Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

IV Things I didn't understand--the death of God


When first I heard Diet Eman tell her story of resistance, it was impossible not to be moved in every human way. Hers is a story of the triumph of faith so powerful it can and did move mountains. Despite the fact that the war took the man she loved like no one else, the man she felt selected by the Creator of heaven and earth to be hers in time and in eternity, she lost neither heart nor faith. Because she paid such a extravagant price, when she testifies to God's love, her words have divine incandescence. She can talk about grace in ways that put her beyond the reach of all those who deny its reality, even those who deny God himself.

When I listened to her story again, twenty years later, nothing changed.  The word testimony carries some baggage by sheer overuse; on the internet Christian testimonies are as abundant as porn. But that's what her story is, a testimony to God's abiding vigilance, his eternal faithfulness, his love divine; and because she's suffered as deeply as she has, she can't be stilled. Her testimony has sure credibility.

But humanly speaking, she tells only half the story.  All the Jewish folks she and her resistance friends helped actually survived the war--what a story! But the horrible truth the Netherlands still lives with is the fact that 100,000 Dutch Jews, of the 140,000 in the Netherlands before the war, did not return, the highest percentage of loss of any occupied country.

Even that fact makes her story sing out God's faithfulness--and hers. So few sacrificed as she did.

Even though her darling Hein never returned, Diet's story lights readers' own paths because she didn't lose heart and didn't lose faith.  Elie Wiesel was not so blessed.  He is still angry. He  believes there is a God, but he's lost faith because too many people suffered, too many millions died. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and grandparents went to their deaths with prayer on their lips, prayers that were answered in and by gas chambers.

For some, for many, the war meant the death of God.

When Diet became involved in espionage, her companion was a man she called a spy, a man she still talks about by his war name, Klein Jantje, or "little Jon," a man, she explained was "one of the finest men I ever knew."

As she told me her story 20-some years ago, he talked so endearingly of him that there were times I wondered whether or not she felt something more than admiration during all those clandestine operations.  Klein Jantje often moved between southern, already-liberated Holland, and the northern provinces which were not.  She didn't believe she could ever return if she once tasted freedom; and he did, time and time again.  His courage and rugged commitment was its own testimony.

Klein Jantje tells his own story in The Reckoning, a beautiful film that celebrates the Dutch Resistance, and his story, despite her admiration, is not Diet's. It's clear the two of them share a religious heritage: they both were taught to cling exclusively to a view of God as creator and sustainer of the universe--His sovereignty.  They both were orthodox Protestants, Dutch Calvinists.

Diet's faith faltered but never failed.  Klein Jantje's also faltered, but it also failed. "When I would go long distances, I would ride my bicycle on the state road with a lawn hose for a front tire and an air tire on the back," he says in that film. "I would ride all day with no one to talk to, so I had hard talks with God."  Hard talks.

"Are you going to take care of me?" he asked God. "You see what's going on," he would say, "so why don't you do something?"  He says he believed that God arranges and takes care of everything--the faith with which he was raised, "--nothing happens apart from his will."

But if what Klein Jantje saw happening in occupied Holland was God's will, he wanted no part of it.

"I would curse at him," Klein Jantje says. "'Damnit, why don't you do something?' I laid this in front of almighty God because he seemed to let this go on. Millions of people perished and He did nothing."

Years after the war, Diet visited him in the Netherlands.  Years after, she told me that Klein Jantje was still a wonderful man, but he had no faith.  That gave her great sadness.

Klein Jantje too was a victim of the war.  Not all the stories end so faithfully as the story of Diet Eman.  Not all of them trumpet the glories of a loving and faithful God. 

And there are, too, things we didn't say, but must.

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So where does the German Christian "View" of God fit into this discussion of god? What does all this have to do with Adam and Eve?

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