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In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania it is:
MARCH ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT EDITION
Review of Tortured for
Christ by Richard Wurmbrand
Editors Note: This
month’s book review article will be an encore submission as we prepare our
hearts for the Good Friday/Easter season.
Just prior to the September
11 bombings, a group of Christian missionaries and international aid workers
were imprisoned by the government of Afghanistan, along with several innocent
Afghanis. The ‘crime‘?
They exercised the Christian faith, including the command to evangelize.
With the occurrence of the bombings, their case was rapidly forgotten,
replaced by fears for our own safety here at home. Seeing as their fight in the current war is, if anything,
actually more important for the long term peace of the world than military
action, this month’s book is selected in their honor. That book, written in just a few days in the middle of the
20th century by an exiled Lutheran pastor, is Tortured for Christ, the
testimony of the late Richard Wurmbrand.
The case of Tortured for
Christ is a provocative one; Pastor Wurmbrand, one of those who suffered
under the bloody regime of the Ceausescus’ in Romania, does not use normative
human rights rhetoric. To explain, many say, when confronted by religious or
political persecution, that the crime of the offending countries is one of
harming others merely for having different ideas.
Persecution offends the western sensibility, not because of virtue in the
persecuted, but because persecution is intolerant.
Pastor Wurmbrand hates persecution, but his stance against it is fueled
not by this western sensibility. For
him, persecution represents an evil even greater than intolerance, and those who
are persecuted represent a greater good than that of mere dissent.
When he tells the somber tale
of Christian martyrdom in the 20th century, he paints for us the portraits of
men, women, and children who suffer because they are doing something far too
significant to have the adjective mere applied to it.
They are resisting the zeitgeist, the spirit of their age, which
in Wurmbrand’s time was dialectal materialism taken to its logical conclusion.
They do this by promoting the Christian Gospel, which upon close
examination is really the very radical idea that people are not clumps of
chemicals, meaningless automata driven by hunger and sex, but creatures designed
to be images of the Divine. This
image was shattered and fragmented by the willful choice to sin, to pursue mere
hunger, lust, power — all partial goods — instead of the perfect good,
These are words only when
they come from me, a westerner who has never suffered for this Truth.
“The Pastor“, as his people called him, however saw first hand the
power of Christ at work in those who resisted the toxic ideology of the
Stalinists in Romania. He witnessed
as he himself and his fellow prisoners resisted physical, psychological, and
sexual tortures by the power of Christ, as He imparted His Spirit and Word to
them. His words tell it more
honestly than I can:
We had to sit for
seventeen hours a day — for weeks, months and years — hearing:
In the prison of Gherla, a
Christian named Grecu was sentenced to be beaten to death.
The process lasted a few weeks, during which he was beaten very
slowly...He was beaten on the testicles.
Then a doctor gave him an injection. He recovered...and then he was beaten again until he died
under this slow, repeated beating. One
who led this torture was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party, whose name was Reck.
During the beatings, Reck said something to Grecu that
the Communists often said to Christians, “You know, I am God.
I have the power of life and death over you.
The one who is in heaven cannot decide to keep you in life.
Everything depends upon me. If
I wish, you live. If I wish, you
are killed. I am God!”
So he mocked the Christian.
Brother Grecu, in this horrible situation, gave Reck a
very interesting answer, which I afterward heard from Reck himself.
He said, “You don’t know what a deep thing you have said.
Every caterpillar is in reality a butterfly, if it develops rightly.
You have not been created to be a torturer, a man who kills.
You have been created to become like God, with the life of the Godhead in
your heart. Many who have been
persecutors like you, have come to realize — like the apostle Paul — that it
is shameful for a man to commit atrocities, that they can do much better things.
So they have become partakers of the divine nature.
Jesus said to the Jews of His time, ‘Ye are gods.’
Believe me, Mr. Reck, your real calling is to be Godlike — to have the
character of God, not a torturer.”
One great lesson arose from all the beatings, tortures, and butchery of the Communists: that the spirit is master of the body. We felt the torture, but it often seemed as something distant and far removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us.
Once in a class a professor told us something that disturbed me. He told us that with electrodes applied to the correct places in the brain, he could make you not simply hungry, or increase your libido, but that he could make us eat, or make us have sex. He denied the will. One day in class we were told that thought was random firing of neurons, and nothing more. I did not believe him, but had no evidence to counter. It didn’t occur to me that he, psychologists though he was, really didn’t have supreme evidence for his claim either.
Those who suffer for the right have experiential evidence that there is more to human existence and dignity than random electrochemistry. They have found that the spiritual world is more than a fable told us to provide catharsis. The persecuted, such as those heroes and heroines who suffered under the Ceausescus’ or under Stalin — or suffer under the Taliban — as such, are also soldiers. They fight for the same cause as did their Lord: to save the soul, which they love more than life, from those who would enslave it to the ends of mere culture, tradition, empty political philosophies, and the tyranny of all that the Scriptures call sin. Above all, they are winning, for the Lord is in them to work and will His good pleasure.
They are winning in a decisive sense. There is only so much that military and police action, as important as these are, can accomplish. If we strike down Osama bin Ladin, several more will take his place. The situation, in that sense, is analogous to the danger faced in the Cold War. A direct assault of the Iron Curtain would have brought about nuclear apocalypse.
The missing link in the new war, and the unsung heroes and heroines of the old Cold War, are those who suffer for the crime of opposing the toxic ideology of their own countries. Those who fought oppression from within the old Soviet Union were, as such, unrecognized allies of the western democracies. Likewise the martyrs suffering in nations such as Afghanistan are the allies of democracy. By telling others of the Peace of Christ, endangering their own lives, they combat the underlying cause of the new terrorism. Osama bin Ladin and his network know this. The Taliban knows this. That is why they arrested the Christian relief workers and the Afghani Christians. That is why so-called jihad groups in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sudan slaughter thousands of people. It is this fact which makes Tortured for Christ, with its celebration of Christian martyrs and lucid, evidential attack against stripping humanity of its God and soul, so timely. Richard Wurmbrand calls upon us to rethink the nature of faith, to reevaluate its role in the battle against tyranny.
Matt is a graduate student in the Intelligent Systems and Computer Science programs at the University of Pittsburgh. He also is an active member of East End Assembly of God in Bloomfield and the Chi Alpha chapter on the Pitt campus. Lastly, he loves books, and loves even more to talk about them.