My senior year of high school I took two courses that left a huge dent in the statue of my faith. One was on the Holocaust. I learned about the Nazi’s final solution to the Jewish "problem," how the roots of modern German anti-Semitism lay primarily in the Christian church, and that the major world governments knew about the events taking place in Europe and chose not to respond until late in the war. I heard the countless stories of Jews who slowly lost their rights as citizens, had their property, jobs and money taken away, had their kids taken out of school, were forced into ghettos and eventually taken to the death camps never to return. The second course was African-American history. There I learned about black lynching, sharecropping and Jim Crowism. I heard the tragic story of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old black boy mutilated for saying "Bye baby" to a white woman. I saw footage of non-violent civil rights activists being beaten and arrested. I listened to my African-American classmates recount personal instance after instance on the price of their skin color. The more I learned, the more I saw my faith fade.
My image of a just and loving God was gassed with the Jews and lynched with the slaves. How could God be righteous, and even more so how could He be loving, when He stood by and watched millions of innocent people (many of which were his "chosen people") lose all that they loved? This question haunted me from wake to slumber. It seeped into my thoughts, my conversations and foremost my faith and prayer life. I posed my doubts and disputes to many of my peers and also to many respected elders. The general response was one I have come to regard as the "lazy person’s truth." It is a true statement but it is too often used as a cop-out and even more often applied to the wrong scenarios. While it is true God does work in mysterious ways, there are many cases where it is only a mystery because we lack the will power and desire to search for the truth behind things. (Usually, once we find the answer, we see that it wasn’t as mysterious and difficult as we had imagined. On the contrary, it makes clear and common sense.) This type of "lazy" response became fuel to the fire of my anger and disappointment with Christianity.
It was not until after I had graduated and moved into the inner city of West Oakland, Calif., that resolution to these issues began to take place. Initially, the problem became worse as I encountered homelessness, drug infested streets and terribly dysfunctional families. One weekend, while home for my sister’s wedding, I had a conversation about the meaning behind the Holocaust with a man who I had come to respect very much growing up. Sharing my view that answers are usually there if we have the discipline to pray and search, he had some ideas and theories behind the meaning of that dark point in history. He gave a few possible explanations and then began talking about the Christ-following-Gentile’s failure to protect and care for God’s Chosen People, the Jews. Even though I already recognized that Christians had dropped the ball, hearing him state the notion that we have a responsibility to step up and speak out sent my thinking into a whole new realm. So who really was to blame? Was it God? He could have stepped in at any moment. He could have crushed those gas chambers. He could have sank those ships on the way to Africa. He could have crashed those planes full of cocaine that would eventually put the crack in my neighborhood. In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Phillip Yancey confronts Jesus’ decision not to force our hands. "If God insisted on sitting on His hands while devilment like the Crusades and the Holocaust went on, why not blame the Parent, not the kids?"
Who was to blame? I realized it was the kids. I wanted God to come from Heaven in body and flesh and take care of these problems. I felt as though God had turned His back on His children, he had stopped listening. In all reality, God was here in body and flesh all along. Are we not the body of Christ? Did Christ not call us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give shelter to the homeless? Does the book of Proverbs not tell us to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, defend the rights of the poor and needy and to judge fairly? It is not God who is to blame, it is His followers. Many Christians turned their backs in the Holocaust and even aided the Nazis in their quest. Many Christians owned slaves and fought against integration. Many Christians continue to stuff their pockets at the expense of human depravity. The body of Christ is not fully sacrificing itself. History has shown that.
While we cannot make up for the sins of the past, we can do something about the problems and pain of today. It is up to us to make a difference. God wants to bless our communities and love them with His spirit. We are His arms and hands to do it with. While it doesn’t resolve all of the issues of God’s silence, it resolves those that something can be done about. So, where is God? His body is across the world trying to have Him in dysfunctional families, underprivileged schools, starving countries, war-torn lands, drug infested streets and lonely homes. With one purpose — to experience the love that will not let them go. And those that we touch, are they not God as well? In Jesus’ parable about the goat and the sheep, He claimed to be all those that need shelter, food, drink, friendship and medical aid. Mother Teresa reveals her deep-hearted understanding of this in her response to a rich American visitor who could not comprehend her fierce commitment to the dregs of Calcutta. "First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for Him in disguise." The body of Christ taking care of itself means taking care of the strangers and poor who are in need. It is our hope that this lays at the heart of the universal church.