1880) Good and Evil

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By Randy Alcorn, in his book  If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

     Philip Hallie’s marvelous book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed tells the true story of Le Chambon, a French town where Pastor André Trocmé’s church, under the Nazi occupation, provided Jews with food, shelter, protection, and means of escape.  Despite the disapproval of many, Trocmé and his church persevered in doing what they believed was right.  As a result, “Le Chambon became the safest place for Jews in Europe.”  Over a period of about four years, that one congregation rescued nearly twenty-five hundred Jews.

     The Holocaust’s cruelty had obsessed the author Hallie (who had served with the United States Army in Europe in World War II).  He said he’d become “bitterly angry” and “over the years of studying the Holocaust I had dug myself into Hell.”  Hallie speaks of a life-changing day when he discovered the stories of Christians in Le Chambon rescuing Jews, at peril of their own imprisonment and death.  As he read, it surprised him to break into tears in what he called “an expression of moral praise.”  Hallie later described the love of the church at Le Chambon:

It was this strenuous, this extraordinary obligation that Pastor Trocmé expressed to the people in the big gray church.  The love they preached was not simply adoration; nor was it simply a love of moral purity, of keeping one’s hands clean of evil.  It was not a love of private ecstasy or a private retreat from evil.  It was an active, dangerous love that brought help to those who needed it most.

     The day Hallie read of those flawed but loving Christians, he caught a view of God in the goodness they had done.  He went home and spent a busy evening with family, then found himself in bed, weeping again over what happened in Le Chambon.  Hallie wrote:

When I lay on my back in bed with my eyes closed, I saw more clearly than ever the images that had made me weep.  I saw the two clumsy khaki-colored buses of the French police pull into the village square.  I saw the police captain facing the pastor of the village and warning him that if he did not give up the names of the Jews they had been sheltering in the village, he and his fellow pastor, as well as the families who had been caring for the Jews, would be arrested.  I saw the pastor refuse to give up these people who had been strangers in his village, even at the risk of his own destruction.

Then I saw the only Jew the police could find, sitting in an otherwise empty bus.  I saw a thirteen-year-old boy, the son of the pastor, pass a piece of his precious chocolate through the window to the prisoner, while twenty policemen who were guarding the lone prisoner watched.  And then I saw the villagers passing their little gifts through the window until there were gifts all around him—mostly food in those hungry days during the German occupation of France.

Lying there in bed, I began to weep again.  I was aware of men and women in bloody white coats, committing unspeakable atrocities to six- or seven- or eight-year-old Jewish children.   All of this I knew.  But why not also see the good and know joy?  Why should I see only the evil, and feel only bitterness and anger?  Why must life be for me only that vision of children being hideously brutalized?  Something good had happened for years in that mountain village.  Why should I not see that?

I got up and went and read again those few pages on the village of Le Chambon.  And to my surprise, again there were the tears, and again there was a painful pleasure that spilled into my mind as a deep, deep need was being satisfied, and a deep wound was starting to heal.

     Philosophy professor Eleonore Stump tells of coming to know Jesus through studying the problem of evil and suffering.  Reflecting on her own experience (and Hallie’s), Stump writes:

So, in an odd sort of way, the mirror of evil can also lead us to God.  A loathing focus on the evils of our world and ourselves prepares us to be the more startled by the taste of true goodness when we find it, and the more determined to follow that taste until we see where it leads.  And where it leads is to the truest goodness.  The mirror of evil becomes translucent, and we can see through it to the goodness of God.  So you can come to Christ contemplating evil in a world of goodness, or contemplating goodness in a world of evil.

     One mother who with her three children were saved by the people of Le Chambon, said, “The Holocaust was storm, lightning, thunder, wind, rain, yes.  And Le Chambon was the rainbow.”

     The history of the human race cannot be reduced to the Holocaust.  There was and is considerable goodness in the world outside the Holocaust.  Yet even inside it, in places like Le Chambon, a costly and beautiful goodness lives.

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Read more about Le Chambon from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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Isaiah 58:10  —  Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.  Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Amos 5:14a  —  Seek good, not evil, that you may live.  Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you.

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Lord, teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost,
to fight and not heed the wounds,
to toil and not seek for rest,
to labor and not look for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

–Prayer of St. Ignatius