Where is God? (Part I)

October 1, 2011

This past week I finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Nightfor a class on anthropology I am taking this semester. It is a young boy’s recounting of the horrors of the Holocaust as he lived through the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Although it is a short book, it is not a “light” or “quick” read because of the weighty content that is contained. Wiesel gives an honest picture of what many don’t want to admit – the depths that the depravity of man can take us to. A couple passages and quotes struck me as I read, and I wanted to share each of them.

It is easy to get lost in the sad stories and disheartened with the condition of man as you read of what was done to men, women, and children without any thought or care. But there is great hope that I find in the middle of the book – in fact, Wiesel writes one of my favorite pictures of hope in the midst of suffering, right in the middle of stories that reveal the dark heart of man.
He tells of witnessing three men being hanged before him in the concentration camp. The soldiers were trying to make an example of those who were disobedient, and so they forced everyone to walk by the three hanging on the gallows and look them in the eyes. After hanging for half an hour the first two were dead, but the last – a young boy – was still alive and wrestling as he walked past to look him in the eyes. Wiesel recounts:   

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 is He? This is where—hanging here from this gallows …”

That picture has been, and is a great source of comfort for me in the midst of suffering that I can’t explain. It’s easy when reading about the Holocaust to think that God does not care, that he is nowhere to be found in those times of utter darkness. But we serve a God who hung from a tree for sins that he never committed. We serve a God who is not only present in the midst of suffering, but knows what it’s like to be “despised and rejected,” to be unjustly treated, to suffer pain and anguish beyond what we can imagine – to ask, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He is not unmindful of our pain and anguish – so he is more than able to comfort us in the midst of whatever we are going through. He is “leading captivity captive,” even in the midst of suffering and evil.

I have written more about this in other posts (see: When God Suffers… or Jesus “Led Captivity Captive”), but it has been good for me to re-read about this particular instance within the context of the greater story that Wiesel tells. Feeling the tension that Wiesel feels along with him as he endures the darkness of the concentration camps brings new life to the realization that God is there, even still. Even when we cannot, and perhaps don’t want to see him there.

More from the book in the next post…

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