“How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you, that I may comfort you? For your ruin is spread as wide as the sea; who can heal you.” ~Lamentations 2:13
This verse lamenting the destruction of Israel repeatedly asks the question; What can and should we do to comfort Zion? Christians are spiritually obliged to try and answer this question.
While the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazi regime that was essentially pagan, it was a nominal Christian culture that was the backdrop for this immense tragedy. The diabolical program of Jewish extermination on an industrial scale was mind boggling. Six million innocent Jewish people were murdered in the most brutal fashion and can never forget that this happened just seventy-five years ago.
Some of the milestones, which contributed to the slow build up of hate were as follows:
In the second and third centuries, there was no New Testament canon of Scripture, Church leaders began to make statements concerning Jews that were derogatory and inflammatory. Sadly some highly respected Church Fathers contributed with polemics that were unhelpful. The common people could not test these statements with scripture as they were not yet widely available.
Together with the problem of consistently demeaning the Jews, the early gentile churches of the Roman era began to expunge everything Jewish from their festivals, liturgical practices and theology. While the Hebraic foundations of faith continued in the east, the western empire which underpinned the protestant reformation faded things out significantly. This in turn was imported to western liberal democracies of the new world.
Doctrines of ‘contempt’ and replacement theology had been devised which basically stated that Jewish people were excluded from the love of God and were only kept alive as objects of His wrath and judgement. Some of these teachings were leveraged into new movements that provoked modern anti-semitism. Arab states also found unlikely allies in these matters who invented their own demonisation of the Jewish people in order to advance the cause of statehood in an Islamic world.
Christian universities and seminaries were infiltrated by liberal academics who began to cast doubt on the authority of the scriptures. The book was responsible for curtailing people’s liberties and the Jews were its author. This post enlightenment sentiment was particularly true in Germany. Blame for the defeat in the first World War and other societal ills was also cast on the Jewish people. Civic leaders needed to explain away the motherland’s humiliation.
All of the above came together to produce a deadly recipe for murder. Fear gripped anyone who would dare rise up to challenge the Nazi narrative. The genius of the prejudice was the incremental approach. People were taken on a long journey to be convinced on these matters before even the Nazi Party was voted into power by a free people and thus the Holocaust was conceived!
Very few would dare push back, devout Christians like the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer were destined to become modern martyrs. The plight of European Jewry from 1933 to 1945 has thousands of stories that need to be told, one such testimony of great value to us today is as follow:
In 1987, I was serving on the pastoral team of the Jerusalem Christian Assembly, an expatriate church that met in the main auditorium of the YMCA on King David Street in Jerusalem. Just a few days before Christmas, I was meeting with my fellow pastors Jim Cantelon and Wayne Hilsden over breakfast. Suddenly, the restaurant floor manager, a Jewish man called Yossi, came over and asked if he could join us. We duly welcomed him and asked him to take a seat. He then proceeded to tell us that he wished, with our permission, to attend our Christmas Eve service. We, of course, were quite surprised but he quickly assured us that he was not a Christian and did not intend to become one. Our interest was aroused and we therefore asked him why? He then proceeded to tell us an amazing story.
Yossi grew up in Hungary and was a young teenager when his country was invaded and occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. On Christmas Eve, he was rounded up with other young Jewish girls and boys and herded into a Gestapo courtyard where at one end was a machine gun. They were all told to undress, and then they were placed against a wall as a German soldier made his weapon ready to shoot them dead. Suddenly, a higher-ranking Gestapo officer entered the courtyard and told them to halt and stated that they could not do this on Christmas Eve. He further demanded that they be released into his custody and that after Christmas Day, he would return them to be killed. After much haggling and debate, the other officers conceded and surrendered the teenagers to his custody.
This Gestapo officer promptly loaded all the youngsters, including Yossi, into a truck and drove them to freedom. He was nothing but an imposter, as he was in truth a Christian by the name of Raoul Wallenberg, the now-famous Swedish diplomat stationed in Budapest. Yossi was moments away from death but was saved because of the birthday of an irrepressible moment on the religious calendar. He therefore made a vow that on every Christmas Day thereafter, he would attend a church gathering. Hence, his meeting with us and his request to attend our Christmas Day service. I personally welcomed him at the door when he arrived as he took his place amongst the congregation. I have never forgotten him.
This, friends, answers the question posed by the prophet Jeremiah in his book of Lamentations. Who indeed will comfort the daughter of Zion?
You, dear brothers and sisters, will – just like Wallenberg did!
The biblical mandate of this ministry and inspiration for heroes like Raoul Wallenberg falls in a special way upon the Lord’s first chosen:
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” Says your God. – Isaiah 40:1
On the walls of Yad Vashem, the world holocaust remembrance centre, the following words are inscribed:
“Remembrance is the pathway to redemption but forgetfulness is the road to exile.”
Lest we forget.