Friday, September 6, 2013

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

This review originally appeared at my A Free Mind column at Patheos. Scott and I discuss the book at A Good Story is Hard to Find. I wanted to get it on the record here at Happy Catholic.

There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still.
It is appropriate that during Lent, when the depth of God's love is the lesson made plain to us, The Hiding Place came to my attention; it contains vivid examples of God's deep love set in a story of man's inhumanity to man.

I read The Hiding Place in high school, so it was with a sense of nostalgia for an excellent "holocaust survival autobiography" and the vague memory of a few key inspirational passages that I downloaded it as the free April audiobook from In fact, I believed I remembered it so well that I only began listening from curiosity, to see how the narration sounded.

I soon realized my memory was severely at fault as the honest and beautiful story unfolded. I was completely absorbed, and listened in every spare moment.

The Hiding Place begins in 1937, in Haarlem, Holland, with preparations for the one hundredth anniversary celebration of the ten Boom family's clock shop. The story is told by Corrie ten Boom who is the then-45-year-old youngest daughter of the family. She and her sister, Betsie, who is seven years older, are spinsters living with their elderly father. As such, they make an unlikely pair of heroines but God does not see with our eyes, as their tale tells.

The early pages of the book reveal a family truly living a Christian life, with a soup kettle always bubbling to feed the poor, numerous foster-children raised, and a challenging extended family borne with patiently. Corrie's father, Casper, keeps Christ at the center of their lives. His gentleness, rooted in strength and wisdom, serves as a Christ-like example. Several instances of her father's guidance become touchstones throughout Corrie's life, as in this childhood recollection:
And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sex-sin?"

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.

"Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

"It's too heavy," I said.

"Yes," he said, "and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."
Corrie's sister, Betsie, is often a source of much needed Christ-like perspectives. When Corrie is troubled by a premonition of being taken from Haarlem against her will, she consults Betsie, who tells her:
If God has shown us bad times ahead, it's enough for me that He knows about them. That's why He sometimes shows us things, you know -- to tell us that this too is in His hands.
That trust is soon tested as the Nazis conquer Holland. When a well-dressed woman with a suitcase in hand appears at the shop's front door saying that she is a Jew afraid of being arrested, she is welcomed by Casper, "In this household, God's people are always welcome."

Thus begins the ten Boom family's surprising involvement in the Dutch underground.

Corrie soon finds herself the leader of one of the largest resistance groups in the city, centered at their home. She shares engrossing details about how the family eluded detection, managing to feed and house Jewish refugees until they could be spirited to safety. However, such a large operation made it inevitable that there would be a slip-up, and eventually the family is arrested.

From that point, the story reads like Dante's descent into the circles of Hell. The two middle-aged sisters are moved from one prison to another, each worse than the one before. It is during this point, however, that God makes His presence unmistakably known. As Corrie says in the movie made from the book, "God does not have problems. Only plans."

This revelation lifts The Hiding Place above other holocaust stories. Although the sisters suffer immense indignities and hardships, their story is about God's triumph over evil, even in the midst of the very place where evil reigns. They do not perform what we might think of as heroic acts, yet as Corrie and Betsie persevere in their efforts to stay in the center of God's will, they make it possible for God to work through them.

In fact, it is in their very powerlessness that they reveal God to others as their plight continues.

I was struck by the timelessness of the message and the values contained therein. Casper ten Boom models God the Father for his children, and those with good fathers recognize how powerful that can be. Those of us who were not so blessed can recognize in this hero a model of God the Father that we can relate to and call our own. Their mother, though not a key figure in the story, is instrumental in showing how it is possible to live a fully Christian life when home caring for a family, or when stricken by illness.

Betsie's point of view displays a Christ-like love for their captors even under the most terrible circumstances. Corrie is the example for the rest of us. She is uncertain, afraid, and needs the examples of Betsie and her father to keep her eyes on Christ. Even so, Corrie steps out in faith throughout the book whenever there is a need.

The Hiding Place also serves as a warning. I was quite surprised at how certain attitudes portrayed in the book resonated with our times; the Nazis showed utter disdain of the elderly, the very sick, and "feeble minded" because they were not productive members of society. If the ten Booms couldn't comprehend such attitudes, I realized with chagrin I understood them all-too-well as the utilitarian ideas of our "modern" society. As Flannery O'Connor said,
If you live today, you breathe in nihilism . . . it's the gas you breathe. If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now.
When I began telling people about this audiobook, I was surprised at how many people had never heard of The Hiding Place. Many others, like me, believe they remember it well, despite having read it many years ago. Even if you know and love the book well, I encourage you to take advantage of christianaudio's download. Narrator Bernadette Dunne brings Corrie to life in a matter-of-fact but sympathetic reading.

We could do with a revival of The Hiding Place on American bookshelves. Not only does this story remind us that God is with us always but it shows where we may find ourselves, if we do not heed His will. We will be in a very unsafe place where there is no hiding at all.

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