By Lamar Massingill
I was extremely interested in President Obama’s visit to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany on June 5, and even more interested in the words of Ellie Weasel, remembering his father, who was among the 56,000 Jewish people who died at Buchenwald. At the end of his speech, he quoted the end of Albert Camus’ novel The Plague: “After the tragedy, there is more in the human being to celebrate than to denigrate.” And I agree.
In other words, in spite of the evil human beings have perpetuated the world over, we should still celebrate the essence of humanity, not its ignorance. Of course I hope you understand that God could not have stopped the horrors of Buchenwald any more than he could have stopped the prodigal son from becoming prodigal, or the rich young ruler from walking away from the invitation of Jesus. God’s way is the gift of choice, and humanity has made some unacceptable ones that have led to many of the horrors we have seen in history and up to the present time when on May 31, someone can walk into a service of worship and in the name of God and Life (the ultimate irony of this story) kill a doctor who performs abortions. It is no less an act of terror as what we call terrorism. And human beings choose such acts every day. Our own capital city, you may or may not know, has a murder rate that is fourth in the nation.
I would love to call this a “Christian” country, if I only saw the proof of it. We’re kidding ourselves and we’re killing ourselves. But still, I agree with Weasel, we should “celebrate the essence of humanity, not denigrate it.” Why? Because the world and all who live in it are God’s first love. Why is it his first love? Because humanity’s choices are not always the essence of what God created. What God created is “good, it is very, very good.” We, however sadly, have grown inconsistently inconsistent. And the only part of a human being that God cannot penetrate is the final stronghold of the human heart, and the choices it makes.
The culture is right in its argument against the existence of God that the oppression of the weak by the strong is as worldwide as it is age-old, and the suffering of the innocent is surely the cruelest dilemma facing the conscience of any sensitive follower of Christ. But what non-believers can’t seem to grasp is the fact that the gift of choice is part of the essence of a human being, and that gift is being abused, not only by the world at large, but even by followers of Jesus every day.
So to the non-believer we must say and continue to say that the world with all its murder, greed, sham and drudgery is still God’s first love. And we must continue to confess that it is God’s children — believers and non-believers alike — who do not share that love. It is me. It is you.
I wear a white stole that belongs to our parish, and it matches the beautiful white paraments we use to help us celebrate Holy Communion, and other holy seasons that we have chosen white to symbolize. But it is stained on the right side. Somebody said the first time I wore it that I shouldn’t wear it because it was stained. I rather like wearing it, because it is a reminder that I am stained too. And you are as well. And in spite of the tragedies we humans have caused, God is still in the very heart of them. He’s not absent from them.
You can be sure that Christ was at Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and the twin towers and the hatred and death and the planes went right through his body as well. You can be sure that Christ was at the Lutheran church that Sunday and the bullet went right through his body as well. You can be sure that the weeping of the Christ over the choices his children have made would flood the earth hundreds of times over again. But, still, he doesn’t have his hands on throttles or his fingers on triggers or hatred in his Spirit.
So convinced was the German mystic Silesius that love was the very essence of God, he dared to write, “If God ceased to love He would cease to exist.” I love the gall it took to write those words. The world and the children of the world is God’s first love and remains his first love. That fact will, praise be, never change.
A published author, Massingill is minister at Richton United Methodist and religion editor at “The Magnolia Gazette.” His latest book is titled “Soul Places.”