I recently watched the movie A Hidden Life, based on the story of Franz & Fani Jagerstatter. It’s a long, cinematic portrayal of an Austrian man who refused to swear a loyalty oath to Hitler – and the consequences he and his family experienced. The story is a powerful reminder that evil is real, and how much easier it is to just go along with it. For Franz, this means he is faced with an escalating agony of choices. He first has to decide whether or not to donate to the cause; he doesn’t. Then, as the only one in his town who refuses to go along, he faces scorn, and even harassment. He goes to his priest for counsel; his priest tells him to just go along. Franz goes to the bishop; he recommends the same.
Franz continues to live his life, farming and caring for his family in their Austrian village. But as he does, the weight of expectation bears down on him. And one day, that weight arrives in a simple letter – drafting him into the Nazi military. He goes. But when they are enlisted by swearing an oath to Hitler, he stands silently. A simple act. A non-act, really. A choice not to go along, not to do what everyone else is doing. It’s a decision that he will be given ample opportunity to change. What he decides will have a lasting impact on him, and his family.
Watching Franz’s story played out on my TV screen (over 3 hours!), I can’t help but wonder: What would I have done? At each step along the way, what would I have chosen? Would I have thrown a dollar in the Nazi donation basket and kept my mouth shut? Would I have listened to my spiritual leaders, deferring to their religious authority despite my unrelenting questions? Would I have, as the priest urges Franz to do, simply speak words with my mouth that I know I don’t mean in my heart?
I’d like to think I’d have the courage and the integrity that Franz demonstrates. I’d like to think I’d stand when everyone else is kneeling. But I also see my own weakness – weakness that is all too evident in much less significant challenges than the ones Franz faced.
Ultimately, it strikes me that the best question isn’t: What if…? What would I have done if that was me? Instead, it might be better for me to consider: What is…? What is the situation I’m in right now? What does it look like to be faithful in what is right in front of me? Will I be a person of courage and integrity with what I’m facing, right here? Will I refuse to bend the knee to Caesar, no matter what form it takes, or what consequences might result? Ultimately, I think the question is less: What I would have done in any given moment in history – but what will I do with this moment in history? In my life, in my marriage, in my family, in my church, in my job, in my neighborhood, in my community, in my country – will I trust God and follow Jesus, whatever the cost?