The television programmes commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp brought home afresh the terrifying capacity of human beings to commit acts of great evil and wickedness.
The systematic slaughter of millions of helpless Jewish people ranks amongst the darkest chapters in human history. They were first incarcerated in ghettos and then transported like animals to camps like Auschwitz where men, women and children were mercilessly gassed and then buried or incinerated.
In contrast the programmes remembering the funeral of Winston Churchill, who died 50 years ago, reminded us that human beings are also capable of acts of great courage in confronting evil men and bringing liberty to many.
In the dark days following the Dunkirk evacuation Churchill inspired a nation to rise from a massive defeat
and to courageously confront, and ultimately defeat, a very powerful enemy.
Human beings are an enigma. Reflecting on the life of his grandfather, who was the commandant of Auschwitz, one grandson struggled to understand how his grandfather could be a loving husband and father to his own family while at the same time supervising the merciless extermination of Jewish families. We all struggle with the daily contradictions of our lives. The apostle Paul was conscious of this and wrote, “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.”
God has decisively intervened in our world to give us hope in the face of both the continuing acts of great evil and our daily personal struggles. He cares deeply for those experiencing suffering. The prophet
Isaiah spoke God’s word to his suffering people, “In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally
rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them.” These words of comfort were fulfilled in Jesus Christ who died in our place. On the cross he suffered the punishment our sins deserve to redeem us. As one hymn says, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.”