Recently I re-read Richard Wurmbrand’s fascinating book In God’s Underground (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1968). Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor persecuted for his Christian faith in communist Romania. He spent more than 14 years in prison, enduring much suffering.
How did Wurmbrand manage to avoid despair?
He tells the following story (pp. 185-186):
It is about a doctor of early Christian times who was unjustly imprisoned by the emperor. After some weeks his family was allowed to see him, and at first they wept. His clothes were rags, his nourishment a slice of bread with a cup of water every day. His wife wondered and asked, "How is it that you look so well? You have the air of someone who has just come from a wedding!"
The doctor smilingly replied that he found a remedy for all troubles, and his family asked him what it was. The doctor told them, "I have discovered a tea that is good against all suffering and sorrow. It contains seven herbs, and I shall number them for you!
1. The first herb is contentedness: be satisfied with what you have. I may shiver in my rags as I gnaw on a crust, but how much worse off I should be if the emperor had thrown me naked into a dungeon with nothing at all to eat!
2. The second herb is common sense. Whether I rejoice or worry, I shall be in prison, so why fret?
3. The third is remembrance of past sins: count them, and on the supposition that every sin deserves a day in prison, reckon how many lives you would spend behind bars – you have been let off lightly!
4. The fourth is the thought of the sorrows that Christ bore gladly for us. If the only man who ever could choose His fate on earth chose pain, what great value He must have seen in it! So we observe that, borne with serenity and joy, suffering redeems.
5. The fifth herb is the knowledge that suffering has been given to us by God as from a father, not to harm us, but to cleanse and sanctify us. The suffering through which we pass has the purpose of purifying us and preparing us for Heaven.
6. The sixth is the knowledge that no suffering can harm a Christian life. If the pleasures of the flesh are all, then pain and prison bring an end to a man's aim in living; but if the core of life is truth, that is something which no prison cell can change. In prison or out of it two and two make four. Prison cannot stop me from loving; iron bars cannot exclude faith. If these ideals make up my life, I can be serene anywhere.
7. The last herb in the recipe is hope. The wheel of life may put the emperor's physician in prison, but it goes on turning. It may put me back into the palace, and even put me on the throne."
Wurmbrand concludes the story,
“I paused for a moment. The crowded church was still. "I have drunk barrels of this tea since then," I said, "and I can recommend it to you all. It has proved good."
This is indeed wise advice for all of us in times of suffering and affliction.