I got back from vacation one week ago tonight. On the drive up in the car, when it wasn’t my turn driving and when the kids were either occupied or sleeping, I read Elie Wiesel‘s Night. I know, not exactly light-hearted vacationy reading, but it was something I’d been wanting to read for a little while now (afterward, at my in-laws’, I read Grisham’s The Last Juror–not his best, but more light and vacationy and I enjoyed it). Truly horrifying but something that must be read lest we forget the depths of human evil and what we as a race are capable of. If you’re not familiar with the book, Elie Wiesel is a Jew who survived the Holocaust and Auschwitz as a teenager and Night is a memior written about that experience. Of the many thoughts that I’ve been mulling over from reading this short, powerful book, two stick out at the moment.
- Those who regarded the Jews as un-human were the ones becoming less human by their grotesque cruelty and raw evil. This is the terrible irony of history and the human experience. Racism and other hatreds seem to help us reduce others’ humanness in our own minds, which allows us to treat them (individually and collectively) as less than human through oppression, cultural shaming/humiliation, widespread extermination, and abuse/torture in its various forms–psychological, physical, sexual, etc. The gross irony in such terrible rationalizations and actions is that we ourselves forsake and surrender (degree by degree) our own essential humanness. In de-humanizing another, we allow ourselves to behave as if we are beasts.
- The copy I read included the text of Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986, in which he said, “…I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Chilling and truthful words that we need to heed today as we read and hear news reports in the “modern” world in which we live.
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the biblical call, not just to charity, but to justice and its essential place within the robust gospel of the Kingdom of God. Reading this book came on the heels of hearing really great presentations from Peter Storey, a white South African retired Methodist bishop who teaches at Duke University Divinity School and who, during his career, participated in the movement to end apartheid and to resolve the past through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, alongside Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Powerful and prophetic stuff.
So, a gospel thought I’ve been thinking over in light of this is that the gospel may be appropriately comforting to us in some respects, but we are not called to comfort. The meaning of life is not middle and upper-middle class suburban comfort, it is life in the Kingdom of God. That means joy, peace, hope, love, and many other things, but–lest we forget stories like the one Wiesel tells in Night–it is not really about comfort. It inescapably includes working for justice for those who are suffering, humiliated, oppressed, and tormented. Or, as Jesus put it, reading from the prophet Isaiah in Luke’s Gospel, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 TNIV)
That confronts the dickens out of me, so I continue to wrestle with it, like Jacob, not wanting to avoid it lest I lose my own soul in the midst of gaining everything but the kingdom and the gospel, seeking the blessing of being wounded by God in just the right way as to mark me as his and set me about his robust gospel and kingdom work.