Part II of the Keynote Address for the Len Ministries Gala
Elie Weisal, concentration camp survivor and author of “Night,” reflecting on the Nazi doctors he had encountered in the camps wrote this:
One of the brutal shocks of my adult life came the day I discovered that many of the officers of the Einsatzgruppen–the death commandos in Eastern Europe–had received degrees from Germany’s best universities. Some held doctorates in literature, others in philosophy, theology, or history. They had spent many years studying, learning the lessons of the past generations, yet nothing kept them from killing Jewish children at Babi Yar, in Minsk, Ponàr. Their education provided them with no shield, no shelter from the temptation and seduction of cruelty that people may carry within. Why? This question still haunts me.
It is impossible to study the history of German medicine during the Nazi period in isolation from German education in general. Who or what is to blame for the creation of the assassins in white coats? Was the culprit the anti-Semitic heritage that German theologians and philosophers were dredging up? The harmful effects of propaganda? Perhaps higher education placed too much emphasis on abstract ideas and too little on humanity. I no longer remember which psychiatrist wrote a dissertation demonstrating that the assassins hadn’t lost their moral bearings: they knew how to discern Good and Evil; it was the sense of reality that was missing. In their eyes, the victims did not belong to humankind; they were abstractions. The Nazi doctors were able to manipulate their bodies, play with their brains, mutilate their future without remorse; they tortured them in a thousand ways before putting an end to their lives. (Elie Weisal in “Without Conscience” NEJM 353;15 p 1513)
So this is where the greatest of evil comes from: lack of a sense of reality. Another model, easier for me, is the one Paul uses in his next letter, the one to the Corinthians: “the wisdom of the present age” or “the wisdom of the world.”
This is what Paul meant when he said “understanding the present time.” Evil lurks about selling a certain reality with its own “wisdom.” Not only can we be the victims of such evil; we can be the perpetrators. For those who buy in to the “wisdom of the present age,” our education will provide no shield, nor our party affiliation provide any shelter, nor our church membership provide protection from the temptation and seduction to the cruelty that we are capable of carrying within.
You might think that the Nazi era was a long time ago, and no longer “the present time,” or that Paul’s “present time” was so different from today that the phrase loses meaning, but I will guarantee you this is not the case.
I was a few weeks into my surgical internship in New Haven, Connecticut, when the ambulance brought in a woman near death after a fall from a second-story apartment. She did not survive. The fall was not the only trauma. A large television set fell on her right after she landed. Furthermore, her live-in boyfriend had a prior girlfriend who suffered exactly the same kind of accident two years before. Details of the history were provided by ER nurses who have a deep cynicism and a long memory. The police treated both incidents as accidents.
A few weeks later, while on my first neurosurgery rotation, I was called to the pediatric ER for a severe head injury. The child was three-years-old, bruises new and old on his face, his torso, his arm broken, his leg broken. He did not survive.
Understand the present times. Women are murdered, children are beaten, a Black man is shotgunned to death in Brunswick, Georgia, for jogging in the wrong neighborhood.
You think you could never be the perpetrator of such evil, and I hope you never will. But Evil spins a seductive version of reality with its own wisdom. Remember what Elie Weisal taught us: the perpetrators of evil did not lose their sense of right and wrong; they lost their sense of reality. They acted according to “wisdom of the present age.”
To live in true reality, the Holy Spirit gives us a different wisdom, the wisdom of God. Then we do the “This” of Paul’s “Do This”: Pay our taxes and our debts, don’t steal or lie or murder or commit adultery. Love one another as ourselves.
We think that these things are boring, easy. But they are not. Maybe you file a conservative IRS return and have a great credit rating and have never cheated on your spouse. Good for you; I admire you. But the hard part is the next part, where you have to love (not humanity; we all love humanity) messy, dirty, disagreeable people one at a time and time after time.
Let’s take as an example the scene at an abortion clinic, a place where some of you have mounted protests. Ask yourself this question: from an eternal perspective, who is at greatest risk at the clinic?
The babies, you might immediately think, and certainly their little lives are at greatest jeopardy. But not their eternal lives. They have not had the opportunity to sin, they are the only innocents of humanity outside of Jesus himself. They will be gathered back into the arms of our heavenly Father.
The mothers, then, you would think. They are about to commit a great sin, presenting their child as a sacrifice, for various motivations all of which originate in a spirit of fear: fear of being unable to pursue a career, fear of inadequacy as a mother, fear of poverty, loneliness, or pain. They have made a rational decision based on the “wisdom of the current age,” and they stand to commit a sin with eternal circumstances. But great as the sin might be, God has mercy, especially on the victims of the world who are alone and afraid. Forgiveness remains so very possible. Jesus calls us to love these women in a way that allows them see themselves in another reality and act by another wisdom.
But there is one who is even more at risk. The abortionist. Because he or she does not act out of fear but out of altruism or greed. The abortionist, like a concentration camp worker, is providing a service to society based on “the wisdom of the present age.” Here is the person whose soul is at the greatest risk. Here is the person Jesus came to save. Here is the person we are called to love the most.
Because abortion doesn’t end, and the Kingdom doesn’t come, until the mothers and the abortionist live in the new reality of eternal life and govern their activities by the wisdom of God. And they don’t get the new reality because the state passed more restrictive abortion laws or because they were intimidated or because they finally saw the logic in the Pro-Life stance. They get the new reality when their heart changes, when they get loved into the Kingdom.
This is true not only for abortion but for any other evil that you can identify in today’s society. Crime, sex-trafficking, racism, poverty, you name it. It will end only when all the messy, unpleasant, jerks of the world are loved so sincerely that their hearts are changed and they live no longer by “the wisdom of the present age” but by the wisdom of God.
We need to do more than make self-righteous pronouncements and condemn behavior we see as sinful. Judgement is not ours to make nor will it bring the Kingdom. The primary goal of the church is to love the jerks into the Kingdom, not denounce them for being lost.
This is hard. We need to do something different than staying in our church buildings on Sunday mornings and writing pious notes to each other on social media. We need to “wake up from our current slumber.”
To Read Part I, go to: https://deanlohsewrites.com › and-do-this
To make reservations, go to: http://lenministries.org