Where is the promise of His coming?
for since the fathers fell asleep,
all things continue as they were
from the beinning of the creation.
2 Peter 3:4
A lone poodle perches itself precariously upon a pile of trash while surrounded by
flood water in New Orleans on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
No one in New Orleans really believed that Hurrican Katrina would hit like it did. And no one in California really believes half the state will crumble in the next great earthquake. Few people really believe that the whole world may finally come to a cataclysmic end.
The Jews never believed Solomon’s Temple would fall. Indeed, “The kings of the earth and all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.” Lamentations 4:12
Interestingly, Elie Wiesel offers the same kind of testimony on modern times. In his famous account of the Holocaust in Night (1960), which won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel tells of one Moshe the Beadle (the ‘usher’) who’s personal testimony was not believed. It was unpleasant and unwelcomed.
One day in 1942, Hungarian police came to Sighet, the little town in Transylvania where Wiesel lived and grew up. They arrested all Jews foreign to the town, and took them away in cattle cars on a train to Galicia. The deportees were soon forgotten, and several months went by. Life returned to normal in Sighet.
Then one day, Moshe showed up in town again. He had escaped. He told what had happened. When the train had crossed into Polish territory, the Gestapo had taken over. The Jews were taken off the train, put on lorries (truck/wagons) and driven into the forest. The Jews were made to dig huge pits in the ground, then the Gestapo began slicing their off heads, as each Jews was made to offer his neck. Babies were high into the air and used for skeet shooting. This was all near Kolomaye. Moshe escaped, being wounded and taken for dead. He must have crawled off, unnoticed.
He told his story to the people of Sighet. No one believed him. Twelve-year-old Elie Wiesel did not believe him.
They listen rather to London Radio, heard all about the Russian success. They figured Hitler was finished. An entire year went by, 1943. The Jews of Sighet even came to doubt whether Hitler even intended to “exterminate” the Jewish people.
In 1944, when Fascists took over Hungary, and German troops were allowed into the country, some people became anxious. But the German soldiers were polite, never intruding. They were housed with town people, even with Jews. A German officer lived across the street from the Wiesel home. The Germans were well-behaved. People came to accept them, and to scoff at the idea of fear. “Where is their famous cruety?” asked some incredulous town folk.
Wiesel says: “The Germans were already in the town; the Fascists were already in power, the verdict had already been pronounced, yet the Jews of Sighet continued to smile.”
This is called denial. This is called optimism based on incredulity. Everyone knows the story. It was already happening. Old Moshe had even told them, having been an eye witness!
The greatest lesson of the Holocaust is overlooked: failure to believe the horrible, failure to understand the worst.
Denial is mistaken for faith. Foolish optimism is mistaken for cool, calm, rational collectedness. People don’t want radical change. People don’t want to leave their homes, their lives, their country. People don’t want to leave.
Gustav Dore’s ‘Pale Rider,’ or Death on the Pale Horse, from Revelation 6:7,8.
Why, crises are just political manipulations, or the fodder of religious fanatics, who market fear, and make merchandise of faith. Why, the world has been through this a thousand times. All things continue on as they have from the beginning. A war here and there, a storm here and there, nothing to freak out about. Why, people just need to calm down and be rational.
It seems self-destructive to believe that the worst is going to happen. To prepare for it seems a complete denial of hope. The Jews didn’t want to leave Europe. Most didn’t. They continued to believe that everything was going to be fine. They were in denial to the very last. It is an incredible testimony to the liabilities of faith, and the imminent error of self-deception in the name of confidence.
Only a profound optimist can survive the agonies of disaster, natural or man-made. But, a true believer may possibly avoid the calamity altogther. Is it a crime to anticipate disaster? It is irrational to prepare for the worst, to even leave one’s home before it happens? Optimism doesn’t always mean denial of warning. It might mean believing the very worst is going to happen. Optimism may mean ‘faith’ in disaster.
In the wake of Katrina, it is very clear that all these lessons fell on deaf ears, if they were taught to anyone at all. People become so preoccupied with their lives, however poor, however miserable, however slavish, and prefer not to consider any radical change. You’d think impoverished folk could more easily let go their hold on what little they possessed. But, in America, such people get off relatively easy for their sins of being so human. The government will take care of them. Indeed, a generous American public will pitch in and save them.
Pehaps it’s good to follow the blame trail here, as long as it leads to improvement in all Americans. Being prepared, being willing to believe the worst can and will happen, this is a strange conditioning, but one that is necessary at this point in history. Islam is on the loose, Nature is increasing in fury, and the world has been trained to hate America. I say, prepare for the worst. And remember the government will not prepare you. Indeed, it may impede you. Preparation is our personal duty. It is between each individual and his Creator.