Thinking Anew – A dimension beyond our understanding
“We find it hard to accept that faith is a waiting game and that we will question it at times, especially when we struggle with personal anxiety or loss.” Photograph: Getty Images
As soldiers of the US army advanced through Germany in the last days of the second World War, they took possession of Schloss Rheydt, a renaissance palace near Mönchengladbach. The earliest written record of a building on the site is found in a letter dated 1180. What intrigued the Americans, however, was not its antiquity but the fact that this was the holiday home of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, whose coat of arms adorned each room.
The army units involved included many Jewish soldiers, so one can only imagine how they responded when it was decided to hold Jewish religious services in the Great Hall of the palace, and in March 1945, 300 Jewish soldiers kept the Passover there.
The irony of observing a festival commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people, led by Moses, from Egypt in a palace once given as a tribute to Goebbels, Nazi persecutor of the Jews, was lost on no one, and news soon reached America and was widely reported.
This caused problems for one named soldier who had told his mother that he was far away from the war to stop her worrying about him. The publicity gave the game away, as he recalled years later: “My mother discovered that I had lied to her. I wasn’t having a great time in Paris after all. However, as mothers will, she forgave me.”
Tomorrow a reading from the Book of Exodus tells the story of the Passover leading to deliverance from Egypt which St Paul links to the Christian Eucharist and the death and resurrection of Jesus: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
In his book Hope and Suffering, Desmond Tutu explains how these events expand our understanding of God’s role in human affairs: “This act of saving a rabble of slaves, this highly political act called the Exodus in the Bible, came to be seen as the founding event of the people of God, what constituted them his people, and other divine events were described in the light of this event, as the Christians later were to describe everything in their salvation history in the light of the death and resurrection event of Jesus Christ. God showed himself there as a saving God, as a doing, an active kind of God . . . who took the side of the oppressed, the exploited ones, the downtrodden, the marginalised ones . . . He took sides against the powerful on behalf of the widow, the orphan and the alien, classes of people who were often at the back of the queue, at the bottom of the pile.”
Both events represent God to be a God of action who delivers his people. But it happens in God-time not human time and that is a dimension beyond our understanding and experience. How often in the Bible and in the lives of the saints do we come across people crying out to God in times of distress and feeling they are not being heard. Jesus on the cross for example: “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
We find it hard to accept that faith is a waiting game and that we will question it at times, especially when we struggle with personal anxiety or loss.
Elie Wiesel, a Romanian Jew, survived the Holocaust, just. As a teenager he and his family were sent to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister were murdered. His father died in Buchenwald. In his book Night, he wrote about the horrors he witnessed in those camps and his loss of faith: “Never shall I forget these things which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.” Years later he would reclaim his faith and when asked about it said: “I rarely speak about God. To God, yes. I protest against Him. I shout at Him. But open discourse about the qualities of God, about the problems that God imposes, theodicy, no. And yet He is there, in silence . . .”