Eric Metaxas

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas

In 2007 the world celebrated the 200th anniversary of Britain’s historic decision to abolish the slave trade.  While many people toiled for decades to make this happen, the individual perhaps most responsible was William Wilberforce, the British MP who tirelessly brought the bill before the House of Commons over the course of 18 years.  Amazing Grace is the story of Wilberforce’s campaign, written by Eric Metaxas (2007- yes, I like to review books a few years after they come out, not when everyone else is reviewing them.).  The film Amazing Grace (which opened in the US in 2007) tells the same story.  (Slavery as an institution was not abolished in the British colonies until 1833; over 30 years before it was abolished in the US).

Wilberforce went to Cambridge (I don’t hold it against him) shortly after turning 17, became a Member of Parliament at age 21, and at 24 was best friend to the youngest British Prime Minister in history, William Pitt (the younger), also 24.  What were they thinking to allow a 24 year-old run the country?  Good point, but people didn’t live as long back then, so 24, was like 28 in our years.  So, I guess 28 was old enough to run a country nation like the UK.

Wilberforce’s story is an amazing one of persistence, he had health problems, received death threats, major disappointments (one year the abolition bill didn’t pass because potential votes were absent at the opera).

At risk of sounding like Goldilocks, of the three Metaxas’s books that I’ve read, I enjoyed Bonhoeffer but at over 600 pages at times I found it a bit long (too hot?), Seven Men, also engaging, but with only 20 or so pages on each guy, not in-depth enough (too cold?), but since in Amazing Grace he’s able to tell Wilberforce’s story in less than 300 pages, I found it just right.  Metaxas does a great job of telling the story, giving historical insights and entertaining along the way (I now believe that he wrote for Veggie Tales). I highly recommend it.

Read it before you watch it.  If you haven’t already.

Good Friday and Two WWII Prisoners (Bonhoeffer and Zamperini

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Louis Zamperini.  Two WWII prisoners of war.  One imprisoned in Germany, the other in Japan.  One survives, the other is killed.  Two books published in 2010.

I’ve just finished reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (by Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace) and Unbroken (by Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit).

I didn’t say, “Hey, I feel like reading books about WWII prisoners of war.”  It was rather random.  My father recommended Bonhoeffer and my neighbor Steve recommended Unbroken.  But as I was reflecting upon life and death on this Good Friday morning, I was struck by the similarities and differences between these two men, and wondered about their fates.

Why did Zamperini survive his multiple-year imprisonment and Bonhoeffer didn’t?

louis zamperini

Zamperini was an Olympic athlete (5000 meters), who actually met Hitler at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.  In 1942, he was part of a US Air Force crew that was forced to take out a damaged plane on a rescue mission and their plane crashed into a remote region of the South Pacific.  For 47 days he and the pilot floated in a raft, until they were picked up by the Japanese.  Unbroken tells his amazing story of survival in the midst of starvation and torture.  He should have died multiple times, but miraculously survived.  Not really a spiritual man, he prayed for deliverance along the way.  (As they say, “No atheists in fox holes.”)  God heard his prayer and he survived.  Zamperini had a more dramatic conversion post-war involving Billy Graham.  He’s still alive today at 96 years-old.  There are some gruesome bits in the book, but overall it’s a great story.  I highly recommend it.  Hopefully, to be made into a film like Seabiscuit.

Pastor_Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer was a theologian (which doesn’t sound as exciting as a martyr, prophet or spy, but trust me, our lives are just as exciting as spies) who stood up to the Nazi’s during WWII.  His books are classics: Life Together, The Cost of Discipleship (#1 Seed in Greatest Christian Books of All Time, March Madness edition).  While at times I thought Metaxas’ book included too many quotations from letters, books and other documents, everything written by Bonhoeffer was gold.  A great read.  Personally, inspiring to me, as I humbling try to follow Bonhoeffer’s example (not getting killed by the Nazi’s though, hopefully).  Bonhoeffer was captured in April 1943 and executed in April 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp.  What a waste!

So, why did God allow Bonhoeffer to die at age 39 when he could have written so much more?  What was God thinking?  One might assume that God would be more interested in preserving the life of his devoted servant (Bonhoeffer) more than Zamperini, who was far from living a pious life.

Of course for that matter, I guess the same could be said for Jesus.  What a waste!  He could have done a lot more if God had allowed him to live to a ripe old age like Louis Zamperini.  But then, our sins wouldn’t be atoned for.  That would be a bad thing, particularly for those of us like me who have a lot of sins that require atonement.  So, in a twisted way, I’m glad God didn’t spare Jesus’ life.

Thanks, God for sending your son to die for me, my family and my friends.  

I know Bonhoeffer’s death wasn’t necessary to atone for the sins of the world, so why did God not allow him to survive?