A Hidden Life
If you’re interested in a film that brings deep spiritual issues into sharp relief, Terrence Malik’s A Hidden Life is a worthy choice. My wife and I watched it last week with friends who had recommended it, and I have been rolling its themes around in my mind every since. I am no film critic, and don’t intend to try to play one here. Rather, for those who have seen it, I simply hope to re-enliven one of those themes in particular. For those who have not, my goal is to intrigue you without giving too much away, and at the same to press this theme on your heart.
The story is a true one, drawn from the letters of Franz and Fani Jägerstätter, along with Franz’s prison diary, during World War II. It begins in a pristine Austrian valley surrounded by majestic mountains. Franz and Fani’s home is filled with love, and their life together is suffused with the joy and satisfaction of planting and harvest – a serenity that is shattered by the rise of Hitler and war. Franz and Fani are devout Christians, and Franz resolutely refuses to pledge loyalty to der Führer. It is a costly refusal. They become outcasts in their village, despised and rejected by most. Franz is imprisoned by the Nazis. Fani is heartbroken, but steadfastly commits herself to continuing the cycle of planting and harvest, and caring for their three little girls.
It is undoubtedly fair to say that Franz’s utter determination to resist evil and to stand for righteousness is the dominant theme. But that theme is beautifully complemented by Fani’s devotion to Franz and to God – a devotion that causes her to suffer steadfastly with Franz, even during their separation. This, in so many respects, is a poignant portrayal of Christ and the Church. And it is especially on this that I have been meditating over the last few days – on the beauty of Fani’s devotion. She is desperately in love with Franz. Brokenhearted at their separation. Ever hopeful for his return. Unwaveringly faithful. Steadfastly working. Bearing up under rejection. Yearning for – and believing in – a better world to come.
My first inclination upon watching this story unfold was to be challenged by Franz. And I think that was good and right. But perhaps the more relevant challenge is to be found in Fani. She stands before me – and now before you – as a summons to such a devotion. Listen to how the apostle Peter writes: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). God grant that this may be true of us, no matter what may come.