From Jim O'Brien
August 16, 2019

Unforgettable Character

Hi Friend,

The most popular series from a well-known magazine was entitled "My Most Unforgettable Character." The concept left an indelible impression on me. One of the unforgettable people in my life was a former prisoner of Bergen Belsen, a Nazi Concentration Camp. I invited him to lunch and listened entranced as he recounted experiences that reflected a rare understanding of life.

He was a retired Physics professor, yet he was as humble as he was brilliant. He spoke four languages, had an excellent knowledge of history and had traveled the world.

He talked about the death of his father in Auschwitz-how the Nazi's had kept such detailed records that after the war he was able to find the recorded accounts of the day his father entered Auschwitz and the day he was killed. Despite the horror, such insanity made both of us chuckle.

He told me of a Rabbi who smuggled into Bergen Belsen a miniature scroll which was used to prepare a Jewish boy for bar mitzvah. We both marveled at the irony of a Jewish ceremony commemorating the arrival of manhood occurring in a prison camp.

Afterward the Rabbi presented the small scroll to the boy, explaining the gift, "I do not expect to live through this war." The boy grew up to become a Physicist and the scroll was given to Ilon Ramon, the Jewish astronaut who perished in the Columbia space disaster. My new friend was in the same concentration camp as the boy observing his bar mitzvah. By chance my friend was also given a tiny scroll that survived the concentration camp. He also became a Physicist. And he loaned his scroll for use in a ceremony as a substitute for the one lost in space. So many coincidences that he wants to believe God was involved with his life yet, as he says "I have a few issues with God."

It isn't the first time I have heard that statement. Our first home was built by a developer who was Jewish. He recounted the story of an aunt who had survived the holocaust after living part of her childhood in a concentration camp. The experience had caused her to reject a belief in God because, in her words, "There cannot be a God that could allow such things to happen."

I think it is incorrect to say these people do not believe in God. They are angry with him. Psychologist Jordan Peterson has observed that the most difficult reality for people to accept is the cruelty of man.

Back to our lunch conversation-I was reluctant to initiate a conversation about God with a man who bore the scars of such brutality. At five years of age the Nazis had separated him from his parents and he never saw his father again. What wisdom could I bring to the table? But his experience is the "why" of Jesus Christ. One of the reasons I believe that Jesus is Messiah is the suffering he endured. The Messiah had to suffer. It is inconceivable that God would require more of mere man than he required of the Messiah. If character is developed through suffering and risking everything for a righteous cause, could that be the domain of man and not God? The thought resonated with my friend sitting across the table. If Jesus were not the Messiah, then the Messiah to come would have to go through all the things Jesus went through. It was the same issue the Apostle Paul, a Jew, dealt with 2,000 years ago when he and his brethren were under the heel of Roman soldiers.

Again we come to a core issue of life. Healing comes through suffering. The difference between Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler demonstrates one of the essential characteristics of healing. Hitler was too sensitive to suffer so he was incapable of effecting healing among the German people. He stayed inside his bunker, did not visit his soldiers and did not walk the streets of the bombed cities. He could rule over them like any other tyrant. But the difference between a tyrant and a leader is the willingness to suffer WITH people. Churchill walked among the rubble and experienced the same pain as all the other citizens. While Hitler was cowering in the bunker, Churchill was walking among the ruins, visiting soldiers at the front, taking a ship's gun in hand ready to engage the enemy in battle alongside a sailor. That experience gave him the ability to speak words that healed the nation. Hitler risked nothing yet lost everything. Churchill risked everything and gained freedom for the world.

When the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as the High Priest he uses these words. "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; (Heb. 5:6-9 KJV).

All forgiveness of sin in the Old Testament looked forward to the time when God would suffer with man. There could be no other way for man to be healed. And forgiveness and healing are inseparable.

Maybe that is what is so pathological about some of the self-appointed false prophets who dot our landscape. They teach the government of God apart from the sacrifice. They are so willing to condemn men, even brothers of the faith, to the tribulation and Gehenna fire. They see their job as accusing mankind, not as repairing the breech. They do this because they are not willing to suffer with people. Therefore they are incapable of healing.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien