On April 8, 1932, during a “severe storm, beyond all imagining,” an aspiring 43 year-old political hopeful requisitioned a plane with his aides against the warnings of everyone. A political rally had been scheduled for that day, and the political hopeful would not disappoint. Otto Dietrich describes the flight:
- This is no longer flying, this is a whirling dance…we whip our way through tattered clouds, again a whirlpool threatens to drag us down, and then it seems that a giant catapult hurls us into steep heights. And yet what of feeling of security is in us in the face of this fury of the elements! The Fuhrer’s absolute serenity transmits itself to all of us. In every hour of danger he is ruled by his granite-like faith in his world-historical mission, the unshakable certainty that Providence will keep him from danger for the accomplishment of his great task. Even here he remained the pre-eminent man, who masters danger because in his innermost being he has risen far above it. (Nazi Culture, 291-92)
As I contemplated my own flight-through-the-storm – my visit to the dentist today – I reflected on Hitler’s “unshakable certainty that Providence will keep him.” I was humbled as I thought about my own should-be “unshakable certainty.” Why was Hitler sustained by his pagan beliefs, while I was shaking at the non-life-threatening prospect of extensive work on the dentist’s chair?
Of course, the Nazis widely used this story as propaganda, and so it is unclear whether or not it can be trusted. We also know that Hitler’s faith failed to sustain him in his final years. However, we do see something very remarkable as the Apostle Paul faced his final years and the prospect of martyrdom. He expressed his own unshakable faith in his final visit with the Ephesian elders:
- I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. (Acts 20:23-25)
Again I am humbled. How much I would love to be able to say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me!” However, I find that life’s concerns and fears cling to me like flies on a sticky paper. How I wish that I could see the dentist today with such gaiety that she’d have to ask, “Why are you so joyous?” And I would answer, “I am not concerned about my own life but only about serving my Lord faithfully!” This truly is my prayer!
In contrast to my humbling thoughts, I know that this is a possibility for me today. My Lord has promised that He is fully able to keep me in perfect peace:
- You [God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)
I’m glad that He has thoroughly taught me that I am entirely incapable of providing “unshakable serenity for myself” (John 15:4-5). Therefore, I’m not going to subject myself to the mental gymnastics of trying to wrestle myself into an exalted state of faith. I’m going to leave it entirely up to Him, convinced that He is able, and He is! I’ve read about the many martyrs – and they weren’t much different from me – who had been chewed apart by wild animals or burnt alive on the stake, as they joyously praised their Savior.
The Book of Acts gives us a good illustration of how our God can fortify His children, even when facing a horrible death:
- But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:55-59)
Of course, I’d rather be able to say, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God," than to pray “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." However, I trust that my Lord will give me what I need, even if it turns out to be another humbling experience.