Reporters and journalists are heralding the life of Louis Zamperini (January 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014), but none does it better than Bill Tinsley. In his July 12 column, Tinsley correctly attributes Zamperini’s extraordinary transformation to the Billy Graham crusade where Zamperini “gave his life to Christ.”
Zamperini went from alcoholic with PTSD to inspirational speaker and founder of Victory Boys Camp for troubled youth like he had been. By God’s grace he even forgave his Japanese tormentors, including “The Bird” who beat him nearly every day of his captivity.
Zamperini wrote his autobiography, Devil at My Heels, in 1956. A used copy now sells for $135.00. But Laura Hillenbrand collaborated with him to write Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Published in 2010, it became the LA Times top nonfiction book of the year, and rightly so.
On Christmas day this year, a movie based on Hillenbrand’s book will be released. This author hopes it does not glorify Zamperini as a strong and capable hero without including the “secret” of his success after the war.
What is the secret of a transformed life like Zamperini experienced? Anyone can have it. It is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus paid the death penalty for our sins. When we receive Him as our Savior, we become the children of God. “Yet to all who did receive Him [Jesus], to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).
No self effort can change a strong-willed man like Zamperini into a self-giving humanitarian for the rest of his life. He has to be “reborn” as a child of God. Only God gave a bitter, revengeful former POW the ability to forgive his tormentor face to face.
Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s column hailed Zamperini as more than a hero. Yes, but God is the real hero of the Zamperini story. Let’s hope the Hollywood movie does not dismiss or play down that impact.