I am posting one more meditation on the amazing life of Louis Zamperini, told in the Laura Hillenbrand book Unbroken and portrayed in the recent movie by the same title. This meditation, written by by Randy Alcorn for his blog at < http://www.epm.org >, tells a bit more of the story of how Zamperini’s spirit was broken not by hardship and suffering, but by the emptiness of a successful and prosperous life that was without God. Alcorn also tells the story of Zamperini’s incredible forgiveness of his cruel captors. Alcorn’s blog was posted January 14, 2015 and was titled From Brokenness and Hate to Redemption and Forgiveness. (For more, go to the three links below by clicking on to the green letters)
One of the most compelling stories told in the past decades is that of Louis Zamperini. He was an Olympic athlete and WWII airman who survived for 47 days on the open ocean; and then 26 months in Japanese POW camps, much of that time enduring torture. Unbroken, the story of Zamperini written by Laura Hillenbrand, is a powerful and remarkable book.
The movie is well done as a portrayal of the human spirit’s will to survive, but it leaves untold (despite the few pictures and words after the movie ends) the true redemptive story that followed Zamperini’s return from captivity. Known as a hero for his incredible survival skills, he was deeply scarred, full of hatred, and plagued by nightmares of “The Bird,” his chief torturer in the camp. The war hero became a carousing alcoholic, abusive to his wife, and neglectful of his young daughter.
In contrast to the “triumph of the human spirit” message, Zamperini did not have in himself what it took to become a whole person, to put his horrific ordeals behind him, and survive in normal life. The key to everything was that he did not know what it meant to be forgiven for his own sins, and therefore could not begin to forgive the Japanese prison guards for the horrific abuses they inflicted on him. While freed from the Japanese prison, he remained imprisoned in his inner man and was as miserable, even more so, in his so-called freedom as he’d been in captivity.
Ironically, in stark contrast to the title Unbroken—which aptly describes part one of the story (the part dramatized in the movie)—to find redemption Louie Zamperini had to become broken. That’s when he came to terms with his sin and found forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Once that happened he said he became free, and never again had his haunting dreams.
Four years after his conversion, Zamperini returned to Japan and visited Sugamo Prison, where most of his torturers were incarcerated. Looking at the crowd of prisoners, he recognized these men. He ran to them and threw his arms around them, expressed his forgiveness, and shared with them the good news of Jesus.
Zamperini said, “The most important thing in my Christian life was to know that I forgave them—not only verbally, but to see them face to face. That’s part of conversion.”
Sadly, most of the guards withdrew from him because they couldn’t comprehend his forgiveness. But when he preached the gospel to them, all but one made a profession of faith in Jesus that day.
Matsuhiro Watanabe, “The Bird,” who had tortured him most brutally, wasn’t there—despite being on the most wanted list of Japanese War Criminals, he’d escaped prosecution.
When Watanabe was later found, by then a rich businessman, he refused to meet with Zamperini. Louis sent a letter explaining that he’d given his life to Christ. “Love replaced the hate I had for you,” he wrote, adding “I hope you become a Christian.” (Zamperini is < on video > reading the letter.)
Having experienced God’s grace and forgiveness, and having extended it to those who tortured him, Louis was < declared by a pastor > who worked with him in his seventies, “The happiest man I’ve ever known.”
As compelling as the first part of Louis Zamperini’s story is, it’s the second part that’s the greatest miracle, and truly redemptive. The first part, standing on its own, is a testimony to God’s remarkable common grace in a human life; the second is a testimony to His special grace in transforming a still-captive man with the freedom of forgiveness. Only through Christ is such redemption and healing possible.
Survival and redemption are not the same—though in the end it was Zamperini’s redemption that allowed him to survive. And it’s only Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf, atoning for our sins, that will allow any person to survive the final judgment of God and experience the result of redemption: eternal life.
See also a thirty minute video, < “Captured by Grace,” > the rest of Louie’s story as produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Psalm 34:17-18 — The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Proverb 18:14 — The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?
Matthew 8:43-44 — (Jesus said), ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
O Lord my God, I have hope in Thee;
O my dear Jesus, set me free.
Though hard the chains that fasten me
And sore my lot, yet I long for Thee.
I languish and groaning bend my knee,
Adoring, imploring, O set me free.
–Mary Queen of Scots, on the eve of her execution, 1587