Summary: God uses people and processes to work toward the end of suffering; God uses us.
Where is God Now?
13 But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ’The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ’What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?"
14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ’I AM has sent me to you.’"
15 God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ’The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Where Is God Now?
Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Romania. He lived in a Jewish village. The first years of World War II left his village relatively untouched and the Wiesel family believed that they were safe from the persecutions suffered by Jews in Germany and Poland.
Then, in 1944, the Nazis arrived. Most of the people in the village were deported to concentration camps in Poland. Fifteen-year-old Elie was separated from his mother and sister immediately on arrival in Auschwitz. He never saw them again. He managed to remain with his father for the next year as they were worked almost to death, starved, beaten, and shuttled from camp to camp on foot, or in open cattle cars, in driving snow, without food, proper shoes, or clothing. In the last months of the war, Wiesel’s father died. After the war, the teenaged Wiesel found a home in France, where he learned for the first time that his two older sisters had survived the war.
For ten years, he observed a self-imposed vow of silence and wrote nothing about the concentration camps. In 1955, he set down his memories in Yiddish, in a 900-page work entitled Un die Welt Hot Geshvign (And the World Kept Silent). Later, Wiesel compressed the work into a much smaller version, which he titled Night,
In his book Night, Wiesel describes hangings. These were a regular feature of concentration camp life. For the theft of a piece of bread, for talking back to a guard, for slacking off at work, for practically anything, the Nazis had one punishment—hanging.
But Wiesel describes one group of hangings that was particularly awful. Three gallows had been erected—three hangman’s nooses over three chairs. Two adults and a child were to be hanged. The child was a young boy with a refined and beautiful face. Thousands of prisoners were lined up to watch the hanging. All eyes were on the child. Wiesel says the child “was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips.”
“’Long live liberty!’ cried the two adults. But the child was silent.”
Someone in the ranks behind Wiesel asked, “Where is God? Where is he?”
Then the chairs were kicked over. The two adults died immediately, their necks broken by the snap of the noose. But the SS hangmen botched the job on the child and he hung there for half an hour struggling against slow strangulation. The prisoners had to march past him and look at him. Wiesel said that when he marched past, the boy was still alive, though just barely.
And he heard the same man ask, “Where is God now?”
Wiesel wrote, “And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows” (Bantam Books, 1982. pp 61-62).
Wiesel’s words are subject to a couple of interpretations. When he says God is hanging on that gallows with that child, he probably means he has lost his faith in God. He had believed in a God that could prevent all suffering. Yet that God had not prevented the untold suffering and dying that was part of his experience in the camps. So God was either a monster who did not care about human suffering, or God could not prevent all suffering. If God saw that child die on a Nazi gallows, and could have done something and did nothing, then God is evil. That is the problem that Wiesel is wrestling with.
But there is another interpretation of Wiesel’s words. The words are to be taken literally. God was literally on that Gallows with that child. God was at the end of that rope. God shared the suffering of the boy and also the suffering of the prisoners. God grieved over the inhumanity of the guards. That is where God is; That is who God is.
Where Was God in the Exodus?
Chapter 3 of the book of the Exodus is know as the call of Moses. Moses had abandoned his position in the court of Pharaoh, and fled Egypt. He was making a living as a shepherd in the wilderness of Sinai. One day, he saw a bush burning on a mountainside. He watched it for sometime and noticed that the bush was not burned up. It just kept on burning. Finally, he went to investigate this strange phenomenon, and God spoke to him from the burning bush. God ordered Moses to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites from slavery. But Moses was reluctant to accept this job. He said, in v11, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" . Moses said, I am just an ordinary guy. I do not have any magical powers. I do not have fame nor fortune. I am not the man you want. I do not have the qualifications you are seeking. Moses apparently had a low self-image. Fortunately, God can fix that. God replies, "I will be with you.” God says, I will qualify you for the job, you do not have to worry about that. God says, my presence with you will qualify you for the job.”