Sarah Weinstein was 11 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Sarah, an American, was living in the Philippines where her father was working. Japan was on a mission to conquer and rule all of Southeast Asia, and now, since America’s Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor, an invasion of the Philippines seemed inevitable. Sarah’s father thought about quitting his job and getting back to the states, but did not do so in time. The Japanese did invade and conquer the Philippines, and then, families like the Weinstein’s were unable to leave. They were put into prison camps for no one knew how long.
Sarah Weinstein told her story for a 2007 PBS documentary on World War II. She described the grief and suffering of those three years of her life spent in that Japanese prison. Conditions were crowded, food was scarce, and disease was rampant. Many of her friends and neighbors died of disease, starvation, or despair. All lived with constant hunger and unending boredom. All day, every day, there was very little to eat and nothing to do.
Worst of all, they lived with terrible uncertainty. They were in the dark about everything. They had no contact with the outside world. They did not know how the war was going. They had no idea if they would ever be rescued. Would the Japanese win? Had they perhaps already won? What then? Would they be stuck there forever? Or, would the United States defeat the Japanese on the seas and then return to retake the Philippines; and if so, what then? Would the Japanese allow the prisoners to be freed, or, would they kill them all before retreating? This is not to even mention the fact that they knew nothing about their loved ones back in the states. These civilian prisoners had constant physical suffering and unrelenting emotional distress day after day after day, with nothing to look forward to and no end in sight. They might be liberated tomorrow, they might be killed tomorrow, or, they might just remain prisoners of the Japanese until one by one they all starved to death.
Then one day occurred a most wonderful event. An American plane flew overhead and dropped thousands of pieces of paper. All waited and watched with great excitement and anticipation and the papers floated to the earth. People grabbed the pages out of the air and began to read the great news. The Americans were winning the war, it said, and Japanese forces were retreating all around the Pacific. Hold on, it said, their liberators were on the way, and they would be there soon.
Those pieces of paper changed everything, even though in their outward circumstances nothing had changed. They were still in the prison camp, they were still hungry, the Japanese guards were still in control, and people were still dying. The physical suffering remained unchanged. But there was an incredible change in their hearts and their hopes and their spirits. On that afternoon, Sarah Weinstein said that they were all on an emotional high like she would never experience again in her life. In a moment, their despair turned into hope, the darkness was turned into light, their ignorance was turned into knowledge, and they had their lives and futures back. They were still not out of danger, but in their joy they forgot even that. They were filled with hope. Everything was different. They knew they would be going home.
All that was accomplished by mere words on a page– but those words were backed up by the power of what had, during the war, become the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America. The prisoners now knew that someone was coming for them, and they would be able to be free and live again.
The Bible can be seen as nothing more than mere words on a whole bunch of pages. But those words are backed up by the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe; and that Lord says to you on those pages, that someone is coming, someone is coming to help you, to save you, to free you from the bondage to sin and death, and to take you home; someone who will change everything for you. The changes might not all come right away, and will not come all at once, but, says the Bible, change is on its way, there is a better day coming, a better home ahead, an eternal home. Now, you can live in hope and not fear.
When you think about it, without those words on the pages of the Bible, our situation is very similar to the situation of Sarah Weinstein, and all those prisoners of war. We all suffer in this life to varying degrees; friends and neighbors are always dying all around us; and we, like Sarah in the camp, do not know if we are going to be here for a long time, or if our time will end tomorrow. Without what the Bible tells us, we have no idea what will happen to us when our time here is done. Do we go on to some other place, and is that place better or worse? Or, is our time here all there is, with no where else or nothing else to look forward to? We live with all the same uncertainty as those prisoners, and many people endure daily suffering even worse than those prisoners. The only thing we have that those prisoners did not have is more short-term opportunities. We have the freedom to do many things and we need not face the unbearable boredom that those prisoners faced. We can go to work. We can turn on the TV. We can get in the car and go places, we can read, play games, or shop. All that can keep our minds off of our hopeless and uncertain situation. But without God, life is uncertain, and it is, in the long run, quite hopeless.
The words on the pages of your Bible change everything. Our outward circumstances may not yet change, and things may even get worse for us; but the promise remains. So hold on, keep the faith, and stay hopeful. Someone is coming for you, someone who loves you and cares for you and will give you all the best. It won’t be long.
Sarah Weinstein spent three long and difficult and painful years as a prisoner of war. But then she was freed, and she has lived a lifetime since then. She can now look back at those war years with a certain detachment, with gratitude, and can even remember some happy memories of the time. She now has a whole different perspective on that time. Those who believe in Jesus will one day, far into eternity, look back on our brief time here in this life with a new perspective, and all kinds of things that seem to matter a great deal now, will no longer matter even a little bit. We will have received our release and the fulfillment of our hopes.
Deuteronomy 32:71 — They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.
John 6:63b — …(Jesus said), “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”
John 6:68 — Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”