and me to express this day? May it be done with a finger pointing towards Calvary!