Alan E Lewis, Between Cross & Resurrection, Christian Responsibility, Culture of Survivalism, Forgetfulness, Forgiveness, Hiroshima, Holocaust, Narcissism of Survivalism, Reconciliation, Remembering and Responsibility, Violence, Where was God, Where was Humanity
If Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the history of war, its many lessons, and the place that violence still plays in our lives, then the day after surely requires us to keep on remembering. It is not enough to be carried along the currents of life like so much jetsam and flotsam, without taking responsibility for being part of the current itself.
Thus Alan E. Lewis writes unflinchingly about the responsibility of a redemptive Christian presence in this world. In considering Christ’s crucifixion, he writes:
Love’s power is actually powerless to impede huge triumphs of egregious evil and unrighteousness in the world. Only through vulnerable victimization at the hands of sin and death, and not blocking, crushing, or annihilating those agents of destruction, does the triune God of righteous love flourish yet more abundantly than the luxuriant barrenness of hate and wickedness.
Lewis decries the liberal secularizing of the Christian gospel in the early 20th century, that tried to reduce the significance of Christ into “some benign, founder of a bourgeois, thisworldly kingdom for social betterment… A century later, from the sad vantage point of “postmodernity,” how alien, how antiquated seems such innocent confidence in the limitless improvability of society and human nature… our own age borders on hubris.”
We are a people who want to “move on” from our less proud moments brought on by violence, and we do that a thousand ways “with nauseating forgetfulness and self-indulgence.” Nevertheless, survivors of evil, like the Holocaust for example, continue with “resilient acts of memory.”
Where was Humanity?
When the vanquished question of human responsibility for Nazism and the Jewish Holocaust is unavoidably asked, the searching spotlight thus trained upon Christians in particular is not to be extinguished. How can the church avoid it’s own culpability and complicity, at least in the shaping of the Christian culture in which this became thinkable.
While it must be asked, where God was in the Auschwitz ovens, a question of equal urgency and possibly more justification asks: ‘Where was humanity in the Holocaust?’
I suppose looking for someone to blame transfers the awful weight of responsibility to a target other than ourselves. But humanity is not them-not-us; it is we who “let things happen.”
Hiroshima, Japan localizes in an even more shocking “scandal of particularity” than Auschwitz the chronological crater whose gaping, smouldering emptiness marks divine disruption, God’s loss of control over history and human destiny.
At those precise coordinates there finally intersected, with terminal, apocalyptic portent, the two converging trajectories of modernity: humanity’s proud, vaulting lunge for progressive, scientific mastery of nature and ourselves; and our doom-laden plunge into despair – a tardy recognition that the creatures who usurped the Maker’s power had lost control themselves and become the impotent, imperilled victims of their own machines.
What has become of Us?
The nuclear arms race that began, triggered fears of a nuclear winter and threats of the unthinkable by some despotic and incalculable enemy. But as Lewis notes, “it is the luxury of the West to be afraid of nuclear oblivion, which is denied to many in the Third World whose preoccupation can only be with immediate and local survival.”
Whatever angry doubts we hurl against the discredited Creator naturally rebound upon ourselves. Hiroshima’s survivors, certainly no less than those of Auschwitz, demand to know where humanity might have been amid the palpable absence among them of the Lord. And in the decades since, it has made less sense, perhaps, to wonder what has become of God’s omnipotence and redemptive purposes than to ask what has become of us…
There is, what R. J. Lifton calls, “a psychic numbness,” a generational and cultural pathology which “refuses to face the reality of what we have done with our promethean nuclear fire.” Without such “pathological suppression of the deadly truth,” the populations of East and West have “with such docility permitted their respective governments to devote immense resources to an escalating arms race.”
Culture of Survivability?
Along with this comes a culture of survivability (sic) in which the advantaged and entitled go about preparing for the apocalypse, as if bunkers and guns are prescriptions for our times. Shamefully, this is prevalent among and nurtured by certain forces in the Church itself:
Thus questions of Christian responsibility hang over tomorrow’s nuclear holocaust just as they did over the Jewish, yesterday. Is the disingenuous narcissism of survivalism, in the context of the nuclear threat, anywhere more repulsive than in those forms of Christian millenarianism which have posited the deliverance of Israel and/or America and/or “raptured” saints for humanity’s divinely ordained and promised Armageddon?
Why are the rest of us not more angry than we seem to be at the pernicious hermeneutical abuse which so blasphemously suggests that a thermonuclear wars, so unutterably evil and destructive, would wondrously fulfill Scripture’s promise of God’s last righteous judgement, the return of Christ the prince of peace, and the triumph of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life?
Really; I think Christ weeps. And when I get a glimpse of Him, I can’t help but to weep as well.
- I weep for this generation
- I weep for my banal ignorance and our communal naiveté
- I weep for His weeping
- I weep for my forgetfulness, and then I weep for my remembering
What about my faith in Christ?
After reading this, you might wonder why I am so committed to faith in Christ. It is precisely because of my relational trust in Him that I can have the courage to face historical realities and cultural trends, and that I can have the faith to listen to His voice speaking into this world and into my life.
I do not blame Christ for Christians. In Christ I take responsibility for my part as the body of Christ, to build up the Church and to be a prophetic voice in this day. I look to Him to inspire, energize and otherwise lead the faithful in faithful sojourning.
I don’t blame Christ for people who claim to represent Him, including me. Jesus even foresaw this when He said:
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’
Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22, 23
Remembering as a Dynamic of Responsibility
Not knowing Christ can be easily solved. Not being known by Christ is eternally tragic. Being known to Christ means being invited into the eternal fellowship of the Triune God. In the mean time, Jesus gifts us with one, simple act of worship intended for us to remember Him:
This act of remembering opens us to becoming aware of that otherwise vague sense of the eternal. How can anyone who grasps the significance of taking personal responsibility for Christ’s sacrifice, now take the symbols of His death? This act of worship is the very act of memory that opens us to what is actually good about the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ.
In Christ we can have truth and reconciliation. We can confess and be forgiven. We can take responsibility and still be restored to Him, to others, and to ourselves.
I invite your response
For more, read Alan E. Lewis’ Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. Much of what I have quoted of Lewis is found in his chapter, “Living the Story in World History.” I have tried to be faithful to credit his massive authorship, and I regret if my quotes ever ambiguously suggest I have authored what he has actually written.