Alexander Schmorell (1917-1943)
In 2012 he was declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church, the church in which he was baptized as an infant when his German-Russian parents were living in Russia.
(continued…) A powerful example of this is seen in two letters written during World War II. Alexander Schmorell was a student at the University of Munich. He joined the White Rose, a group of students that resisted the Hitler regime. He was arrested, jailed, and sentenced to death. This first letter was written to his parents in May of 1943 as he was awaiting an appeal of his sentence. He wrote:
My Dear Parents: There is nothing new here to report to you. Everything is as it was. But there are a few things that I still want to tell you, in order to ease your sorrow somewhat. In case my plea for mercy is rejected, remember that death does not mean the end of all life; but actually, on the contrary, a birth, a passing over into a new life, a glorious and everlasting life. Hence, death is not a fearful thing. It is the separation that is hard, and heavy to bear. But it becomes less hard and heavy to bear when we remain mindful that we are indeed not parting forever, but only for a time—as for a journey—in order afterward to meet again for ever and always in a life that is infinitely more beautiful than the present one, and that then there will be no end of our being together. Remember all this and your burden will surely become lighter.
That is the hope that Paul talks about which comes at the end of the progression in Romans 5; that progression that begins with trouble. And that is when it all began for this young man also. In this next letter, written five weeks later to his sister, Alexander describes how he did not always have this faith, and probably would not have arrived at it, had it not been for the trouble. He wrote these words to his sister:
You have surely read the letters I have written to our parents, so you are fairly well posted. You will perhaps be surprised when I tell, you that I am day by day becoming calmer inwardly, even joyous and glad, and that my mood is nearly always better than it used to be when I was free. How does this happen? I will tell you at once. This whole terrible misfortune has been necessary to show me the right way, and therefore, it has actually not been a misfortune at all. Above all, I am glad, and grateful to God for it, that it has been granted me to understand this sign from him, and thereby to find the right way. For what did I know before of this faith, of true, deep faith, of truth, of the ultimate and only truth of God? Very little. But now I have progressed so far that I am happy and calm and confident even in my present situation, come what may. This misfortune was necessary. It opened my eyes—not only my eyes but the eyes of all those whom it has befallen, our family included.
Five weeks later, this young man was executed. But he knew that that was not the worst thing that could happen. He knew that it would have been far worse if he had never come to faith in Jesus Christ, faith in that hope that “will not disappoint us.” His life, brief as it was, followed the pattern of Romans 5. The passage summarizes the last weeks of his life.
Suffering doesn’t always lead to endurance, character and hope. Sometimes it leads to rebellion and despair. But we must remember that this whole section of Romans 5 begins with the words “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith.” So it all has something to do with faith, a faith that simply keeps looking to Jesus, that keeps open the lines of communication with Jesus, and that trusts that all things will work together for the good of them that love God. Still we will suffer, but then that suffering will lead us not away from God, but into a deeper hope in Him.
Oftentimes, what people want most, turns out to be the curse that does them in. Self-sufficiency and security is something we all want. But if one could ever attain such a thing as perfect security, why would we ever look to God? And when one no longer feels they need God, what good will it be to have a few short years of security before the darkness comes, as it always does? Perhaps it is our troubles and disappointments that keep alive that faith God. It all starts with trouble, says Paul. It is trouble that keeps us coming back to God.
Sometimes parents will say, “I just hope my children will be happy.” Maybe Alexander Schmorell’s parents wished that for him. But happiness is never the most important thing. The most important thing is that we do not turn away from God. As Christians, we have a larger perspective and a deeper hope. We know that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).
One may face much suffering in an eighty year lifetime, and can be tempted to wonder about God’s goodness. But it is not reasonable to judge God and his plan for the universe by the speck of time we spend on earth. We must remember that larger perspective. Would we complain if God allowed just one hour of suffering in an entire lifetime of comfort? He does allow a lifetime of suffering, but that entire lifetime is a mere moment of eternity.
Therefore, says Paul:
We can even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and this hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:3-5).
Thank you, Lord, for any sadness you allow into our lives that will keep us close to you. We pray that no happiness in this brief life will ever keep us attached to this world and apart from you and your eternal home. May our suffering lead to the hope you give. Amen.