Speaking to the Heart

solitary450

Isolation

It is said to be the highest form of torture – Solitary Confinement. Recent studies have revealed the horrors of being in solitary confinement. For most of us the word or term solitary confinement is familiar, and whether we have seen it depicted in movies or read about it, we feel we have a comfortable familiarity with this form of punishment. But the actuality of the punishment is far beyond what we can begin to grasp or imagine. Doctors and psychiatrist tell us that sustained time in isolation can produce all sorts of physical and mental ailments. The typical “cell” for solitary confinement can be a 6 foot by 9 foot cell, no windows, gray walls, steel doors and no pictures allowed on the walls. The prisoner can be held in the cell for 23 hours a day, and let out for an hour to exercise, but at no time seeing any other prisoners. Fifteen days in such conditions can cause irreversible health issues. In an almost unfathomable act of cruelty, Herman Wallace was kept in solitary confinement for 41 years! He was incarcerated at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola, and was released October 1 this year. He died two days later at the age of 71.

Solitary Confinement is horrible enough in our prison systems, but it is unfathomable in other countries, and especially during times of war. Many a soldier has been confined to this form of punishment at the hands of despicable human beings. The most notable and shocking story of isolation and solitary confinement took place during the Korean War, and it involved 36 American Soldiers. The 36 American airmen were shot down from the sky during the Korean War and were falsely accused of plotting to bomb civilian targets. The world and our country in particular, were shocked when all 36 confessed to this crime. The North Koreans were known for their cruel and inhuman punishment of prisoners, their acts of torture and other atrocities were legendary. But Americans were shocked to find out that none of the prisoners were tortured, none had suffered severe physical punishment. The highest ranking officer among those 36 airmen was Marine Colonel Frank Schwable, who went on record to state emphatically that he did not undergo any physical torture. In fact, none of the 36 men experienced physical torture. Col. Schwable later said he wished he had, if he had, he felt he would have survived better. Instead he and his men were subjected to something new: touchless torture. Each soldier was kept in solitary confinement, the least for 10 months, the most for 13 months. They never saw or talked to each other, they were interrogated by their captors, but always in isolation. During their time of isolation they were made to sit or stand in awkward positions, sometimes sitting on the edge of a chair for 33 days at a time, the entire time in a position of “saluting”. Others had to stand saluting for 30 straight hours. After months of isolation, confusion set in, and fact and fantasy blended together, until each one of the 36 in isolation confessed to the crime they did not commit. They all lied. The public was incredulous, how could they have confessed to a lie, especially after it was learned that none were physically tortured. In the approximate 60 years since that event, the military has learned the powering damage of isolation in solitary confinement.

If you want to read of an individual’s solitary confinement during World War II, read the powerful book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It is the incredible story of the imprisonment of Louie Zamperini, I can guarantee that you will not be able to put it down. And if you’d like to know more about the 36 airmen who falsely confessed to plan civilian bombings, read Joseph Margulies excellent article “The More Subtle Kind of Torment.” (October 2, 2006)

But why bring up isolation and solitary confinement? What are the chances that we might experience that, or that we have experienced that? Well, perhaps slim, but no one knows for sure the future. And there is an isolation that we can experience, and in fact, most have, and that is the feeling of being isolated from God. Make no mistake about it; it is a very real “feeling”. And truthfully, the feeling of being isolated from God can have far greater results than confessing to a crime you didn’t commit. Of all the struggles that Christians face, surely the greatest is the feeling of being cut off from God. There are many reasons for this feeling: severe trials, unanswered prayer, prolonged experiences of the seeming silence of God and disappointments over godly expectations. These are but a few of the causes of feeling abandoned by God. No one is exempt from this, age does not matter, occupations do not matter – even those in ministry, gender or health, race or culture, wealth or poverty, none grant exemptions.

The feelings of being isolated from God have been paraded before our eyes on the pages of scripture.  Many Bible Characters struggled with feeling isolated from God, and on occasion, even the feelings of being alone in solitary confinement. Here are a few of these words: “Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.” “Why O lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (The Psalmist) “He has made me dwell in darkness…He has walled me in so that I cannot escape.” (Jeremiah) “He has shrouded my paths with darkness…If I only knew where to find him.” (Job) These are but a few of the heart cries in scripture, and just at face value, they sure seem like people who felt isolated and even in solitary confinement. But we don’t need to look at scripture to see feelings of isolation from God – we need only look in the mirror. You know in your heart of hearts there have been times, and perhaps now is one of them, that you have felt cut off from God, you have felt He is nowhere to be found, you have felt isolated and far from God. It is a horrible feeling.

I would like you to take something with you into those times of feeling isolated and removed from God. I want you to take with you a powerful truth, quite staggering in its implications, and that truth is; your inseparatableness from God. There are certainly many passages that reassure us about “God never leaving or forsaking us” and “That His presence will go with us” and even the fact “That the Holy Spirit is in us and our bodies are His holy temple”. But sometimes our circumstances cause us to struggle with these promises. So let me remind each of us of an amazing and comforting truth about how we can never be separated from God. Let me start by having us listen to Jesus’ words in John 14; “In that day you will know that I am in the Father, you are in me and I am in you.” Now here’s the astounding truth as it relates to God never abandoning you, and you never being in isolation. You can’t be alone, because you are in Jesus and He is in you! If you could be separated from Christ, then Christ can be separated from the Father. Christ can never be separated (isolated) from the Father, and vice versa. Jesus says, “If you can separate me from the Father, than you can separate Me from you.” It’s an impossibility! Tonight rest your head on John 14:20-23. You’ll never be isolated from Christ – He can’t leave Himself, and He’s in you and you are in Him. And, oh yes, the Father will never leave you either. “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) No solitary confinement for you!