"During those horrific wartime days, did you view your role as pleasure or duty?"
That question never entered my aunt's mind during World War II while she was hiding Jews on the fifth-floor tuberculosis ward of the Dutch hospital that she supervised. The question was asked years later, during an interview. My aunt responded wisely, saying, "Both. It gave satisfaction to rescue people from the murderer's hands."
The interview was preserved and recently came to my attention. With permission, I uploaded it onto the family's Facebook page. My motive wasn't merely to showcase my aunt's wartime heroism, but also to encourage reflection on the experiences of pleasure and duty. Are they opposites? Why or why not?
Indisputably, our "like-vs-dislike" culture tempts us to rate nearly everything according to feelings. We like what brings pleasure and pleases us, so it must be right. We dislike what unsettles us, so it must be wrong. Thus, feelings are the moral gauge of everything — even the Bible, which can cause displeasure, notably in its exposure of human sinfulness, including our own. That's how we see the need for Christ's salvation.
Perhaps we've come to view "blessed" as happiness, a pleasurable emotion which cannot be attained through duty (viewed as an unpleasurable, undesirable obligation). Yet, in Jesus' Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), "blessed" meant something far richer. Obviously, it's not pleasurable to sense our spiritual impoverishment ("Blessed are the poor in spirit"). It brings no pleasure to grieve over brokenness in the world, including ourselves ("Blessed are those who mourn"). We find no pleasure in extending mercy toward offensive people ("Blessed are the merciful"). There's no happy emotion in being disdained for our identity with Christ ("Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me"). Yet, those are the ones who are blessed by God. In other words, on them He bestows what the world cannot provide: favour, honour, and esteem. What joy!
My aunt, a resolute believer, was surely blessed, even when pleasure eluded her. When a crisis arose under her watch, she did what was right. It was her duty, despite the danger. In subsequent years, she did reap a measure of happiness through letters of gratitude from Jews whom she had saved. A year before the interview took place, she received an autobiography which detailed the resistance movement in Holland. That book, even with its horrendous accounts, made her "very happy", as she put it. It's why at the end of the interview, she could say, "After reading Arnold's book, I knew that I was merely a small link in the big chain."
Isn't that what we all crave? It's not superficial pleasure, but the assurance that we matter in the grand scheme of God's redemptive plan as His forgiven, chosen children. That's surely the blessing that Christ promised in His Beatitudes. It's the reward of endless pleasure through Christ: "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven." (Matthew 5:12a NIV)
Join me in prayer:
Prayer: Lord, liberate me from my obsession for immediate comfort, that I may be free to fulfill my Christian duty, however it comes, anticipating the richest pleasure of all: Your blessing. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "O God Our Help In Ages Past" (Lyrics)