Sometimes I stumble onto great things late. Four years after its release, I’ve been reading Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller, “Unbroken,” about the life of Louis Zamperini. A rising track star and 1936 Olympian, Zamperini’s life was derailed by World War II. In 1943, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific, where he and another crew member survived 47 days on a life raft … only to be captured and tortured in Japanese POW camps for the rest of the war. The book spares no details. At times it’s hard to keep reading. You keep expecting things to get better and then they get immeasurably worse.
Until the last section. There’s a surprise turn, then a lasting payoff that vividly illustrates the power of forgiveness.
After I finished “Unbroken,” I read a few interviews with Hillenbrand about how she accomplished it: Interview everyone. Verify everything. Embellish nothing. The story’s power lies in its truth. And, with Zamperini still alive today, any factual errors or exaggerations would have come to the surface.
The process is virtually the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. In “Go Tell It,” we discuss similar, painstaking research by the gospel writer Luke:
You never actually met Jesus face to face, so you’re going to have to construct the story second-hand. Divine inspiration will play a huge role, but you probably don’t know that yet. Many accounts of Jesus’ life – some credible, others not so much – were circulating during the first century. So your first task would be to read as many of those accounts as you could, and start formulating questions.
Then you’d put together a list of people you needed to talk to – people who were there, who knew Jesus at various times in his life. Credible sources. You’d interview those people at length – ask them who, what, when, where, why and how. You’d take careful notes, because the tape recorder will not be invented for another 1,900 years. Then you’d compile those notes into your story – choosing what to include and what to leave out based on whether it contributed to the overall point of the story.
Having done all that, you’d finally write a well-researched, orderly, credible account for your audience – the early church – so people could know what really happened and what it all meant.
A true story, told well, can impact the world.
Here’s a video about Louis Zamperini.