If asked about the evidence for God’s love, most active Christians would probably use the example of Christ’s voluntary death on the cross which miraculously paid the debt of our sins so we could repent and take part in the wonderful inheritance that God has planned for us with Him.
This is no mere theological theory or wishful thinking, but the most amazing display of love ever undertaken.
But, being still confined to this earth, we often need concrete or current examples to remind us, when our faith may grow dim or when we become jaundiced by this rotting world, that God’s love is still being shown on an individual basis to each of us through the intricate circumstances of life.
One such amazing story I only heard recently is the saga of Louis Zamperini. I picked up an old book, ‘Devil At My Heels’ written in 1956 and now about to be made into a movie. I hope Hollywood doesn’t do its usual deed and cut the strongly Christian influence that is the reason for the biography.
It is a fantastic story and I hope many can read it before the Hollywood effect can reduce it to sentimentality, patriotism and feel-good Americanism.
Louis’ Early Life
Louis Zamperini was born of Italian parents in 1917 and moved to California soon after. He became a strong-willed delinquent despite his loving parents and upbringing.
From early childhood he lied, cheated, swore, smoked, cursed, stole, drank, fought and despised authority. God meant nothing to him.
He was in trouble with parents, teachers, police and even in his early teenage years he would steal liquor from the bootleggers, creating a real headache for all who knew him and his family.
The only thing he performed well at was running, and due to the influence of his older brother, Pete, he managed to get through adolescence despite the personal demons that were tormenting him.
In fact he excelled in middle distance running (mile and 2-mile events) and got to the stage of being selected to represent the USA in the 1936 Olympic Games.
He went on to run the mile in USA in 4 minutes 8 seconds, a record that lasted 15 years, but was often drunk and unfit, and lacked the discipline of a world champion, although many believe he could have got there.
When World War 2 began Louis joined the Army Air Corps and earned the nickname ‘Lucky Louis’ for cheating death several times as a bombardier.
He never thought about who was watching over him.
In 1943 he and others of his crew were shot down over the Pacific by the Japanese. They found a life raft and drifted for 47 days, eating small fish, shark’s livers and albatross, and drinking rain water.
At one stage their life raft was riddled by Japanese bullets and when Louis’ life seemed to be over, he cried out to God – a God he had never considered before: ‘If you save me from this, I will serve you the rest of my life.’
They were picked up by the Japanese and thrown into a brutal death camp for the next two years, Louis forgetting all about his prayer when he vowed revenge on his torturers who beat him and used him as a human guinea pig.
When the war ended he returned to the USA but suffered terrible nightmares. Hoping to escape the post traumatic stress, Louis drank more and married a girl who was very understanding, but could not help him.
When he was just about to divorce her, she went in desperation to a Billy Graham crusade where she repented and became a Christian. She asked Louie along, but he kept refusing to go.
Louis’ New Life in Christ
Eventually, to keep the peace, Louis went to one of the meetings where he heard amazing things like: ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ He now says, ‘I knew I was no good, but I didn’t want anyone to tell me.’
The persistent godly influence of his wife, Cynthia, and her new friends, made Louis realise that if he wanted his life to change only Jesus Christ could do it.
He says: ‘I kept thinking I came back from the war alive, and I never even thought about those prayers and promises I had made.’ He fell to his knees and knew instantly he would not drink any more. His nightmares stopped for good in 1949.
As he began to mature in his Christian faith he realised he could only change his behaviour if he threw himself completely on God’s mercy – which he did.
He began to speak to groups about his faith experience and started up a boys’ camp for young trouble-makers. Then he returned to Japan and sincerely forgave those guards who had so brutally abused him.
He knows he could not have done any of this without the love of God.
Louis realises now, even at the ripe old age of 96, that the Bible’s promise of God’s love and sustaining ability is true. God’s great love had carried Louis through some of the worst experiences possible, despite him originally forgetting his promise to God while on the raft.
In a recent TV interview Louis said, ‘I believe with all my heart that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.
‘People are always seeking truth; the truth is Christ and He’s the life. Our eternal life starts now by faith in Jesus Christ. This is the strength we live by.’
What a fabulous witness to our God’s majestic love.