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Because even literate people are prone to mistakes, clerical errors through record keeping and lack thereof abound. Usually errors have negative results, but could a clerical error ever be providential?
Corrie ten BoomConsider the Dutch resistance worker, Corrie Ten Boom, who hid Jews in her home during World War II. She and her family were arrested in the late winter of 1944 for their anti-Nazi activities; Corrie, her sister Betsie and their father were eventually sent to a Concentration Camp known as Ravensbruck. There they faced many trials, ranging from hunger and fleas to harsh labour and the deaths of Mr. ten Boom and Betsie. However, at the very end of that gruelling year, Corrie was suddenly discharged from Ravensbruck. She discovered, after the war's end in 1945, that it was a clerical error that allowed her to be set free from this inhumane prison camp. One week after her mysterious release, all the female prisoners in Corrie's age demographic were executed. [Read more in the book The Hiding Place, 1971.]
After a time of healing, Corrie was raised up to testify of God's presence amid the horrors she experienced and of the power and necessity of forgiveness in order to move on from war. She took this message around the world and helped establish homes for the emotional rehabilitation of trauma victims.
Mike AndersonA more recent example of a clerical error involves a Missouri man, Mike Anderson. While out on bail for an armed robbery he committed in 1999, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. However, due to a clerical error, the authorities never picked him up to serve his time. Meanwhile Mike used his freedom to start a business, raise a family, coach sports and become involved in his local church. Last summer, paperwork came before the state telling them Mike's sentence was finished. Only then did they realize he had never been incarcerated in the first place. As a result, eight marshals came to his home to arrest him and placed him in prison, presumably for 13 years. However, the situation received a great deal of attention with petitions and an appeal asking that Mike's case be re-examined. Earlier this month, a judge looked over the evidence of Mike Anderson's life and set him free after just ten months in jail. [For more on this story, click on this link: USA Today version. ]
Mr. Anderson seized the opportunity of freedom by learning from his error and building a solid life to benefit his community. The ten months in prison that he nevertheless had to serve became a path to even fuller freedom, by no longer having to look over his shoulder, along with gratitude to the mercy of both God and the state authorities.
Response to Skeptics
I realized that these two examples are not enough to convince anyone that God can use human errors to serve his greater purposes. The skeptic may point to the fact that Corrie's sister and father perished, not to mention the numerous victims of Ravensbruck's gas chambers. Why were they not recipients of freedom? As well, critics may point to all those imprisoned unjustly around the world. What about them? When I share stories of God's providence, I am always rooted in the understanding of God's sovereignty. He has purposes that we cannot fully understand. Sure, we may wish to cross-examine God and ask him why injustices take place even as the Old Testament saint Job longed:
"I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say" (Job 23: 4-5)
Despite our perplexity, God had/has a particular purpose for the lives of the individuals named above. In order for them to testify of His goodness and His power, he used clerical errors to put them in the right place at the right time. If you look at your own life through eyes of faith, you may find your own examples.