A scrawny girl, who has lost her father to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, watches her little brother die on a train. Days later, her mother plants her on the doorstep of her new foster parents, Rosa and Hans. Her mother leaves and she is abandoned, stranded in this new, scary place. Covered in filth, Rosa commands Liesel to bathe, but she’s so afraid, she can scarcely move. She sits in a cistern of water, her little body clenched. Blonde hair, ropy muscles, and compact strength, shiver in the icy water.
Rosa places her in bed and her nightmares begin. Every night, the girl wakes and cries. She cries for her father, her brother, and her mother. She cries for herself.
Hans comes. He sits. He never pushes, he never speaks. He sits beside her and waits. “He came every night and sat with her. The first couple of times, he simply stayed – a stranger to the kill the aloneness. A few nights after that, he whispered, “Shhh, I’m here, it’s all right,” (Zusak, 38). In time, she can speak to him. In time, she can sit on his lap and let him rock her to sleep. In time, she can read, laugh, and dream with him. And, in time, he can become a true father.
This is how Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, reminded me of Jesus. Inside, we are lost, hurt, children. We are estranged from God. We feel abandoned and stranded in a scary place, but, Jesus, similar to Hans, comes like a stranger in the night and offers us true kindness.
Jesus never forces his way on us. Christians have been zealots, but Jesus’ zeal is a perfect love and love never coerces or misuses its power and to be sure, God’s love is powerful. God, in his might, could reveal himself to us, in all his terrifying glory and command us to worship him, but rather, his love is always an invitation. We are at God’s mercy. Liesel was at Hans’ mercy and like Hans, Jesus waits. He sits by our bed. Shhh, I am here. We are safe with Jesus. He sets us free to be ourselves. We can speak, read, write, dream, and play with Jesus. And, Jesus, like Hans gives us true Fatherhood, friendship, and real love.
Later in the climax of The Book Thief Hans risks everything – his livelihood, his reputation, his safety, his very life, in a crazy act of kindness. He feeds a starving Jew in front of Nazi soldiers. He is whipped and his life is in jeopardy. He later laments his stupid, if not insane kindness, “‘I am stupid,’ Hans Hubermann told his foster daughter. ‘And kind. Which makes the biggest idiot in the world,’ (Zusak, 402).
True love, true kindness is always insane, if not stupid because it always involves a risk, a sacrifice. Kindness costs. It disrupts the law of this world – which clings to “might makes right” - to offer kindness in the face brutality. This is how we know the kindness of God is true – Jesus gave his very life, a huge risk, a great sacrifice. He did it so that we might eat, live, and dream to the full. So, that we, like Liesel, may become an adopted son or daughter. So, that we might know our true Father.
The Book Theif was not only a beautiful story, but it brought me back to the true story that I have staked my life on – the Redeeming love of God and His people as fully revealed through his Son – the thief in the night.