During World War II, Louis Zamperini survived 47 days at sea in a raft after his plane crashed and then tragically became a prisoner of war for two long years. While being held captive, he experienced terrible abuse and almost daily beatings at the hands of some ruthless guards.
As I have been reading a book telling his story, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, I wonder how Louis could survive all of this. He did cry out to God during his ordeal, and I wonder if Psalm 10 reflects some of his experience in the prison camp.
1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1 ESV)
Did Louis feel God was far away, removed, and remote?
The psalmist describes in the following nine verses all that the wicked do. As I read these verses, many scenes from Louis’s experiences with cruel guards sprang to mind.
What do the wicked do?
2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. 3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy gain curses and renounces the LORD. 4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” (Psalm 10:2-4 ESV)
In the prisoner of war camps, the Japanese guards would intentionally target Christians and seek to break their faith. They mocked, tortured, and demanded their victims deny God.
5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. 6 He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” 7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. 8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. (Psalm 10:5-9 ESV)
Over and over, the guards lashed out at Louis and the other prisoners. They were starved, beaten, and then forced to beat each other. As Louis was moved from one camp to the other, the abuse increased as the conditions in each camp deteriorated.
How do abuse victims react?
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. 11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (Psalm 10:10-11 ESV)
The effect of physical abuse is compounded by what the victim experiences psychologically. Endless torture of the mind and body crushes the spirit.
Many of the captives in the Japanese prisoner of war camps gave up hope as the violence took a toll on their bodies and souls. Others succumbed to a list of treatable diseases caused by extreme neglect. All of them struggled to believe there would ever be an end to the torture they were experiencing.
Finally, in 1945 Louis and others were liberated and returned home after the Japanese surrendered. Louis recalled how much he struggled with the memories and the trauma he had experienced. He became dependent upon alcohol to escape the nightmares that haunted his sleep.
Then in 1949, Louis heard Billy Graham preach on forgiveness, and he was delivered from his posttraumatic stress. Later he would travel the country speaking and sharing his testimony of healing and redemption through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Louis had gained true freedom through forgiveness. This incredible journey of forgiveness would lead to Louis reconciling with some of the same guards who had abused him so severely.
Much like Louis Zamperini’s life took an abrupt turn, the final verses of Psalm 10 change in tone and meaning. The Psalmist cries out to the LORD and begins to declare truths about what God does or will do.
12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. (Psalm 10: 12 ESV) God does not forget
13 Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? (Psalm 10:13 ESV)
God calls to account
14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14 ESV)
God helps the fatherless and the helpless.
I can’t imagine a more helpless feeling than being held in a prisoner of war camp by your enemy.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. (Psalm 10:15 ESV)
God takes their strength and calls the wicked to account.
16 The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. (Psalm 10:6 ESV)
God rules as King
17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear (Psalm 10:17 ESV) God hears & strengthens hearts
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:18 ESV) God brings justice
Most of us will never experience anything like Louis Zamperini did as a prisoner of war. However, all of us will experience encounters with wicked people. What do the wicked people look like in your life? Are you allowing them to hold you captive in unforgiveness?
- A family member who belittles you or doubts your abilities?
- A coworker or boss who mistreats you?
- A friend who betrays your trust?
- An adult child or parent who became estranged due to toxic behavior or addiction?
- A deceptive ex-wife or ex-husband or ex-business partner?
How do we as believers respond to the wicked?
If I can trust the truth in the final verses of Psalm 10, this provides a pathway toward the example of forgiveness set by Louis Zamperini. I can cry out to God and surrender my desire to settle the score or set things straight. God can do what I can never do alone in my heart and in my life. I can be set free. For many of us, this might even be a daily journey in forgiveness because sometimes the wrongs run deep and leave scars.
Thank you, LORD, that you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen our hearts and incline your ear to each of us. (Psalm 10:17). Thank you for doing justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (Psalm 10:18). Thank you, Father, for carrying this burden for each of us because the weight of it would destroy us. Please help us to forgive and be set free. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you want to learn more about Louis Zamperini, here are two great sources.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
“8 Things You May Not Know About Louis Zamperini”