A little over a month ago, I read a section of Martin Luther King’s autobiography that caused me to write him a letter and ask, “How did you not despair?”
Ever since that time, I’ve been sinking in a sad state. My heart — at least a solid quarter-quadrant of it — is grieving. It’s a grief that sneaks up on me every now and again in this journey I’ve been walking the last three and a half years. Sometimes the grief over the years comes and goes in an afternoon, sometimes a weekend, or maybe even a week.
This is the longest it has stayed.
And in this place, I’ve deeply wrestled with God. I feels as though my insides have split wide open and that I’m unable to stop feeling or asking him hard questions. Most of those questions circle back to the same central question:
God, where are you in the darkness?
I ask him this question concerning people in my life whom I love dearly who can’t see the light at all. They want badly to find God, yet he seems absent. The God of love and tender care that I have come to know and adore has not shown himself to them.
Where are you, God?
I beg and plead with him on a regular basis concerning this.
I ask him this question about history, too. (I posted a little bit about those questions already here, here, and here.) And most specifically, the reality of World War II keeps breaking my heart into a million little pieces right now.
My concern about this period of history is not new. I grew up reading books like Number the Stars and The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place and watched movies like Shining Through and Charlotte Grey, amazed and awe-struck at the courage of those who faced persecution and death and those who fought in their own subversive ways against the evils of Hitler’s world.
So it makes sense, given this history of mine, that World War II would already hold my heart. It has always held my heart. But I also see that it’s close to my mind and heart because of its close proximity, historically, to us today. So many atrocities have happened throughout history — the darkness of 1939-1945 was not new in the whole scope of our world — and yet when my mind travels backward in time, World War II is one of the major dark spots in history that I hit upon most immediately. It is still so close to us.
There are many walls of darkness between then and now. The femicide happening right this moment in the Congo is one of them, and its horrifying reality is almost impossible for me to face. The tiny soldier boys being used as human barricades there in the Congo every single day, too, is another. And there have been plenty of other wars between then and now.
But perhaps World War II has its vise grip upon my heart more than any other atrocity right now because I have more knowledge of the facts of what happened there than I do these other sufferings. I’ve studied it much longer. I’ve read many more books and first-person accounts. I’ve thought about it and cared about it longer than any other large-scale human suffering I’ve encountered.
Or perhaps it is ever-present in my mind simply because of the frequency with which Hitler’s name is invoked as the reason nonviolence makes no sense. “If we didn’t go to war,” I hear again and again, “then Hitler would have won.” World War II is an ever-present companion in conversation among those studying and seeking to live a nonviolent way.
But whatever the reason it’s plaguing my heart right now, here are the facts: six million Jews rounded up and callously slaughtered as though they weren’t human and didn’t matter.
God, where were you there?
At times, light begins to break through this darkness of mine, short fits and starts at attempted answers to my plaguing questions. Like, for instance, the encouragement of Dr. King’s response to the darkness when he said, “It is well that it’s within thine heart.” Or remembering Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie — how God was in the darkness of their Ravensbruck barracks in so many tangible ways. Or reading through a difficult section in Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts that wrestled through similarly painstaking questions as mine to land at the revelation that perhaps all is grace.
I stumble across these words and thoughts and memories and seek to hold them tight within my hands. But these hands of mine, they are so weak from wringing and soon lose grip on these encouragements.
And so I keep wrestling with Jesus.
Where are you here?
Where were you there?
And finally, perhaps most pointed of all:
How could you let that happen?
I sob and sob when asking him this question. How could you let that happen? How could you, Jesus?
There are no easy answers to these questions, and God forbid I desecrate the name and memory of those who did suffer and die — and continue to suffer and die in the darkness of the world — in my attempt to make sense of these things.
I may never make sense of them. And I am slowly, slowly coming to terms with that. Moments like the one I wrote about elsewhere, where Jesus holds and sings over me, begin to make that not-knowing possibility more bearable.
But I will say this.
This morning, the struggle I’ve been sharing with Jesus concerning all this took a new turn. As I also wrote elsewhere, I reached a readiness to listen. And where Jesus began his response surprised me. He took me back to creation.
We aren’t done with the conversation that started this morning, and so I don’t yet know where it will lead or where it will end, but the pieces he’s shared with me so far have brought enough encouragement for me to begin holding the tension of darkness and light with a bit more ease. This series will be my attempt to share pieces of it with you.