Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.
I received the news of Osama bin Laden’s death with grim satisfaction, but only after the immediate lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I recalled once more those trapped in the crashing planes and falling buildings of 9/11. And their loved ones.
In the face of all terrorism that wounds and kills and destroys, we have cause to wonder “Where is God?”
Invited to speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day this past Sunday, I quoted one of the characters in Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s novel Night, who asks this very question. In a concentration camp, a mere child is sentenced to hang, and as the sentence is carried out, the young narrator hears someone behind him asking, “Where is God, where is He?” And when the child does not die right away, but suffers, lingering between life and death, again, “Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows…’”
That’s what Jesus’ followers discerned, as they witnessed Jesus on his cross. “For God’s sake, where is God?” they surely wondered. And from within them, they heard a voice answer—perhaps the Holy Spirit?—“Where is God? This is where—hanging from this cross…”
As I wrote in this blog during Holy Week, this is how the crucifixion speaks to me—God identifies with all innocents who suffer violence for who they are, whether hung on a fence post in Wyoming, drug behind a truck in Texas, or last week, beaten in a McDonald’s in Maryland.
Those of us who watched the royal wedding Friday morning were reminded that it was the feast day of Catherine of Siena, who admonished, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!” I might add, if the world doesn’t set you on fire first!
One who did not survive the Holocaust, or Sho’ah, Etty Hillesum, wrote a prayer in her diary [published in English as An Interrupted Life] on July 12, 1942:
Dear God…One thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last.
And later she adds, “There will always be a small patch of sky above, and there will always be enough space to fold two hands in prayer.” She died at Auschwitz on November 30, 1943.
“Safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.” “Safeguard”—as in preserve, protect, and treasure. “And perhaps in others as well.” That’s the tough part, thus “perhaps.” Disrespecting God’s dwelling place in others is the root of all terrorism.