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“Unbroken” Uncut

She pled and pled with him to attend one of the meetings, but over and over he angrily refused. Eventually, she had to lie to get him to come along, and he did. Graham preached:

“Darkness doesn’t hide the eyes of God. God takes down your life from the time you were born to the time you die. … [He will] pull down the screen and shoot the moving picture of your life from the cradle to the grave, and you are going to hear every thought that was going through your mind every minute of the day, every second of the minute, and you’re going to hear the words you said. And your own words, and your own thoughts, and your own deeds, are going to condemn you as you stand before God on that day. And God is going to say, ‘Depart from me.’” (373)

Louie was enraged, horrified that this man would dare to accuse him like this, after all he had been through for this country, after all he had endured. I am a good man, he thought, I am a good man (373). Graham continued:

Here tonight, there’s a drowning man, a drowning woman, a drowning man, a drowning boy, a drowning girl that is out lost in the sea of life. (373)

This sent Louie spinning, and he eventually stormed out before Graham was finished. But it would be the beginning of the end of Louie’s resilience. He had survived opposition before, but nothing like this. The next day, under the powerful preaching of the cross, Louie Zamperini was born again—rescued again.

In the end, Louie was broken after all, but not by the Bird. God has done what the Bird, weakened by the flesh, could not do, by sending his Son, Jesus Christ—and then a tall, blond-haired messenger named Billy Graham. God had painted yet another picture of his perfect patience, saving the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15–16″ data-version=”esv” data-purpose=”bible-reference”>1 Timothy 1:15–16)—the selfish, angry, violent, abusive, murderous and unforgiving alcoholic.

Hillenbrand describes Louie’s conversion:

When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. (376)

Savor the Unseen Sequel

The true climax of Louie Zamperini’s story is his second visit to Sugamo Prison. Standing inside the walls that had watched him suffer so badly, he now looked into the eyes of many of the very men who had inflicted the blows. For the first time since the war, he was seeing the faces of his pain and humiliation. How did he respond? Did he devolve into a seizure of violent screaming? Did he silently burn with fear and rage? No. “Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face” (373).

He later wrote a letter to the Bird:

As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. … But thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. (396–397)

Forgiveness, not survival, was the victory laurel of Louie’s life.

So when you see the movie, and enjoy Louie stepping back into freedom, savor the steps he would take years later into true freedom—freedom from anger, depression, alcohol, fear, violence and revenge. Freedom that would last through eternity.

Forgiveness, not survival, was the victory laurel of Louie Zamperini’s life. 

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Marshall Segal (@MarshallSegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife Faye live in Minneapolis.