Response: March 2015 Issue

‘Righteous Gentiles’ and Their Dangerous Path to Happy

‘Righteous Gentiles’ and Their  Dangerous Path to Happy
Janusz Korczak and the Ghetto's Children, sculpture by Boris Saktsier (1978), Yad Vashem Memorial, Israel.

Perhaps you've seen or heard one of the many YouTube lip syncs of Pharrell Williams' "Happy" inviting you to "Clap along if you feel happiness is the truth!" Or maybe you recall being in high school and memorizing the words from the Constitution about our inalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

According to the Webster's Dictionary the word happiness is a noun meaning "the state of being happy; a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience." Synonyms offered include "pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness, merriment." Happiness has been depicted in films, great novels and social media as being successful or "having" something others envy.

Great humanitarians and writers have given us yet another perspective on the meanings of happiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson cited Scottish philosopher David Hume's observation about human happiness when he wrote: "Hume's doctrine was that the circumstances vary, the amount of happiness does not; that the beggar cracking fleas in the sunshine under a hedge, and the duke rolling by in his chariot; the girl equipped for her first ball, and the orator retuning triumphant from the debate, had different means, but the same quality of pleasant excitement."

But if we look to the Holy Scriptures we understand that happiness requires us to show God's hope to others. Paul expresses this in his letter to the Corinthian church when he wrote: "I am what I am by God's grace, and God's grace hasn't been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others, that is, it wasn't me but the grace of God that is within me" (I Corinthians 15:10, Common English Bible).

Knowing that God has instructed us in a way to live and that on that path we experience happiness, pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness and merriment helps me to understand where we can find true happiness.

My good friend Jann Niemeijer Myers and I go way back. We both are daughters of Dutch immigrants and have raised our children together in our home church Trinity United Methodist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We share humorous aspects to being in the "Dutch mob" and some of the greatest recipes on this earth. In a recent conversation we shared deeper dimensions of our fathers' lives.

Jann's father, Dick (Elzo) Niemeijer, lived in the Netherlands as a young man during World War II. My father, Gerrit Ver Veer, immigrated to the United States as a child and served with the United States Army during WWII. Though their lives never crossed during that war, their stories did.

Mr. Niemeijer was a member of the Landelijke Organisatje voor Hulp aan Onderduikers (LO), the National Organization for Help to People in Hiding, also known as "the Dutch Underground." In 1944 the LO cared for an estimated 250,000 to 350,000 persons, that was 1 out of every 40 Dutch citizens. Many of these were the children that Corrie ten Boom wrote about in her book The Hiding Place or whose lives were documented in the stories of Anne Frank. Out of 140,000 registered Dutch Jews, 105,000 were sent to concentration camps, as were 500 Romanis. Of the LO members, 1,104 were sent to prison camps where many perished. More than 10,000 LO members gave up their lives in the war. These LO members were non-Jews stepping forward in one of the most horrific times in our history. They were driven to stand up to an evil force with the weapons of their belief that the call of God is greater than the call to inhumanity.

My father served in the U.S. Army as an interpreter helping to align allied activities with the LO movements. He also spent his war years trying to find the members of his mother's family who had remained in the Netherlands. In his search, he found that they, along with the neighbors they fought to defend, were interned in the Buchenwald prison camp. Only two young cousins survived. These young men told the story of how their families, guided by God's creeds, acted on their beliefs.

These family stories affirm to me the truth of Psalmist's words: "Those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Lord's instruction are truly happy. Those who guard God's laws are truly happy. They seek God with all their hearts" (Psalms 119:1-2, CEB). Mahatma Gandhi said it well, "Happiness is when what you think and what you say and what you do are in harmony."

The decisions these courageous people made were not about rising to a new status in the community. It was not about being giddy with excitement for gaining something of value. Their happiness came from knowing that what they stood for was decreed by God, not a choice but as a requirement of their faith.

Today in Jerusalem at the Yad Vasham, Holocaust Martyr's and Heroes and the Remembrance Authority, Israel honors the LO as "righteous gentiles." This period in history, a time of so much tragedy was also embedded with components of joy. Knowing that those faithful servants of God could stand up with confidence to so much evil, knowing in their souls that God was calling them to be the justice needed in their world, was true happiness.

There were too many who lost their lives, but there were many more who faithfully continued to follow God's call to live grace through compassionate humanity. I never had an opportunity to meet these saints in my family. I remember the first time I met my cousin and saw the numbers tattooed on his arm, I felt such sadness for his pain and loss. Yet, after knowing him I realized that it was through that sadness that he found true happiness. Happiness through God.

"You changed my mourning into dancing, you took off my funeral clothes and dressed up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever" (Psalms 30:11-12, CEB).

What is God calling you to do? If God called you today to accept the same responsibility, would you step forward and show that kind of faith? Is God calling you?

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13, CEB).

Nichea Ver Veer Guy is a member of United Methodist Women's board of directors and chair of its committee on finance. She also serves as director of children and family ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted or updated: 3/2/2015 12:00:00 AM

March 2015 cover of response: Celebrating 150 years in mission.


Additional Resource:

Created for Happiness: Understanding Your Life in God
This study take us on a journey to a richer and deeper contentment than a coffee mug or Facebook meme can ignite.

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