Thanks to the book, Unbroken, and the newly released movie by the same title, the amazing life of Louie Zamperini has been shared with millions. His gifted storyteller, Laura Hillenbrand, takes us through his rebellious boyhood years, his breathtaking run in the 1936 Olympics, his torments in a Japanese POW camp, and his continued struggles with PTSD and alcoholism after his liberation and return stateside. His is a story that needs to be told and retold. As Hillenbrand says, “It is a tale of daring, defiance, persistence, ingenuity, and the ferocious will of a man who refused to be broken.” Only it isn’t.
Louie Zamperini was not unbroken. He was broken by the 47 days he spent adrift at sea in a lifeboat. He was broken by the sadistic head of the POW camp. He was a broken soldier when he stepped foot back on American soil. He and his wife, Cynthia, were in a broken marriage on the cusp of divorce. He was broken by nightmares of combat and imprisonment and torture. He was broken by the bottle, by an inability to escape his past. And he was broken the night he reluctantly attended a Billy Graham crusade.
On that night, this broken man heard the story of a God who specializes in broken men. The God who will not turn away from a broken and contrite heart—indeed, of a God for whom the best sacrifice is a broken spirit (Ps 51:17). Louie heard of the God who took up permanent residence in our broken world—a world fissured through and through with pain and despair and meanness and selfishness, a world of wars and POW camps and sadists and their victims, a world scarred beyond recognition. To this broken world God came in the person of His Son to bring healing and wholeness to broken people like Louie. And like me and you and all others who walk around carrying in our palms the shards of shattered lives.
I am not unbroken. Indeed, I needed breaking. So God broke me. I thought I had it all together. I had my life figured out. Even though outwardly I was serving God, inwardly I served only the god named Ego. My heart was the shrine at which I bowed the knee. So the Lord of truth let the lord of the lie have his way with me. And down I went. A piece here, a piece there, a Humpty Dumpty mess of man lying fractured on the floor. No man could put me back together, especially me. I was one more broken man in a broken world full of broken people. And I was precisely where God wanted me to be.
He came to me as He came to Louie. He came in the most amazing story ever told. The story of a God who loves broken men back into wholeness. Jesus went around picking up the pieces of me to put them back together. Matching this shard to that shard. Gluing me back together with the adhesive of His blood. But that blood, shed on the cross, did more than adhere. It recreated me. It turned my broken heart of stone into a restored heart of flesh, pumped full of blood that emptied from the broken body of Jesus on the cross. He did more than put me back together; He put me into a new body, His own body, the body of Christ. He reformed me as one who bears His image. He made me, literally, into a new man. So radical is this change that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and I who live in Christ.
God took our pain personally. He suffered for us, with us, because of us. So great is His love that He will follow us into the POW camps; into the squalid backstreets where drugs are cheap and sex is cheaper; into marriages rocked by divorce and punctuated by fights; into the hellish conditions of a world addicted to evil in ever increasing proportions. God will hound us wherever we go, find us wherever we are, and reach down deep to pick us up and carry us home. His mission is your salvation. His mission is to put you back together in Jesus Christ. And He won’t rest until it’s done.
We are not unbroken. We are broken and restored. We are dead and now alive, for we are the ones for whom God was willing to move heaven and earth to make us whole again. That is not only Louie Zamperini’s story. It is ours.
If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out my two books: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. They are both also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing. Thank you!