This is the true story, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s powerful biography, of the post war struggles of a very damaged man, and his quest to find hope. When Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini returned from World War Two, having suffered terribly in a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo, he was a man secretly in bad shape. Haunted by his experiences he struggled to sleep and fight off the flashbacks. Little by little drink took a hold, until his brother sought him out in a bar. ‘You’re not man enough to get help,’ Pete told him honestly when Louis refused to go with him. Pete knew his younger brother well, he had rescued him from a life of teenage crime when he first taught him to run. Before the war Louis came close to breaking the four minute mile, just seven seconds off. But the war and injury brought an end to his medal winning hopes.
Hurting so much, haunted terribly by what he’s lived through, Louis is a man at war with himself, at war with a sense of failure and loss. We men do not find it easy to admit weakness, to talk of nightmares, pains and fears. We feel we should be all right. Be able to cope. Be tough. But sometimes the best thing we can do is to let go of our weakened and wounded strength, to draw on the strength of another. That’s the thing about Jesus, he is not merely a good example to follow, he holds within himself the ability to help us to follow. However falteringly we may travel. Not because we’re strong enough, because he is, not merely self-help, but his help. So much so that a man like Louis, having suffered the worst kind of merciless savagery, could find a new way forward, a new life, fresh forgiveness for his wounded history. The war he was still fighting within himself finally over.
I find regularly myself wrestling with what I think I should do to appear blokey, sorted or cool. But life is found elsewhere, I’m sure of it. In true humanity. Jesus lived it and offers a hand to help us lean towards his way. In our weakness God comes through, so the activist formerly known as Saul wrote to us in the Good Book. And Saul went further, not being afraid to talk of his weaknesses so God could shine through. That’s a big ask. And extraordinarily difficult in a world of glamorous images of strength and kudos. But Jesus spoke of God knowing us truly, seeing all that we do and all that we aspire to and long to be. The secret longings to be different. God understands and keeps nudging us towards his vulnerable heart. And another way.