I was going to write a blog post today simply talking about Christmas, the true meaning of the Holiday, and all of the hope that accompanies this time of year. It would have been laced with joy, hope, and extravagant appreciation for family, friends, and my Savior. I would have ended it with a dramatic cliché signoff similar to a Disney Christmas movie.
But then again, we’re talking about me here.
Well, it is December 23rd and I woke up this morning with a list of things that I desperately need to get done before Wednesday. Finish wrapping presents, clean my house, stop at the store, make a dessert, etc. the list goes on. I’m sure you all feel about the same. Often times when I’m feeling stressed I go to various websites and read stories, for example: persecution.com and abundanthopeinternational.org. Simply to bring me back to earth and make me remember how blessed I truly am. But today I did not have to look up a story, because one came to mind that I had read before, and I feel the need to share it with whoever will listen.
Stick with me, because I’m going to bring this back to hope, joy, and above all, extravagant appreciate for my Savior. The road to get there won’t be as fun, but like I always say, we appreciate the sunrise more when we see the darkest of nights.
I’m currently 26 years old, working a full-time job, and coping in an America that is crumbling around me. I have bills, I have stress, like everyone else…I have bad days where coffee becomes my breath of life in the morning and receiving it intravenously for a couple of hours straight is slightly tempting. But today my thoughts traveled back to 1941, to a girl who was almost my age.
Bronislava was a Jew that lived in the village of Dnepropetrovk, Ukraine. She was married to a Ukrainian, and she was blessed with two baby boys that were five & two. Bronislava rang in her 25th birthday with her feet frozen to the ground, holding her children close to her. German soldiers laughed as they held up the cases of ammunition meant for whoever still remained alive from her village to see, ammunition that they had to retrieve after running short the night before. As the few hundred left of her village stood, waiting for their turn to die, the Germans had been collecting bodies all night long from the massacre that started the night before; it would be completed now that the reloading was taking place. The soldiers had gone for ammunition as casually as one would go to the store for eggs.
Anyone with a loved one could not even begin, nor wish, to imagine the fear. I’m sure that she held her children close, breathing them in for what would be the last time. Still concerned for her child, and after standing all night in the cold, her weary arms were forced to set her five-year old son on top of a man who had already been shot the night before. The man was dying, but his body created a warm place for her child to sit while they awaited their fate, as opposed to the muddy water that was now ice blocks holding her feet to the ground. The two-year old in her arms was lying still, breathing against her neck; I imagine that the thought of this being the last time she would ever feel that flooded her mind like a tsunami swallowing a city. She had carried her child from her home while they were being wrangled up and mocked by Ukrainians who stood proclaiming that the Jews were finally getting what they deserved. While the corpses of mothers and their children laid there, human beings believed that THIS is what they deserved, simply because of their race. This is something I can’t even fathom, I can’t imagine being her. But there she stood, holding her children and begging God to spare their life while the rain turned to snow overnight.
Bronislava was saved by her pretty face. A German soldier came and broke the ice from around her feet, collected her children and told her that she was too beautiful to die. She walked away with her two children while the rest of her family was executed and thrown into a mass grave, including her sister and her young niece. She was eventually given a fake passport after escaping her captors. The passport said she was Ukrainian, and she hid living in a barn with her sons and husband (her husband, being Ukrainian, was never taken to the field of death) for the remainder of the war. Forever she would vividly remembered the screams; the children that were trampled during the madness, then thrown into a grave while still screaming for their parents. The horror was insurmountable.
What saved her? God? Can we say that God granted her freedom and still call him good while her young niece was soon after riddled with bullets and thrown into a mass grave? Can we? We see homeless, we see murder, we see death. Where is God? We say He is good, we say He is peace, we say He is kind, but for the child that is found strangled by a madman, where is He?
After the war was won, Bronislava came out of hiding and said the following to a police officer, “I live only for my children and for the day the Hitlerite beasts would be punished. But no, they are not beasts. For beasts do not gnaw on those who are down, and anyone who throws living children into a grave is not worthy of being called a beast.” I can’t imagine what she saw, not just the death, the pain, the suffering, but the look of evil in the eyes of men while such horrid acts of hatred and pain took place. To think that men performed these deeds like we perform house work. To laugh in pride and show a child the ammunition they would soon use to annihilate their family is not only evil, but blinding evil, unprecedented evil. To think that human beings are capable of joy in those moments is unapologetically appalling to us.
Right now you are thinking, “Gee, thanks for this Christmas post!”…But friends, is this not something to remember? That while we find kids who are upset over their IPod data size, the color of their new laptop, or the number of gifts under the tree, we forget that all over the world pain is screaming “where is your God?”; and we are tasked with giving an answer. This Christmas many will flock to homeless shelters, they’ll not worry about the side dish that was a little over done; they’ll worry about getting something – anything – in their stomachs. This Christmas thousands of families will sit under a Christmas tree and wonder why their child was stolen by cancer in the last year. Missionaries will pray for peace over people who do not know of such a thing as peace. A woman will cry out to God in the captivity of a sex slave trade that is alive and flourishing. The atheists will find justification in his beliefs by questioning the moral character of God, by perpetuating the ideals of a loving creator gone mad with power. A Christian will do the same with gentler wordplay, but will end by insinuating that God is somehow still magically good despite all evidence. We’ll fumble for the words to defend our Creator and Companion like He is on trial for the deeds of the Devil.
“Where are you, God?”, will be shouted by the thousands, silently felt by those mourning, and prayed by those awaiting a death sentence in a foreign country for simply obeying Him.
The truth, in all its unshakable reality, is that this world is random in its suffering, and it is cruel; because of who we are, not because of who He is. Whether it is pain brought on from ourselves, pain from disease, or pain from the horrid acts that are unjustly brought upon us by the free will of others, it is not His to own. But alas, we label these acts as a betrayal of God. Blaming Him for the sin that we allowed to overrun our earth like a spreading wildfire. I sometimes wonder if the atheism C.S.Lewis held onto until his conversion later in life had something to do with the death of his mother as a child. He stated the following:
“Children suffer not, I think, less than their elders, but differently. For us boys the real bereavement had happened before our mother died. We lost her gradually as she was gradually withdrawn from our life into the hands of nurses and delirium and morphia. And our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister, whispered conversations. With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security.”
I follow a lot of kids on Facebook that suffer from cancer, it reminds me to pray for them and their family whenever I see their updates. A post update from one of the parents a few days ago shook me to the core:
“They gave her a couple days to a couple weeks to live. My heart is breaking. I sit here looking at her face trying to remember every contour of it, I breathe deeply against her skin trying to always remember her smell. Every time she speaks I try to listen for the different way she says certain words so that I never forget. I keep putting my lips against her warm skin because I never want to forget how that feels. I’m devastated and I’m hoping that I will wake up from this nightmare.”
Pain in its most volatile form can be witnessed daily in this world.
I find hope in the knowledge that we label such things as cruel, unusual, and horrid. That we feel the wide array of sorrow. Why? Have I lost my mind? No, there is an intellectual side to the argument that I believe to be overlooked and waxed over by overwhelming pain. If there was no good to aspire to, if there was no peace, and if there was no joy, we would not yearn for it. The hope that we crave in those moments of desperation is real, and we feel its absence like it’s been cut out of us and we are attempting to hold the wound shut. Why? Because it’s real. We ask, “Where is the good?”, because we know there is good. Imagine the emptiness in a world truly abandoned by God. Imagine a world where we look upon evil and find no fault, no wrong.
The fall of man welcomed pain and suffering. But STILL in our sin He found a way to offer us willing love. Love that, while we could be left to wallow in our pain and suffering gave us a way out. Love that danced through the gates of heaven hand in hand with the child once riddled with bullets by the hatred of Hitler’s men… Because Love deemed her worthy, Love refused to let that be her end. Bronislava’s young niece was not defeated by the man waving the ammunition in her face; God may not have stopped the bullets, but He stopped that from being her end. In the same way that He used Bronislava and her witness to shine a light on the evils that happened that day, to be a voice for those who suffered.
There is a rampant disease in today’s church that in its arrogance would blame the horrid acts done under the free will of man on the character of God – and while I won’t go into detail on this blog post – I will say that I find it to be the most harmful attack on His character I’ve yet to witness. If we successfully merge the beauty of God’s love with the evil of Satan’s work, we’re failing. There is also a feeling of cold apathy in today’s church, we wish to remain in the dark to such evils, in our “Potluck Party” bubble, per se. Uninvolved in the worlds suffering because our own little world has been overcome by our personal wants and desires.
This week when you celebrate your family, hold them close and be thankful for what you have. Pray for those suffering, and remember those who faced evil and lost in this world, and remember the God that saw the pain and suffering we brought on to ourselves and STILL wanted more for us despite our lost state. Live thankfully, as though His hope is what keeps your lungs breathing, His promise is what keeps your heart receptive to seeing the absence of Him in this world. I pray that if you don’t know Christ today, you feel this hope that is calling you. Darkness is the absence of light, Christ’s hope is written on the hearts of all men…It’s the thing that says “this is wrong, there’s more in store.”
Christmas has been glamorized, but we forget that all of the above is why He did what He did. Why He had to be born, why He had to walk among us, and why He had to pay our fine. When Jesus entered the world as an infant so long ago, he did so for Bronislava’s niece, and for the man that took her life, that maybe someday He would find hope. He did so for those suffering from disease. He did so for the woman facing persecution in Egypt, for the child left abandoned, for the Mother clinging to her children in a concentration camp, for the Father trying to make ends meet, for the family who is hungry, and for the family that has plenty. That is what Christmas is about.
“We must meet the uncertainties of this world with the certainty of the world to come.” A.W.Tozer
So the question is never “where is He”, but “where is He not?”…Even when it feels like hope is lost, our longing for hope is His presence shining through and calling evil exactly what it is. Evil. He could have left us to our own demise, but He didn’t. He could force us to love Him or hate Him, but He doesn’t. He could have left us in a world where evil is all we know, where there is no absence of hope because there is no hope to be found…
But He didn’t.