I like to read.
I like being swept away in the story, transported to another world and even into another life! Whether it’s Harry Potter or Scarlett O’Hara, I slip into thinking what it would be like to be them and all that might entail. Recently, I dove into a book by Elie Wiesel entitled, “Night.” It’s his memoir of surviving the Holocaust as a fifteen-year-old boy. One part that seized my heart happens as he arrives at Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. I feel like I am there with him as he is being herded from a railroad cattle car. As with most death camp narratives, this is a hard thing to read. But, if you will bear with me, I will share what I began to reflect on after setting the book aside. As Eleazar (Elie) and his father are driven through the camp, they are torn from his mother and sister, soldiers separating them at gun point. One line for those that can do hard labor; one for those that could not. Elie then witnesses something that, at first, he couldn’t make sense of: A Nazi soldier is pulling small bundles from a covered truck and throwing them into a trench filled with fire. Terrified he is bound for the same fire, it takes Eleazar a moment to realize what he is seeing: These bundles are babies! Small, living, breathing children being thrown in and burned alive! Think on this: This Nazi soldier was a real person, not just a character in a story. He lived and died and we will never know his name. We don’t know if he felt shame, regret or if he ever realized the horror of what he had done. But What if… What if this soldier died with this crime hanging fully on his spirit because he had never taken it to God and asked to be forgiven? What if he carried it to his grave? Just like you and I will do, he stepped from this world into God’s presence. What a heart-breaking moment that would have been for him AND for God! For the soldier, he may be realizing for the first time that God was alive and real. Now there may be an accounting for all he had done. And for God, what an agony it would be to love this man as a father loves a child and, at the same time, know the evil that he had done. Like any Father, it would wound Him deeply to send this soldier, His precious child, away from His presence forever. If only he had come to the Father and asked for the gift of forgiveness! As I lay thinking, this other possibility grew in my thoughts: But what if… What if, in the days or years after Auschwitz, this soldier, this man, realized what he had done? What if the suffering became so great, he went looking for redemption? What if this soldier, this “brother” of ours, found God, knelt at the foot of the Cross and called out to God to forgive this unforgivable wrong? Suddenly, this heavenly scene changes! In my mind’s eye, I see God’s arms fling open wide as the man enters His presence! The Father embraces him, overjoyed that His child, a soldier no more, is home, forgiven and washed clean as snow! There are many that would disagree that a person guilty of such atrocities could ever be forgiven. Could a bended knee and a whispered confession bring complete forgiveness? How could it be that simple? It is easier to think that it is GOD who wouldn’t forgive because, in truth, we ourselves have trouble forgiving. Here on earth, it is commonplace for humans to turn their backs on someone they deem as unforgivable. Mercy can be hard to come by, and forgiveness, especially towards ourselves, is hard to give. I have spoken to people that believe they could never be acceptable to God, as if God has limits and could never forgive them for the terrible things they have done: Like the man on Skid Row that chose alcohol over his family. Like the imprisoned mother that had drowned her baby while binging on cocaine. Like the teenage girl that sleeps around, desperate to feel wanted. God’s mercy economy is not like the world’s. You can never “owe” so much that you cannot be forgiven. Our wrongdoings can never outweigh the infinite mercy of God.
“O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.” Psalm 86:5
God’s grace is unmeasurable. Unfathomable. Unthinkable by human ideals. As many times as you ask for forgiveness, it will be given. In truth, the Bible says while we were still in our own personal “NIGHT” of sin, God sent Christ to pay our way out, to ransom his life for our forgiveness.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Hear this truth, friends! While very few people carry what this soldier carried, each of us does have something we hide in the night and that we are ashamed to bring into the light. God knows this and waits for us to bring it to Him. He waits with open arms and unending mercy. So, what if … Shalom, Namra P.