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The Ten Booms vs. the Nazis: An Ethic Struggle

hiding place

The number of ethical issues raised by a reading of The Hiding Place highlights the struggle encountered by those, who, taking sin seriously, seek to please the Lord in this world. Corrie Ten Boom’s tale of delivering the innocent from Nazi villainy poses an ethical challenge to me, not so much by the “crimes” they commit—I like to think I would have committed more—but by the lines they draw.

  • The Ten Booms steal, bribe, and lie in a variety of ways, yet when pressed with a life or death choice, they refuse to promise (even falsely) not to repeat the offense.
  • The father voluntarily participates in the wearing of the Jewish star, and yet under pastoral request, removes it.
  • They abandon their work with mentally handicapped children when Nazi law forbids such meetings, yet violate untold laws by becoming a way station for the Jews.
  • They pass secret information for the resistance, while refusing to pass on the name of a betrayer (though Jewish and Dutch lives hung upon it).

They commit untold numbers of “crimes” against the “state”, and yet concern themselves at all times with a genuine struggle with subtle attitudes of the heart.

As an observer, I was at first puzzled, feeling that my outrage against the villainy of the Nazis may only have been checked by the cowardice of my own heart, demonstrating that emotionalism makes a poor ethicist. Upon deeper contemplation, however, I saw that the Ten Booms’ choices, in actuality, had more principled conviction than was apparent on the surface to one who is “character-challenged” in comparison.

The amazing thing is that those of such tender conscience escaped the easy solutions provided by legal ethicists, and created for themselves a broad ethical standard that balanced the commandments of Scripture with the demands of Scripture. They were Christians doing the work of Christ, seeking the salvation of all, friend and stranger, countryman and enemy, willing to risk their lives for all, but unwilling to take the lives of any.

In each of the issues raised by the actions of the Ten Booms, the scriptural principles seem clear. One can hardly overlook, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another,” (Levitcus 19:11) or miss the implications of the description given of the 144, 000, “No lie was found in their mouths.” (Revelation 14:5) Paul declares, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13:1) Surely, say the legalists, the issues are clear; while it is not right for the Nazis to kill the Jews, they must answer for their own sins; the Christian community must not enter into lying, stealing, bribing, and/or other forms of civil rebellion in order to prevent government from unjustly administering their God given authority.

The Scriptures, however, tell of God Himself both using, and seemingly approving, of deception against His enemies. God gave Joshua instructions on how to deceive the men of Ai. (Joshua 8:1-23) He sent a lying spirit to trick Ahab into battle, (1 Kings 22:20-23) and will, according to Paul, send a strong delusion upon the world in the closing of this age. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11) He, also, inspires James to hail Rahab justified because she lied to her own leaders concerning the spies, (James 2:25) and led Debra to praise Jael for deceiving and killing Sisera. (Judges 5:24-27)

Beyond this, there are biblical demands which rival a surface appraisal of seemingly unqualified commands. When Daniel and his friends defy the governing authorities by refusing both false and restrained worship, God declares them innocent through ordeal, bringing them alive through the mouth of lion and flame. (Daniel 3, 6) When Peter and John are arrested for defying the governing Jews by preaching, they declare, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:23) When Peter provokes the Jews to such jealousy that Herod arrests him and prepares, in the administration of his God given authority, to kill him, an angel of the Lord helps Peter escape even at the cost of sixteen “innocent” lives. (Acts 12:1-19) Beyond any of this, Proverbs demands that the righteous deliver those unjustly led away to death, (Proverbs 24:11) and condemns them when they fail to act. (Proverbs 25:26)

It is this commission which the Ten Booms undertook, and which provided the personal guidelines for their behavior. They sought to be instruments for the preservation of life and would perform almost any act short of taking life to accomplish this end. They wanted their hands free from blood, and though the taking of some lives may have seemed to spare all the more lives, they left this right in the hands of God. What the Nazis stole, they would steal back. Whatever lies might deceive the enemy and preserve those led to slaughter, they would tell. Neither cross-dressing nor smuggling could stand in their way, so long as the innocent were spared, they shed no blood, and their attitudes were pure before God.

What do you think?

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