Steps of Painful Obedience
W“We must do wrong to none,” stated Matthew Henry in his Commentary of the Whole Bible, “but do right to all in their bodies, goods and good name.”1
Conversely, acting justly often demands that we sacrifice our bodies, goods and good name. That’s because, when we work to protect the humanity of others, those we stand against will have no qualms in issuing the same injustices to us. Consider these examples of believers down through history who endured hardship as they lived out lives committed to justice.
Pastor of the plague
In 1665, when the bubonic plague hit the streets of London, one particular pastor stayed to help care for the sick even though he had no guarantee of immunity himself. The Black Death, as it was known because the skin would turn black in patches, led to an agonizing demise.
Thomas Vincent, a Puritan minister, was pastoring his church amid the outbreak that would claim more than 70,000 lives citywide, including seven dear friends who were staying in his home. Many of his fellow ministers advised Thomas to vacate the city, but he would not abandon his flock in their greatest time of need.
“If you have but little love to Christ,” Thomas later stated in his book The True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ, “you will be apt to faint in the day of adversity, to shrink when you are called to take up His cross and suffer for His sake… . There is a need of great love of Christ, as well as great faith, to carry you through sufferings with courage that you may persevere to the end.”
Hero of abolition
A former slave herself, Harriet Tubman is well known for her brave act of transporting slaves from the South in a series of safe houses and routes called the Underground Railroad. Little is known, however, about her incredible suffering and further acts of justice during the Civil War and beyond.
Early in life, Harriet was ordered to help restrain another slave who was trying to escape. When she refused, the master hit her with a large piece of iron, cracking her scull open. She was forced to return to the fields after two days, with head still bleeding. She survived, but the injury caused epileptic seizures, headaches and dizziness that lasted throughout her eight years in the Underground Railroad.
Still, she rescued some 70 slaves in 13 expeditions and was known as a woman of faith who asked God for direction and guidance. She drew strength from Old Testament stories of deliverance and was nicknamed “Moses.”
Later during the Civil War, she lead an armed Union assault on Southern plantations. During a raid in 1863 on the Combahee River, she guided three vessels in an attack that resulted in the rescue of 750 slaves. She continued as a Union spy and worked in the battlefields as a nurse.
After the war, she returned home to Auburn, New York, by train. Despite explaining her work, the conductor and two other passengers forcefully removed her to the smoking car, breaking her arm in the process.
Though commemorated as a hero, Harriet was never fully compensated for her service in the military and lived most of her life in destitute poverty. Still, she continued to welcome the aged, maimed and needy into her home well into her later years.
André, Magda and Daniel Trocmé
Shelter from the long arm of the Reich
Between 1940 and 1945, some 5,000 Jews passed through the village of Le Chambòn, France, fleeing Nazi persecution. Led by Pastor André Trocmé and his wife, Magda, this community of Protestants gave shelter to anyone who needed it on their way to the Swiss border. “I do not know what a Jew is,” André was known to say. “I only know human beings.”
Aware of what was transpiring, the German Reich routinely sent officers to search for the Jews. Yet somehow, this tiny village sheltered almost as many Jews as its entire population; not a single one was taken by the Nazis, betrayed by the villagers or turned away. Then in 1943, André was himself deported to an internment camp, where he spent five weeks being pressured to sign a document saying he would obey all government commands. He resisted. Though released, he went underground.
André’s nephew Daniel would later die in a Nazi death camp for his involvement, yet the rest of the Trocmé family and the congregation in Le Chambòn continued the good work their pastor had instilled in them.
André, Magda and Daniel are now recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” in Yad Vashem—Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum. They are only three of almost 26,000 designated as righteous for their bravery as non-Jews who helped the Jewish people at great cost to themselves.
These men and women who sought justice for their fellow men and women—and untold others through the centuries—were only following the footsteps of Christ, who first gave up everything to live among us, heal us and restore us. He did not dismiss physical needs for the “higher” calling of preaching; rather he confronted physical needs as part of His higher calling. Compassion drove Jesus to heal and teach.
And it cost Him. It cost Him time, rest, His rightful position at the Father’s side for a time and, ultimately, His life. If we desire to live according to the calling on our lives, then we must answer the call to justice—and be mindful that it may cost us something as well.
1Exploring what it means to “act justly,” from Micah 6:8.
Danielle Bartholic serves at the Atlantic (Iowa) EFC as missions board member, mission trip leader, and ESL teacher and coordinator.