Even before Corrie ten Boom and her Protestant family began their terrifying endeavor of hiding Jewish neighbors from the Nazis, she had a scary dream.
In her dream, she saw her family, whom she loved deeply, sitting on a flatbed wagon. The wagon pulled them slowly away, down her street, off to nether places that were distinctively scary.
Corrie’s sister said that the dream predicted a chilling future for the ten Boom family. She further thought the dream came with an added, soothing message: God knows.
They were facing the onslaught of a world of hurt, and that was the message that soothed Corrie’s sister. God knows.
God knows? That is little consolation to us from our modern day lens. We, too, know what awaited Holland residents in 1939.
Then another four horrifying years after that.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told his people that Holland’s neutrality would be respected – no need to fight.
Corrie’s political leader asked her to pretend that this was not going to hurt. Corrie’s God, did not.
What might be more painful than pain? Pretending it doesn’t hurt.
Our human condition wants to hide from hurt. When we can’t, we dress it up as surely-not-as-bad-as. When that fails, we turn on ourselves. Our modern cultural refrain is, “I don’t believe in mistakes, only lessons!” We pressure our heads to meditate away or medicate away or modernize away what is in our hearts.
Not Corrie’s God.
For a God whose reputation seemingly rides on audiences’ “Amens” over His miracles and bold signs of strength and power that prove His love, this God did not hide from Corrie what He knew.
The fact that God could have saved them all from what was to come was not lost on Corrie. That He did not, was as confusing to her as anyone. If God so loved the world, then one would assume His children suffering in pain must be utterly unbearable for Him.
Which speaks to the concept of love.
Corrie’s father had once said to her, “Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love,” he said. “Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked, that means pain.”
If God’s mission is not to generate “Amens” from an adulating crowd, but to indeed unblock the places where love has been thwarted, then we are left with sometimes intolerable circumstances and inexplicable responses from a God who knows full well just how bad it hurts.
Making the best of it and finding the good in the bad can be healthy. Seeking lessons learned in the struggle is also productive. Some struggles keep us in tune – with ourselves, with our purpose, with community.
However, we must tread lightly, tread carefully, tread kindly. More than anything, we must tread personally. Corrie’s God did.
Because some struggles just…hurt. The God who did not explain all to Corrie, still saw all and committed to all of three words: I. Am. Here.
Which is a hard thing to get behind when we hurt. Case in point, pretty much every plotline in the Bible. Theirs was one political upheaval after another, and the characters were confused by a pendulum that swung from swift, miraculous justice to long, slow stretches of pain.
In one Bible story after another, the “I am here” portion of the show turned more and more…personal. God showed up in bushes and thickets and found people where they sat down and cried. He knew people by name.
He knew their pain.
A God who knew their personal pain also knew something else – their personal balm. He once preached through a prophet named Isaiah to a nation then in international chaos. He promised them that he would bind up the brokenhearted and bestow a crown of beauty for their pain.
A beauty like that would have to be good. It couldn’t whitewash or glitz up or pooh-pooh pain. A beauty like that would have to bear witness to pain, acknowledge the strength of it, and then have the muscle to decisively trump it anyway.
Corrie experienced that kind of beauty in big and small ways. Precise, unexpected words came to her mind at opportune times, once saving one hundred victims rather than five. A kind woman came to Corrie’s rescue when she was delusional and dehydrated. Beauty was specific. Beauty was personal.
Most personally to Corrie, beauty meant change. She had an ironclad sense of God’s will and what was going on around her was not it. During long stretches when things did not change, Corrie still knew that they should.
So. She stepped out. Again and again.
Which hurts. He knows.
She had other options. We all do. As Corrie’s father put it, “We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies too.”
Pretending hurt does not hurt is not a start to healing, nor a safer approach to a more optimistic life. It’s a false start that drains our strength from stepping out and walking on into an abyss of the unknown.
In the case of Corrie, her God promised her…beauty. Not in lieu of pain. Not with universal allures. His beauty was practical, supernatural, exacted an authority over the pain of pain and was always, always, personal.
In the case of us? What is this God to us, if He knows all but does not alleviate our pain according to our reasonable, rational, wishes?
Personal. Just as with Corrie or the prophets of yore or you or me – this God is personal. His beauty can be personal to us as well, if we give Him a chance.
He wishes we would.