I Have Not Known Great Evil – A Lament from a Place of Privilege
Photo by: Ken H. Wright Date: May 12, 1956
I have not known great evil. Yet it haunts my past and shapes my present. Who can say that the enslavement, brutal lynching, and systematic dehumanization of a kidnapped race does not haunt America and the world? Who can hear the reported words of a young girl who inexplicably survived the gas chamber saying “I want my mommy,” and not think the world forever marred by the unspeakable evil of the Shoah.
That girl was subsequently shot, by the way.
How can one respond to such things and hold to hope, let alone sanity? The short answer is, I don’t know. But I know that some have. I know that enslaved Blacks who experienced unspeakable brutality clung to Christ and the cross, and met God in the midst of their suffering. And I know that there are Jews who were sustained by YHWH throughout their time in the midst of the mechanized abomination that was the concentration and death camps of the Nazi regime. And today, there are mothers and fathers, children and elders, people of every kind and creed that hold on to hope in the midst of brutality and domination.
Yet Lord, I still feel the need to cry out like your Son. Why have you placed us into this world where it is so obvious that you are absent? Clearly no good, loving God could tolerate the injustices present in my hometown alone, let alone those across the world and across the blood-soaked pages of the past. I know what it is like to love a child. I love my children, imperfectly, but fiercely. I will allow them to experience some pain that I believe will teach them, but I would give all of me to stop them from living through an iota of what the crucified people of history have experienced. You are not a good Father. Even your own Son accused you of abandonment. How could you abandon your Son? Why? I tire of the wrestling match; I desire comfort in banal aphorisms or empty ideology.
The lynched people of history allow no such easy answers. Their glorious dignity stops me from denying your glory—for your glory is found in them. Your glory gives meaning to their suffering, and keeps the whip and branch and Zyklon B from final victory.
Perhaps humanity’s best defense in the midst of this philosophical and theological absurdity is joy. A hard-won joy—though perhaps innocent joy works just as well. The ability to live and laugh and love and mate and see the next generations marvel at the beauty of the world around them. Children do not know that they ought to be somber in the face of this irresolvable puzzle—the glory of God and the atrocity of man (for it is men who bring about these unspeakable acts). Is it possible to recapitulate the joy of a child once one is old? Can one enter again into the womb and be born a second time? If the faith of a child is a requirement for entering into God’s kingdom, what can we who have eaten from the forbidden tree do to regain the innocence of new life? All hope, all joy, seems to be naivety; yet only in hope and joy can salvation be found and evil destroyed.
What you require of me, God, is impossible. Help my unbelief. Make your presence known to me. Let me put my hands in your wounds and then perhaps I will believe.
“So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” John 6:68-69 NRSV