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'Unbroken' and the Savior's capacity to heal

When I read "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand and worked my way through the seemingly never-ending acts of violence perpetrated against Louis Zamperini, I could not quite understand why the descriptions of his horrific suffering — on the life raft and at the hands of his Japanese captors — went on and on and on. In the midst of reading those chapters, I mused that the book needed tighter editing or some trimming. Even after his release as a prisoner of war, his suffering continued with accounts of self-destructive choices that increased his unhappiness and further distanced him from God.

Then I read as his wife encouraged him to attend a Billy Graham meeting with her. I don’t reveal too much when I say that the first time he attended, he left in anger. But he returned, and when he opened his heart to the message and testimony that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, Zamperini began a dramatic transformation in his life.

Suddenly I understood, perhaps, the author’s intent and the detailed accounts of all he endured. The breadth and depth of Zamperini’ suffering made his transformation nothing short of a miracle. After enduring grotesque torture, physical and mental degradation that would have destroyed many individuals, his life took a remarkable turn. That change was only possible as he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and the promise of Christ’s Atonement as real.

The Savior, through an outpouring of his love and grace, healed Zamperini as he opened his heart to the Redeemer of the world and began a quest to live a new life of obedience to Christ’s commandments and to fashion himself into a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Because of the reality of the Atonement, the hatred, the sins, the sorrows and the grief that had embittered Zamperini were swept away and replaced by feelings of pity and mercy. Zamperini was able to look the majority of his captors in the eyes and extend them complete forgiveness and even to forgive the “Bird,” his primary tormentor, who refused to meet with him. Zamperini was able to purge himself of hatred and to love others as Christ loved him. He found the peace that “surpasseth all understanding” and determined to share the love that he now felt in his life with others, to spend his life testifying of Christ by serving and helping others transform their lives.

Although the film was excellent and Zamperini’s faith and belief in God were briefly mentioned in the recent film adaptation, the tragedy of the movie was that the essence — the central message — of Zamperini's life and of "Unbroken" was marginalized. It is a shame in so many ways, most importantly because the need for the Savior is enormous and growing in today’s world.

Christ persistently testified of his capacity to heal. Early in his mortal ministry, he announced that he had been sent “to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18). He promises to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5). He proclaimed, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

He asked the people in the Americas, “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy” (3 Nephi 17:7). He pled, “Return unto me … repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you” (3 Nephi 9:13).

In our day he affirmed, “After their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:13).

Isaiah observed and powerfully testified, “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things. … Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall. … (Thou) will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:1, 4, 8, 9).

Many individuals — including Zamperini — have and will continue to experience Christ’s healing power. Just as Zamperini did, we too must affirm and proclaim this great truth.

Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column, LDS World. She teaches part-time at BYU. Her views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.