The following are well known but true testimonies of people who call themselves Christians.
On April 18, 1942, crewmen in 16 Army Air Forces B-25 bombers, commanded by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, flew from the carrier Hornet on a daylight bombing raid that brought the war home to Japan for the first time since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Corporal DeShazer, a native of Oregon and the son of a Church of God minister, was among the five-member crew of Bat Out of Hell, the last bomber to depart the Hornet. His plane dropped incendiary bombs on an oil installation and a factory in Nagoya but it ran out of fuel before the pilot could try a landing at an airfield held by America’s Chinese allies.
The five crewmen bailed out over Japanese-occupied territory in China and all were quickly captured. In October 1942, a Japanese firing squad executed the pilot, Lt. William G. Farrow, and the engineer-gunner, Sgt. Harold A. Spatz, along with a captured crewman from another Doolittle raid plane.
Corporal DeShazer and the other surviving crewmen from his plane, Lt. George Barr, the navigator, and Lt. Robert L. Hite, the co-pilot, were starved, beaten and tortured at prisons in Japan and China — spending most of their time in solitary confinement — until their liberation a few days after Japan’s surrender in August 1945.
Amid his misery, Corporal DeShazer had one source of solace.
“I begged my captors to get a Bible for me,” he recalled in “I Was a Prisoner of Japan,” a religious tract he wrote in 1950. “At last, in the month of May 1944, a guard brought me the book, but told me I could have it only for three weeks. I eagerly began to read its pages.
I discovered that God had given me new spiritual eyes and that when I looked at the enemy officers and guards who had starved and beaten my companions and me so cruelly, I found my bitter hatred for them changed to loving pity.
I realized that these people did not know anything about my Savior and that if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel.”
– Testimony of WWII pilot Jacob DeShazer, full story at The New York Times
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Just weeks before his death, Reverend Ernest Gordon sat in a darkened theater watching a private screening of the long-anticipated movie about his life. His story illumines the power of forgiveness.
Gordon was serving as a captain in the British army during the Second World War when he was captured by the Japanese and marched with other prisoners into the Southeast Asian jungles. The prison camp, which was constructing a railroad bridge over the river Kwai, would eventually claim the lives of 80,000 men.
The prisoners were forced to work for hours in scorching temperatures, chopping their way through tangled jungles. Those who paused out of exhaustion were beaten to death by the guards.
Treated like animals, the men themselves became like beasts trying to survive. Theft was as rampant as hunger and disease among them. Life was met with indifference, deceit, and hatred—by captive and captor alike.
Yet, Gordon lived to tell of hope and transformation in the valley of the river Kwai. In his widely acclaimed book, he gives a firsthand account of the story behind the “death railroad” and the spiritual resurrection of the camp.
“Death was still with us,” writes Gordon. “But we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life.
Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense. These were the gifts of God to men. True, there was hatred. But there was also love. There was death. But there was also life. God had not left us. He was with us, calling us to live the divine life in fellowship.” In the valley of the shadow of death, Christ had risen.
There were also incidences of great sacrifice that unfolded. Once, after a work detail, a Japanese guard believed a shovel missing. He told the men that unless someone stepped forward to accept responsibility, all the men would be killed. A soldier stepped up and stood at attention. The guard beat him to death. Later it was discovered the missing shovel was the result of a mistaken inventory count by the guard.
Another time Dusty fainted. The doctor believed him to be close to death. Others reported that Dusty had not been eating. All his meager rations were going to Ernest.
Two weeks before the end of the war, Dusty was nailed to a tree and disemboweled by a Japanese guard that was flustered because Dusty would never break, and never anger. This made the Japanese guard “lose face”.
God had reconciled their lifeless estates to Himself, such that they found themselves unable to respond to others without a similar inexplicable grace. So complete was the transformation of the men, so real the presence of Christ among them that they were able to reach out even to their captors with the love that had taken hold of them.
While still in the hands of their enemies, a train carrying Gordon and several others came alongside another boxcar at a stop in Burma. The entire car was filled with gravely wounded Japanese soldiers. They were left alone, without medical attention or company, as if abandoned refuse of war.
“They were in a shocking state,” Gordon recalls. “The wounded looked at us forlornly as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages waiting fatalistically for death…. These were our enemy.”
Without a word, many of the officers unbuckled their packs, took out part of their rations and a few rags, and with their canteens went over to the Japanese train. The guards tried to prevent them, but they pressed through, kneeling by the side of the injured men with food and water, cleaning their wounds.
Eighteen months earlier the same men of the river Kwai prison camp would have celebrated the humiliation and destruction of any on the side of their violent captors.
Yet Gordon explains, “We had experienced a moment of grace, there in the bloodstained railway cars. God had broken through the barriers of our prejudice and had given us the will to obey his command, ‘Thou shalt love.'”
Ernest Gordon left his three years of brutal imprisonment with an unexpected turn in his own story. Among suffering and enemies, God had spoken. Now Gordon could not remain silent. He returned to Scotland to attend seminary, eventually becoming the dean of the chapel of Princeton University where he remained until his death in 2002.
Among a valley of dry bones, God had breathed men to life. In the trenches of despair and hatred, the inexplicable love of Christ called enemies—and men—to hope and forgiveness.
My father was the town alcoholic. I hardly ever knew my father when he was not drunk. My friends in school would make jokes about my father making a fool of himself.
I lived on a farm and I’d go out to the barn and see my mother lying in the gutter in the manure – the bathroom of the cows – beaten so badly by my father, my mother couldn’t get up and walk.
We would have friends over. I’d take my father, tie him up in the bam, and park the car up around the side, and tell my friends he had to go on an important business trip, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed.
I’d take him into the barn where the cows would have their little calves. I’d put his arms through the boards, and tie them. I’d put a rope around his neck and pull his head all the way over the backboard, and tie it around the feet, so if he shuffled his feet, he would kill himself.
One evening, two months before I graduated from high school, I came home from a date. When I went into the house, I heard my mother crying profusely. And I said, “What’s wrong?” She said, “Your father has broken my heart. And all I want to do is live until you graduate, then I just want to die.”
Do you know, two months later, I graduated. And the next Friday, the 13th, my mother died. Don’t tell me that you can’t die of a broken heart. My mother did, and my father broke it. There was no one I could have hated more.
But men and women, when I came into this relationship with God Yahweh, through His Eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, after a short period of time, the love of God took control of my life, and He took that hatred and turned it upside down.
So much so, I was able to look my father square in the eyes and say: “Dad, I love you.” And the neatest thing is, I really meant it!
I transferred to another varsity or university. I was in a serious car accident with my legs, arm and neck in traction. I was taken home.
My father came into my room. He was very sober because he thought I was almost dead. He asked me this question: “How can you love a father such as I?”
I said, “Dad, six months ago, I despised you. I hated you.” Then I shared with him how I’d come to the conclusion seen so clearly, that God Yahweh, the Father, had manifested Himself to us, humanity through the Eternal Word, His Son. And then He had died for our sins, that’s the anguish He went through.
And I said, “Dad, I asked Christ to forgive me. I asked Him to come into my life as Savior and Lord.” I said, “Dad, as the result of that, I have found the capacity to love and accept not only you, but other people just the way they are.”
And my father finally just said, “Son, if your God can do in my life what I have seen Him do in your life, then I want to know Him personally.”
Right there, my father just prayed something like this: “God, if You’re God, and Christ is the Eternal Word, Your Son, if You can forgive me and come into my life and change me, then I want to know You personally.”
His life was changed right before my eyes. It was like somebody reached out and turned on a light bulb. Do you know, he only touched whiskey once after that. He got it to his lips, and that was it. He didn’t need it anymore.
Fourteen months later, he died. Because three-fourths of his stomach had to be removed, as a result of 40-some years of drinking.
But do you know, in that 14-month period, scores of businessmen in my home town and the surrounding area committed their lives to the living God, through the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, because of the changed life of one of the town’s drunks.
– Testimony of Josh McDowell, former staunch skeptic of religion who could not disprove Christianity intellectually
The doctor left the room and Steven came in. He told me that I needed to have an abortion because of the smoke damage to my lungs and the oxygen deprivation I had suffered. I said “No,” I wanted the baby. I was five-months pregnant. I could not believe he was even asking me to have an abortion at this stage. He spent over an hour pressing me to go ahead and have the abortion. He said that I was too young to have a baby and it would have brain damage because I had been in the fire and taken drugs. I became very quiet and repeated the answer “No” more than once. I said I should not be asked to make that decision while still in the hospital. He said I had to have the abortion now. He said I was too far along to wait because it would be illegal for me to get an abortion in another week.
He sat beside my hospital bed, but we did not look at each other. I said no again. Finally he gave up and said, “OK, you can go home to your mother’s and have the baby there.” I was worn out and began to feel hopeless. My mother and stepfather would not be happy to have me return home pregnant. I believed they would also want me to have an abortion. I began to feel like life was caving in on me. I had no health insurance or money and did not believe Steven intended to help provide for our baby or me. He had not been providing medical care for me up to that time. I believed he was abandoning me as my father and my mother had. I began to cry and agreed to have the abortion. Steven was relieved and happy. He reassured me that he cared for me and that after the abortion everything would be fine.
I was moved to another part of the hospital and a different doctor performed the abortion. It was a horrible nightmare I will never forget. I was traumatized by the experience. My baby had one defender in life; me, and I caved in to pressure because of fear of rejection and the unknown future. I wish I could go back and be given that chance again, to say no to the abortion one last time. I wish with all my heart I could have watched that baby live his life and grow to be a man.
The doctor did not explain what the procedure would be like. Steven watched when the doctor punctured my uterus with a large needle. Then I was taken to a room to wait for the contractions. Steven sat beside me in the hospital until it was over. When the nurse would leave the room he was snorting cocaine on the table beside my bed. He even offered some to me once, but I just turned away, sick inside. Steven, high on cocaine, was emotionally detached, witnessing the procedure but cut off from the normal reaction and feelings of horror you would expect. At the time I was shocked and hurt by his behavior.
But I know now that on an unconscious level, he must have been traumatized witnessing the death of his first-born son in such a horrific and direct way. Steven watched the baby come out and he told me later, when we were in New Hampshire, that it had been born alive and allowed to die. (I was not allowed to see the baby when it was delivered.) Steven told me later that it had been a boy and that he now felt terrible guilt and a sense of dread over what he had done. I did not know that such a thing could be legal. I could not imagine a world where a tiny baby could be born alive and tossed aside as worthless without ever seeing his mother’s face.
Nothing was ever the same between us after that day, though I did not return home for over a year. I became very quiet and withdrawn after the abortion. I was grieving the loss of my baby and I could never look at Steven again without remembering what he had done to our son and me. I had just lived through a horrific fire that nearly claimed my life, but the abortion made me feel like part of me died with my baby. I felt cheated and betrayed, and angry with myself for agreeing to something that I knew was wrong. I felt deep anger and almost hatred for the doctor who performed the abortion.
Everyone around me seemed to be moving on with life, but I was carrying a wound that would not go away. Steven was already involved with other women at that time. The fact that he was my guardian complicated things for him because he was legally responsible for me. I was young, had dropped out of high school, and did not understand my legal rights at the time. I felt completely powerless.
I left Steven in February 1977 and returned to live with my mother and stepfather. Steven called a few times after I returned home and then I never heard from him again.
The road to recovery was a slow process. When I returned home to my mother I was a broken spirit. I could not sleep at night without nightmares of the abortion and the fire. The world seemed like a dark place. My mother and stepfather now had a handsome little boy. He was a joy and I could not help but be happy when I was with him. My love for my half brother opened my heart toward my stepfather and I began to see that he was trying to be a good husband and father.
Mother had found that she missed the church and they were attending a United Methodist church in our area. I began attending with them and I remember a turning point for me was a week-long church retreat in the summer at the Oregon coast. There were young adults my own age, sing-alongs, campfires, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and I left there with a renewed sense of hope that God existed; He loved me in spite of my sins, and I could find forgiveness and a measure of real happiness within a family of my own if I began to rebuild my life.
Soon I was baptized. Mother helped me to get my GED, and I got my first job working as a receptionist. I began to attend youth activities, and the church became a lifeline that pulled me out of the fog of grief, sorrow, and guilt after my years with Steven. I found forgiveness in Jesus. I forgave myself, I forgave my mother and stepfather, and I prayed for the grace to forgive Steven.
In spite of everything, I do not hate Steven Tyler, nor am I personally bitter. I pray for his sincere conversion of heart and hope he can find God’s grace.
– Testimony of Julia Holcomb, mother of Steve Tyler’s aborted child.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
– Jesus in Matthew 5:43-35 and Luke 23:33-34
Can some enlightened individual tell me what would be the atheist response to the above situations?
Explain to me what logic the atheist’s unemotional, rational mind can find in loving one’s cruel captors and brutal oppressors.
Or is it only the unconditional love of a merciful God for us undeserving children that can inspire such irrational, illogical, beautiful forgiveness in ordinary men and women?
Quote me the writings of influential atheist philosophers who spoke at length of love, forgiveness and mercy.
Or is it only the holy texts of religion – the Scriptures of the Bible – that elevates unconditional love to above even justified vengeance?
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:2
Christ must increase; I must decrease. – John 3:30