For Veteran's Day, a story from Bert Witvoet in The Christian Courier. There are no rifles in it, no smoke of battle, no glorious acts of heroism. But the story draws out clearly the deepest battles lines the human soul can manifest.
In the depth of the German occupation of the Netherlands, Dominie Francois Guillaume was arrested by the Nazis because someone from his church reported that he had prayed for the Dutch Queen, who'd left for England shortly after Hitler Luftwaffe had flattened Rotterdam. That prayer offered up before his congregants, all of them Dutch, was considered a crime by the Reich because the preacher's sympathies for their beloved Queen Wilhelmina made clear he was an enemy of Hitler.
Francois Guillaume, the preacher, was imprisoned for praying and sent off, eventually, to Dachau. Somehow he managed to survive and returned to Holland when the war ended, almost unrecognizable. You've seen the pictures. "Hollowed out and emaciated," Witvoet says.
It took some time, but the man's strength returned and he regained his profession, started preaching again, started over, as did so much of Holland.
One day a man came to visit to tell him that a certain someone from his war-time church was on his death bed and wanted to speak to him. The man who'd reported his dominie to the Nazi authorities, the man who single-handedly determined that Guillaume would spend years in the concentration camp at Dachau--that man wanted his preacher's forgiveness before he died.
Dominie Guillaume did not want to go. Throughout those years, Witvoet says, he'd never known who it was who had turned him in. After all those years simply to know was itself a trial.
"But the Lord told him he had to go," Witvoet writes. So he did.
When he did, that man reached out his hand and asked the man who was once his preacher for forgiveness.
Guillaume took it and said, "I am offering you the Lord's hand of forgiveness" because he could not offer his own, simply could not. Witvoet tells the story this way:
Francois felt the power of God flowing from his body, through his hand, to the dying man. And then he knew that he also could forgive the man for all the pain he had caused him and his family.A man undoubtedly precious to Rev. Francois Guillaume, Abraham Kuyper, says in one of the meditations in Near Unto God that we come closest to our Father in heaven when we act as we know he acts, when we do what we know he does--when, for instance, we forgive. Life holds nothing more precious than those moments we know we are doing what he does.
I can think of no more vivid example of that truth than the war story of Dominie Francois Guillaume, himself a life-long believer, who learned as he'd probably never learned before who God really was the moment God gave him the strength and clarity of soul to take that man's hand and forgive him.
It's a World War II story, but there's no soldier in it. It's a story I just read just yesterday, a war story that is, more importantly, all about peace.