This essay was originally written in 2013.
In 1942, no one in Holland had real tea. The country had surrendered to Germany two years ago, and restrictions were now so tight that the possession of tea was unseemly. Yet Cornelia ten Boom and her little family of sister and father had tea. At first glance, it was clear the ten Booms were a hospitable, family-oriented band. With a thorough investigation, you could find they possessed more than forbidden tea.
Their ancient Beje also held forbidden people.
In 1944, Corrie, Betsie, and their father were imprisoned for illegal concealment of Jews from probing Nazi eyes. The price they paid: the year of 1944 spent within the concrete walls of three different prisons. These were Scheveningen, Vught, and Ravensbruck. In each, Corrie and Betsie faced the trials and tribulations by relying on the strength of their heavenly Father and the loving security He offered.
When you read a fairytale, you always know who wins and who loses. The side that wins is most certainly “good”, while the one that loses is undeniably “evil”. But The Hiding Place isn’t a fairytale. This novel tells the story of a quiet, Christian spinster living in reality. And in reality, the good side doesn’t win every time; sometimes evil will win. But there’s something powerful about the good side. When good loses, it doesn’t die. Even in the pitch darkness, there is light, because evil can never truly, absolutely win. In fact, it’s often in times of darkness that light shines the brightest.
No one really knows what a miracle is. Miracle is indefinable, inexplicable by natural or scientific law of any kind. It supersedes natural and scientific law. Sitting on her ruddy cot with a Davitamon bottle held over the measly ration of bread the prisoners received each day, Corrie realized the presence of a miracle. It was such a small bottle of drops; yet every time she tipped it over their bread, the liquid dribbled out. She tried to explain it, suggesting “only a molecule or two really gets through that little pinhole – then into the air it expands!” But she could never really interpret it, because that is how miracles are – inconceivable.
In contrast to a miracle, God’s Providence lies within the realms of human understanding. By definition, Providence is the protective care of God. Unlike with the Davitamon bottle, Corrie was unable to recognize God’s provision in her life until after He worked everything out. God operates indirectly in Providence, similar to how the telephone game works. The first person whispers a message to the next person, that person passes it on to the next player, and so one. In Providence, God is the player who starts the message.
A clerical error set Corrie free. Betsie died in November, two months before. Waiting for a train to come in the small Berlin station, Corrie thought, “What if Betsie were still alive? We would have been released together!” Even as she said the words, she heard Betsie’s voice echoing in her mind: “There are no if’s in God’s world.” Truly there aren’t. God doesn’t do anything without a reason. You can’t go around wondering “if-if-if”.
God didn’t let Betsie die; God released her from prison in the best way He could. He knew she was unable to pass the release physical, so she could not be released as Corrie was. He knew what was to happen a week after Corrie was released: all women their age would be executed in the gas chambers. So, the Lord kept them from this terrible fate. For Corrie, He had a clerical error be made; for Betsie, he welcomed her into heaven.
“But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It’s one thing to read this verse and to understand it. “Oh, okay, love your enemy. That’s nice. Pray for them? Hey, that’s good stuff,” you might say. You’ll find, however, that loving your enemy – that praying for them – is much harder than it first seems. Corrie struggled with this notion. Love the Nazis? Love the man who had given them away, the woman who had whipped Betsie, the guard who had beaten a feeble-minded girl? How could she?
Months later, Corrie found out how: When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with this command, the love itself, because we are unable to love our enemies without God. We don’t have the power. God is the creator of love and Satan in the creator of hate. Love is a holy thing and hate is sin. Human beings are sinners, so hate comes easier than love. To achieve love, we need the power of God to override our sinful urges.
For a long time, Corrie didn’t quite understand who her sister was. She’d spent her whole life with Betsie, but she felt as though the sister she now laid in prison with was of a totally different order of beings. When they were thinking of their futures together, Corrie envisioned home for the feeble-minded after the foreign occupation; Betsie imagined a home for the Nazis. In each, there were gardens to care for flowers. For those scarred from life in concentration camps, gardening would be therapy; for those warped by the German philosophy of hate and force, gardening would help them learn love.
Always, while Corrie thought of concentration camp prisoners, Betsie thought of their oppressors. She had a spirit full of love and compassion for the enemy, just as Casper ten Boom had had. To Betsie, it seemed loving her enemies was as easy as loving her sister.
A common ploy of Satan’s, when evil befalls a follower of the Lord, is to lead them to believe that God had abandoned them, thus easily falling into his clutches. In the horrid enclosures of Scheveningen, Vught, and Ravensbruck, it wouldn’t be unlikely that many women slipped away from God. It was not hard to; after all, what kind of God would allow so many of His children to be persecuted for doing His work? But Corrie and Betsie did not fall victims to this evil strategy. Their faith stood unhindered, because they knew of His love for them.
We can’t explain all the bad things that happen in this world, and there are numerous evils on Earth. The world of Corrie ten Boom – of The Hiding Place – is rife with evil. In these evils lies the truths Satan tries to hide from us. There are storms and fires in this world, and there is loss. But we have to remember that after a storm comes a rainbow, rebirth succeeds a wildfire, and love can grow from loss.
The Hiding Place tells the story of a simple family in Holland; a family who understood all this; a family who knew there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still; a family who dared to possess forbidden tea.