God Is with the Company of the Righteous

Today is Yom HaShoah, and I had a few thoughts I wanted to post.

First of all, we should take some time to pause and think about the atrocities of the Holocaust, and especially of those people who were victims of it. How could such a thing happen? Even if one could imagine human beings capable of such evil, how could God allow it to occur? Lots of books and movies and other forms of contemplation on this topic have been produced in intervening years, so I won’t go into that here any further. My challenge to you is, look inside yourself—darkness and sin is present in all of us; “it is lurking at the door,” as God reminds Cain in Gen 4.7. As a society, in the ways that we order our collective life and existence, the lurking beast takes on monstrous proportions, but because we are inhabitants within it, it is often insidiously unseen and unacknowledged.

Have you ever asked yourself, if you were a German in the ’30s and ’40s, would you have just gone along with what was happening? Would you have stood up? The number who did were pitifully few, and mercilessly suppressed. If nothing else, the Third Reich teaches us that we should always be looking at our society—including our governments—with wary eyes. For followers of Christ this is even more important.

Which brings me to another thing I wanted to bring up on Yom HaShoah—actually, not a thing, but a person. His name was Chiune Sempo Sugihara. I came across him sometime last year on Yad Vashem’s website, amazed that Japan of all countries had a listing under the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ section. He was a career diplomat for the imperial government of Japan and was stationed in Lithuania. Read his story for yourself, but suffice it to say, he was personally responsible for saving at least 6,000 Jewish people’s lives by approving transit visas for them so that they could flee.

Chiune Sempo SugiharaOf particular interest for me is that, while serving in the Manchurian Foreign Office earlier, he had converted to Orthodoxy. His Wikipedia article says that he resigned as deputy foreign minister in Manchuria because of the Japanese mistreatment of Chinese workers. This is someone I like to keep in my thoughts, especially today. People like him, or like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, are examples to us of how we might be authentic disciples of Christ in the midst of a world hostile to the Way.

Short Introduction to Chiune Sugihara

But did you catch that he did work in the Manchurian government? If you know your modern Asian history, you know that that is not something to brag about (although, as I said, he did quit his post there). This brings to mind the third thing I wanted to bring up today: this day is very significant as Yom HaShoah, but by accident of history, it is now of wider significance, especially for Americans, but to people around the world, as well: late last night, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed by US operatives earlier in the day.

I’ve noticed that some people have expressed unease with the amount of celebration that has occurred in our country at the death of someone—even if it is bin Laden’s. First of all, the response of the general society is not very surprising. According to the world’s standard, and according to the President, “justice has been done”—and I don’t mean that to sound sarcastic; Osama bin Laden deserved death for what he did. But one thing has been at the forefront of my mind since the announcement—we’ve all got blood on our hands. Al Qaeda and our national security concerns have seen to that most recently, and it has been vividly displayed before our eyes almost every moment of the last nine and a half years, although the attacks on September 11th certainly didn’t bring this reality about. Maybe the killing that America has perpetrated could be justified in some way by someone (although not all of it could), but the follower of Christ is called to the renunciation of violence.

In the midst of so much violence and death—it’s so close to each of us that many do not even recognize it—what are you going to do to be God’s love in the world? God in Jesus Christ showed himself to be a God who scandalously throws down not just his power, but his right to just vengeance. How well do you know this love of God’s?

Well, Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter to his fellow disciples that “where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words,” and I think I’ve already said more than necessary. Think on the significance of this day, and let it impact how you live in our society.

May God bless everyone.

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