I first read To Resist or To Surrender by Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician, decades ago when I was in my late 20s at the recommendation of a friend. The book came to my mind again this past November, and I wrote the title in my journal. I found it long abandoned in a basement bookcase, a coupon for Centrum vitamins, dated November 1984, as an old bookmark in its very marked-up pages.
The book is about how we decide what to do in a given circumstance, particularly when choices are hard or even difficult to identify. It begins by presenting the dilemma of churches in Nazi Germany deciding whether to oppose the regime or to try to coexist with the hope of influencing it in more subtle ways. Tournier then expanded the discussion to show that the question of “resist or surrender” is basic for all points of conflict, whether in times of war between countries or in times of workplace conflict or in battles between parents and child or a husband and wife. Our natural impulse is to frame our choice as between striving to get our way or giving in, but the book is written for those who want to move beyond this impulse of a dichotomous choice when considering life problems that require something more.
Tournier offered two processes that go beyond the limited power of reason when finding our way. The first is the seeking of divine guidance by Bible reading, prayer, and meditation. Unfortunately, God often is silent in response. “We fail to see,” wrote Tournier, “that by our thus asking God questions, even in the reverence of prayer, we are still attempting to remain in charge of our meditation rather than let God direct us.”
The second is the responsive process of personal transformation. Tournier calls this process “an act of God’s grace.”
“At the very time that we are asking questions of God, questions which remain unanswered, he is ever asking other questions which we fail to heed…. Men throw out questions to God which remain unanswered. But they change and find unexpected solutions when they begin to listen to the questions God asks of them, and to answer him.”
Like all books that stand the test of time, this book written in the early 1960s and hiding in my basement has something to say today. Tournier wrote of Job who in the Old Testament did not receive an intellectual reply to his barrage of “Why’s,” but instead he received "an experience of God" and was changed.
[Photo: taken of a favorite scarf]