Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Leszek Lysien - In the Twilight of Ambiguity

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Leszek Łysień

In the Twilight of Ambiguity:

God’s Glimmering Presence
in the Hells Created by Man

When we cry out for an answer and it is not given to us, then we touch the silence of God (Simone Weil).

No, noble theologians this will not do | Your sincere desire will not save God’s morality, | Because if He created creatures capable of choosing between good and evil, | and they chose, and that is why the world lies in evil, | Then there is still pain, the unmerited suffering of animals (Czesław Miłosz).

I will start these reflections with two quotes that are surely the fruit of the kind of sensibility which expresses itself with love in thinking. The first one is from Martin Buber and it comes from a speech from a meeting devoted to Christian-Jewish dialogue,
 
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen. We really have a lot in common. We all await the Messiah. You believe that He has already come, departed again, and someday will return. I believe that He still has not come, but He will come. This is why I propose the following to you: let us wait together. When He will come we will simply ask Him: have You been here once before? Then I feed on the hope that I will stand near Him and I will whisper into His hear: don’t answer.

The other quote comes from Jurgen Moltmann, a Protestant theologian, which comes from the essay “Jesus in Auschwitz”,
 
I once wrote: God in Auschwitz and Auschwitz in the crucified God. This did not signify any eternalization of suffering. First, what I had in mind, above all, was: God in His own body, if you will, the Shekhinah, present in his people and image experienced Auschwitz. Second: Auschwitz is engraved in the memory of God. It continues in Him. God will not forget it.1

The experience of the foreignness and indifference of the universe, so dominant in the modern epoch (as Pascal wrote: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me”); the experience of the monstrosity of the laws which govern nature speaking in the languages of indifferent racial determinisms, by the power of which one race is predestined to rule over the world, whereas all the other ones are condemned, like bugs, for unconditional and total extermination (this is what makes concentration camps necessary which are supposed to mechanically and industrially consume lower races); the darkness of the judgments of history and the institutions called forth by it which cruelly crush those who have no right to enter earthly paradise, raised upon the ruins of the old world, condemned to annihilation (this is what makes gulags necessary, because they sweep away from the surface of the Earth the remains of human relics which were not consumed by the proletarian revolution). Facing this horrendum we ask about the presence of the God, without whose will a hair will not fall from the heads of His creatures. In the book Diesseits und Jenseits, Max Brod relates the words of an old Romanian Jewess,
 
I believed in God my whole life. When the Germans came and murdered our men, women and elders I still continued to believe in God. When they murdered our old, pious Rav, first torturing her, I still believed. However, when I saw how they dashed newborns against rocks upon which their brains splattered, I stopped believing that God exists.2

Did God become unbelievable for the persistently stubborn faith of the Romanian Jewess? Maybe the faith stopped there because God moved too deeply into a different, abysmal presence? When faced with the hells unleashed by the immeasurable abyss of human freedom should we not think more, or differently? We know one thing: discursive, speculative reason will not suffice, neither will faith as mere use of our reason. As the Polish religious writer Koniński put it, “flat theodicies” will not suffice. During a dark night of the wartime cataclysm in 1942 he wrote,
 
’The world lies in evil’ Yes, but we do not need this lesson from Christianity; to Christianity we ought to say, why does the world lie in evil? Christianity either answers with Mystery or flat theodicy. But in order to remain with Christianity despite all this, but not to budge from pessimism, not sell it easy, you have to daily – through pessimism – bore with the drill of naked faith and stubborn hope, bore through to the other side, the mute side, the hidden side.3

On the other side, distressed man is given the experience of a difficult God who does not function as a consolation, nor explaining anything, a God who cannot be used for anything. There perhaps remains a radical pre-trust, that despite the radicalism of evil the good is primordial.
Or maybe the remarkable confession of Simone Weil, which reveals the unbearable logic of this world, demands a Radical Otherness all that much more?
 
Whoever takes up the sword will perish by the sword. Whoever does not take up the sword (or lets it drop from their hands), dies on the cross.4

This is the pain of Job and the impenetrability of God.
 
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