On Thanksgiving Day let’s look more closely at an occurrence in Barracks 8 of the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany in 1944. We will review a well-known incident Corrie ten Boom narrated in her post-World War II recollections, The Hiding Place. We do this not to feel better about our own problems by comparing them to worst ones, but to learn a secret that God imparted to two sisters and their fellow inmates on a particular day.
First, a little local color:
“… all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. …
“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”
Many of you already know the gist—how Betsie and Corrie became grateful for being in the same compound, for the Bible they snuck past the guards, “for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds,” and even for the flea infestation. And many know how in the end the fleas became a means of escape from a dreaded Nazi guard inspection that could have uncovered their clandestine Bible study operation. This is usually given as the climax of the story.
But what may be less often emphasized is the offering of thanksgiving by the sisters was an epiphany God gave them as a solution to their problems. It is one thing to regard thanksgiving as our rightful response to suffering; it is another thing altogether to understand that thanksgiving is actually the way out of all our problems. Let us recall the exact conversation:
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them! … Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. … “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seeks to do good to one another and to all. …’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.”
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh yes: ‘… to one another and all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, giving thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus—’”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
Corrie balked at first but ended up following Betsie’s lead and found the blessing in it—that the deliberate and determined and vocalized thanking of God for everything one can think of that is even remotely good, or that is mitigating of the bad, is a practice that effects deliverance from internal misery.
We are talking about something radical here. We must no longer read James 1:2 (about counting it all joy when we fall into various trials) and immediately nullify it by saying that God doesn’t really mean what He is saying. We must no longer spiritualize away the blunt edge of His command. Whatever you happen to be in the middle of this Thanksgiving Day, your liberation is thanksgiving. Do it and see that the Lord is good.