Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Perspective of Joy

Twice I have stood on the ground of Dachau, closing my eyes as the horrors of history reached into the present to sanctify through suffering. I have spoken to survivors of Auschwitz, and read the stories of many others. My own grandfather was captured near Strasbourg, France, and survived a death march in World War II.

Two things I have gathered from those who have survived horrors: That all are given a choice between allowing the darkness to make you his own, or to fight to find joy in the midst of atrocity; and that there are some things too dark to talk about.

When another human being chooses to do everything in their power to hurt you, words fail. There is nothing that can be said about that particular use of agency which fully communicates the way it changes your perspective, tries its best to warp your faith and rob you of power.

While not all of us will face the unspeakable hell faced by the victims of the Nazi regime, we will all at some point be injured by the deliberate actions of another. We will all have the choice to face aggression with returned aggression, or meet it with candor and acceptance...which is far easier talked about from a distance than up close. How, when you are attacked by another human being, can you truly forgive?

As the Lord Jesus Christ offered the great Intercessory Prayer, in which He prayed for us and our welfare, one of his most trusted friends was making his way through the streets of Jerusalem with a lynch mob at his back. He had accepted payment in return for telling Christ's enemies where he was that night. I can't imagine his motives, the thoughts that went through his head as Christ's suffering reached the pinnacle of sweating drops of blood. I do not doubt that, whatever his motives, he had rationalized his behavior.

Perhaps, truly believing that Christ was the Messiah, he thought he could trick the Pharisees out of their money. Surely, a man with all power would be safe from what they planned to do to Him? Perhaps Judas thought that this would force Christ to declare Himself and save them from bondage under the Romans. Maybe his first clue that things weren't what he thought they were was when Christ rebuked Peter for defending him by the sword, and healed the ear of the soldier. Doubtless, he thought nothing wrong with his actions at the time because later he hung himself in remorse.

To me, this story is a powerful illustration of the difference between answering aggression with aggression or with joy and peace. Neither Peter nor Judas knew what Christ knew. What, exactly, they thought Christ was, they certainly didn't fully realize that His purpose was to be slain as sacrifice. Especially not then. Maybe they expected more of a blaze of glory, a show of power. But the power Christ demonstrated was not mortal power they expected, it was divine power. A power of submission.

This doesn't mean that we have to stand idly and silently by when faced by atrocities. Submission to God does not mean submission to evil. But it does mean that, rather than looking at people who do terrible things, seeing their evil, and inviting that same evil of hatred into our hearts, we can find the divinity in them, and invite the peace and healing of God's Spirit. Empowered by His love, we can turn outwards in affliction, become the hands that heal.

Magda Herzberger, a survivor of three concentration camps speaks of what it was like. "At age eighteen, I was thrown into an environment where love and compassion were dead, where hatred and cruelty ruled instead."

"What kept me alive under these terrible circumstances was my faith in God, my love for life, and my family."

You listen to the stories of survivors, and almost unanimously, you hear the stories of people who chose to find joy in the face of horror. We can learn from that. We will likely never have to go through what they have. But we can make the same choice they did.

On the internet, when people disagree with us, we can chose to be kind. We can take courage in our beliefs while speaking to the divinity in every person. Every person on this earth is loved. Every single one. Tap into that power and that love, and find joy.

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