Louis Zamperini’s life has been commemorated in the recent movie Unbroken (spoiler alert!) It showcases his brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese in the Second World War, after more than a month lost at sea buffeted by sharks and the elements. Although the movie seems to be a very accurate portrayal, it barely addresses Zamperini’s later life in which his forgiveness led him to share his story of redemption and then see people come to Christ.
He pledged to serve God after the war if he could receive divine help to survive it (which was shown in the movie). Years later, Zamperini’s wife took him to hear the evangelist, Billy Graham, after post-traumatic stress nearly ended their marriage. Zamperini remembered his promise and was converted. He then began sharing his story, including with Japanese soldiers imprisoned for war crimes. Some came forward to receive the embrace of his forgiveness and even became Christians themselves.
Although he was denied a meeting with his chief tormentor in more recent years, Zamperini had intended to give him a letter indicating that he had found forgiveness in Christ and wanted to pass it on. Zamperini was never to get that chance; he died in 2014.
The pain of Zamperini’s suffering undoubtedly heightened his appreciation of life beyond that pain. Zamperini, also an athlete, used a running metaphor: “Pain is that last quarter of a mile. You feel it, but when you’re through racing, your whole body just feels elated. So the pain is worth it.”
I’m not sure I could say such pain is worth it! However, suffering affects us all to some degree, and I want to make mine redemptive, in the spirit of Romans 5:3-4 which encourages us to: “…rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” What a great attitude with which to squeeze out every last drop of our life lived on this planet, especially if it is carried out in light of our preparedness for the next one through accepting Christ’s ultimate redemption for eternity.