The Hiding Place tells the story of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who, alongside her family, sheltered and saved the lives of dozens of Jews during the Holocaust. Born into an extremely religious Christian family, Corrie is taught that God is active in everyday life and that all worldly events are the result of a divine plan. This belief gives Corrie the strength to withstand the misfortunes that befall her, especially after she is sent to a concentration camp. At the same time, it’s Corrie’s religious convictions that make her object to the Nazis and impel her to take action against them in the first place. Bolstered by faith, Corrie finds it easier to take personal risks in the name of her beliefs than to passively accept suffering as part of God’s plan. It’s only through the example of her sister Betsie, with whom she endures imprisonment, that she is able to reconcile these two aspects of her faith, deriving a sense of personal tranquility while also maintaining her spirit of activism.
Raised according to the doctrine of the Dutch Reformed Church, Corrie is taught to believe that everything that happens is the result of God’s will; this belief helps the family cope with misfortunes that befall them. Her family members put this belief into practice: often bedridden by chronic illness, Mama accepts her condition as the will of God, coming to believe that it gives her greater compassion for the poor people to whom she ministers. One of the family’s most devout members, Tante Jans, is a notorious hypochondriac who drives the family crazy, but when she realizes that she actually will die of diabetes she responds to the news with surprising tranquility. Corrie sees this as evidence that accepting misfortune as God’s plan gives one the strength to resist adversity.
The family even interprets misfortunes as proof of God’s benevolence. For example, while Corrie is devastated to learn that Father dies ten days after being arrested, she also believes that God has caused his death to spare him the harsh and humiliating conditions of prison.
Conversely, Corrie attributes all good things to God’s benevolence. During the occupation, Corrie can’t sleep and shares a cup of tea with Betsie. Meanwhile, an explosion causes her bedroom window to break; when she sees the shrapnel in her bed, she realizes that she would have died if she had been sleeping there. Corrie is frightened thinking of this possibility, but Betsie reminds her that “there are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world,” meaning that God’s will is the only possibility.
While faith gives the ten Booms strength to accept personal difficulties, Corrie also argues through her actions during the war that Christians must act when they observe injustice, rather than ascribing human evil to God’s will. Corrie exerts herself and takes substantial risks in order to shelter Jews and help them escape persecution. Although she prays constantly for divine protection, she also takes the initiative to protect herself and those around her by procuring extra supplies, installing a secret room in her house, and training her fugitives to hide quickly in the event of a search.
Corrie even takes action when doing so entails doing things she would normally consider sinful. For example, she tells her first lie in order to procure fake ration cards for the people she’s hiding. Her only moment of anger at her family occurs when Nollie refuses to lie to the Gestapo about a Jewish woman she is hiding; even though Nollie has technically obeyed a religious law, Corrie thinks she’s really acted against Biblical teachings, because her truthfulness caused a helpless woman to be arrested and potentially killed (though the woman is soon miraculously freed).
Because of episodes like this, the war complicates Corrie’s understanding of what “God’s will” really is, and how an ordinary person can try to follow it. Her behavior during the war seems to contrast with her conviction that everything that happens is in accordance with God’s will; however, Corrie clearly sees herself as acting on behalf of God. To her, Christian faith requires both personal stoicism and activism on behalf of others.
While Corrie’s is easily able to accept God’s will when it comes to her own life, she finds it hard see God’s hand in the suffering of others, especially when she is sent to the Vught and Ravensbruck concentration camps. At this juncture, it’s Betsie’s example that shows Corrie the ideal combination of faith and action. Even in situations that Corrie regards as hopeless, Betsie finds a way to make things better. For example, in the bleak women’s barracks in Ravensbruck, she’s able to create cohesion among the demoralized and squabbling women by praying aloud, and then by organizing clandestine multi-denominational prayer services.
Corrie is particularly upset because the barracks is full of fleas, but Betsie reminds her that the Bible tells them to “give thanks in all circumstances,” not “in pleasant circumstances.” Eventually, Corrie and Betsie realize that the guards don’t discover their prayer services because they are too scared of the fleas to regularly inspect the barracks. Corrie views this as confirmation of Betsie’s belief that even seeming misfortunes are part of God’s plan.
While it’s clear that suffering caused by war complicates the somewhat simplistic notion of faith with which Corrie grows up, it doesn’t erode it. Corrie accepts that she won’t be able to find any divine reason for the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust. Rather than trying to explain God’s will on a large scale, she focuses on the way that her own personal suffering has been part of a divine plan, suggesting that it encourages her to rely more thoroughly on God and gives her an opportunity to turn her passive faith into activism.
Faith and Action ThemeTracker
Faith and Action Quotes in The Hiding Place
I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.
But if God has shown us bad times ahead, it’s enough for me that He knows about them. That’s why He sometimes shows us things, you know—to tell us that this too is in His hands.
We knew, of course, that there was an underground in Holland […] but [the rumors] featured things we believed were wrong in the sight of God. Stealing, lying, murder. Was this what God wanted in times like these? How should a Christian act when evil was in power?
Love. How did one show it? How could God Himself show truth and love at the same time in a world like this?
By dying. The answer stood out for me sharper and chillier than it ever had before that night: the shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world.
Each night we lighted one more candle as Eusie read the story of the Maccabees. Then we would sing, haunting, melancholy, desert music. We were all very Jewish those evenings.
Could it be part of the pattern first revealed in the Gospels? Hadn’t Jesus—and here my reading became intent indeed—hadn’t Jesus been defeated as utterly and unarguably as our little group and our small plans had been?
In the Bible I learned that God values us not for our strength or our brains but simply because He has made us. Who knows, in His eyes a half-wit may be worth more than a watchmaker. Or—a lieutenant.
“Betsie, don’t you feel anything about Jan Vogel? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Oh yes, Corrie! Terribly! I’ve felt for him ever since I knew—and pray for him whenever his name comes into my mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!”
Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.
I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were—of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts. I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest—how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.
“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb. I would think of Haarlem, each substantial church set behind its wrought-iron fence and its barrier of doctrine. And I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.
The knitters of Barracks 28 became the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruck, interceding for all the camp—guards, under Betsie’s prodding, as well as prisoners. We prayed beyond the concrete walls for the healing of Germany, of Europe, of the world—as Mama had once done from the prison of a crippled body.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.