On Sunday evening, I watched a movie I’d heard a great deal about (and which seemed appropriate for Easter). The movie is called “A Hidden Life”, and based on true events. You can rent it on Amazon for $5.99.
The movie is wonderfully shot, with constant images of stunning landscapes from unique perspectives and angles. It’s a bit long, slow, and perhaps too “artsy” for some peoples’ taste; but if you have extra time at home during this pandemic, watching this movie would be well worth your time. If you do plan to watch it, you may want to come back to this devotional after you’re done!
The story is set in the time of World War 2, and revolves around Franz Jagerstatter. Franz is an Austrian farmer, husband, and father of three daughters. Franz lives in the small mountain town of St. Radegund, where he cares for his elderly mother, and devoutly serves at his local Roman Catholic church. He’s also a loyal patriot, having served in his nation’s military (like his father before him).
However, everything changes when he’s called to fight for the cause of the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler. Franz agonizes over the fact that if he’s called upon to serve in the military, he will be required to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler. Franz cannot do this in good conscience; while he loves his country, he knows about the horrors being committed by the Nazis, and cannot bring himself to participate in their atrocities. Franz quietly commits to staying home, providing for his family, and praying the war will end soon.
But in town, word gets out that Franz does not support the war effort – and consequences follow. The local mayor denounces him. His neighbors shun him. Coworkers in the fields curse him and start fights with him. Even Franz’s own mother cannot understand why he insists on taking this stance, and his local priest tries to talk him out of it. Franz’s wife and children suffer as well; they are mocked and alienated for Franz’s conviction.
Ultimately, Franz is called upon to serve, but refuses to swear loyalty to Hitler. As a result, he is imprisoned under brutal conditions. He is beaten by guards, shipped like a farm animal from one cage to the next, and ultimately condemned to death by beheading. Franz’s wife visits him one final time before his execution, but they are not even allowed a last kiss. Franz is killed by the Nazis in August of 1943 – but not before he comforts a fellow prisoner as they wait for their turn at the guillotine.
Why did Franz Jagerstatter subject himself (and his family) to such hardship? It’s simple: his robust faith in Jesus Christ would not allow him to go along with the Nazi cause. Franz’s story is one of discipleship, self-sacrifice, and courage. Before he’s arrested, Franz has a conversation with an artist in their church. The artist says that his paintings create “admirers” of Christ, but not “followers” of Christ. Franz Jagerstatter was a follower of Christ to the very end.
What might this have to do with us? How can Franz Jagerstatter’s example of faith help us in our own walks with Christ, especially during the unique challenge of a global pandemic?
For a long time after his death, Franz Jagerstatter’s story was not well known by many (his story was certainly overshadowed by that of German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was also executed by the Nazis for similar reasons as Franz). While Franz’s story of obedience to Christ was eventually recognized (he was declared a martyr and beautified by the Roman Catholic Church in 2007), the story of his remarkable faith was not well known for decades after his death. In that sense, Franz lived “a hidden life”.
Of course, our current hardship is not the equivalent of staring down a guillotine. However, we too have been called to faith in and obedience to Christ in both normal, everyday life, and in the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic. And in many ways, our faith and obedience to Christ in this season of life are likely much more “hidden” than they were just a month ago.
Because we are not meeting together, you may be tempted to go weeks without doing many of the “basics” of discipleship – reading God’s Word, worshiping, praying, or giving – and few people (if any) will ever know. Conversely, you may be tempted to think that because you’re confined to your home, your faithfulness to these practices no longer has any point. Nothing that you’re doing is of any significance to the world.
However, know this: you still need these good, God-given practices for your own spiritual health (even if you can now “get away” with not doing them). And just because your faith and obedience to Christ are more “hidden” now than they have ever been before does not mean that they are pointless. Your reading of God’s Word is not in vain. Your worship is not a waste of time. Your prayers are not dissolving midair. Your giving is not for nothing.
Just because no one can see you doing these things the way they did a month ago doesn’t mean they don’t matter. The outside world may not notice or recognize your faithful discipleship (or lack there of) right now; but God sees all of it. Right now, you may be tempted to think that weeks away from church is a vacation from the Christian life that won’t do you any harm – but you’re mistaken. Right now, you may feel as though nothing you’re doing is of any value for God’s Kingdom, or making even the slightest positive impact in our fallen world – but you are mistaken.
In Scripture, God often accomplishes his grandest purposes through the most humble, unremarkable, and temporarily “hidden” means you can imagine: one man claiming that God called him to pack up his family and possessions and go wherever he leads; one Hebrew baby who managed to float down the Nile River in a basket; one shepherd boy who only showed up at the battle with Goliath because he was sent to deliver some sandwiches; one Jewish teacher crucified with two criminals, and eleven of his uneducated followers who insisted after the fact that he was alive; one Pharisee who got knocked off his horse and saw a bright light; one insignificant Austrian farmer who lost his life for refusing to violate his faith. The old cliche is true: God sometimes works in mysterious ways. God sometimes works in ways that seem “hidden” now, but bear glorious fruit in the future.
God can work great things through one man in Fishers, Indiana getting up and listening to a sermon from his couch; one parent memorizing a Bible verse with their child; one couple praying together before bed even though they’re tired; one woman continuing to support a missionary even when money is tight. In their immediate context, these actions may not have seem all that consequential, and they may go unnoticed for years. They may be “hidden” now; but with time, God may end up using them in astounding ways.
The movie’s title – “A Hidden Life” – comes from the book “Middlemarch”, written by George Eliot. Eliot writes of one character in the story:
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Your obedience to Christ in the privacy of your own home, with no one watching, might not get you any awards. There may never be a movie made about your faithfulness to Jesus during the COVID-19 crisis. Your tombstone may eventually blend in with all the others, and rest unvisited. But your acts of discipleship matter in God’s Kingdom – even when we’re stuck at home, with so much of our lives hidden. God sees, God knows, and God can use hidden people doing hidden things for our good, for the good of those around us, and for his glory.
And he said, “With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it grows up it becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)