Sunday, February 10, 2008

"When peace like a river attendeth my way...

...when sorrows like sea billows roll." It Is Well With My Soul.

I emerged from the exhibit at the Holocaust museum. In the small hallway between the exhibit and the remembrance room I paused to collect my thoughts. It seemed like I had just spent half of my life in a dark twilight between life and death—where pain and emotion were dulled to a raw throb, and all sensibilities were ripped forcibly out to make room for survival—and nothing else.

“How can humans do that to each other?” was the refrain that echoed in my mind amidst the jumbled collection of words and images that refused to be neatly categorized and filed away for future reference.

I refocused on the present and walked into the remembrance room. Blindly, the peace of the candles and the fire burning over the earth from the scenes of the atrocities were added to the other sensations of the day. At this point, another thought writhed and fought its way to the surface of my attention.

“Am I not also capable of the same evil?”

I wondered at the Christians in Germany who were swept up into the Nazi party; yet I see so many times in history when people were enamored of a “cause,” with little or no regard for the evil that it endorsed or promoted.

In my own life and in modern-day America I can see the possibility of such horrendous events. It would not happen all at once, but through a series of small steps a horrific end would be easily attainable.

I found the rooms of photos and especially the room of shoes impactful in making the holocaust more personal—dealing with individuals, and not just a personality-less mass. I saw the faces and realized that these people loved and hated, breathed and lived, smiled and cried and felt terror and had hopes and disappointments. I thought about how, had these people lived now, or had I lived then, some of us could have been friends, or would have disliked each other, or found the same things amusing.

At this point in my musings, my sister called me from home. She was talking happily about her upcoming wedding, discussing guests and bridesmaids dresses, and the daily details of a “normal” and happy life. I only listened with half an ear, as my mind was still churning with visions of horror. I could not tell my sister what I’d just seen—now was not the time—but it occurred to me that it is good to remember, and it is good to look on the evil that has existed and say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I sat outside the exit and waited for the rest of the group. As we assembled, I overheard some other students saying, “How could this have happened? Where was God?” This sent my mind in a new direction. It is only by the grace of God that we do not all experience something like the holocaust. We all deserve it, do we not? We have sinned horrendously against a holy God, and yet because God’s undeserved mercy we do not have to experience any such thing—we are, in fact, so protected and far removed that we find the mere fact that anything like that ever happened unbelievable.

One by one the images vividly portrayed throughout the exhibit flashed through my mind’s eye—the train cars where prisoners were packed in like cattle, the names of towns that completely vanished, the medical experiments, the piles of human hair—I found comfort in the thought of our holy God: a just God, who will defend the orphan in the widow; a God who will not ignore the crying of the wounded; and a God whose justice will not be denied.

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