Not too long ago I read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was perhaps the most horrible book I have ever read. I highly recommend it.
If you think that is a contradiction, it is not.
The book sat on my bookshelf for several months before I raised the gumption to open it. I knew instinctively what kind of horrors it would hold. Of course, as one friend commented, “It’s not that hard to figure out. It says right on the back ‘a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality, and fear…endurance tested beyond their worst imagining.’”
I honestly didn’t know if I would ever read it, but one night almost on a whim I pulled it off the shelf and read the first page. And once the cover was cracked, the story would not let me go. Two nights of staying up way too late and it was done. There were parts I’d squeeze my eyes shut only to peek back through one eyelid to keep on reading. I didn’t want to read the book. I read it anyway. Perhaps it was like the proverbial car wreck that you don’t want to see but somehow can’t keep from staring. I likened it to something vaster: The Holocaust.
Surrounding the dark periods of our history we often hear the phrase, “Lest We Forget.” The phrase is used to remind us of the importance of remembering our history, in part to pay tribute to those who have gone before us and in part to be on guard against repeating the cataclysmic horrors that our history contains. During this Lenten season, the phrase should also remind us of something else.
There are certain things in the world so horrifying that I really don’t want to know about them. I don’t want to read about them, I don’t want to talk about them, I don’t want to think about them. And yet, I have an indescribable need to do all of those things. The Holocaust is one example; the tale of Mariam and Laila in Hosseini’s novel is another. It is as though by acknowledging the deep and unyielding suffering of another, I somehow share some small part in it. As though by sharing in the suffering in even this small way – the tears, the sickening of the stomach, the pure and vile nausea at the hell of it – as though by acknowledging its existence, by staring it in the face and being duly horrified, I become a little more… human.
Paul explained this phenomenon another way. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body…if one part suffers, every part suffers with it (1 Corinthians 12:13;26). He also said, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
We are the Body of Christ. Perhaps the greatest manifestation of this tenet is seen when we bear witness to the suffering of another. It is in sharing each others suffering that we enact Christ’s trip to Calvary. It is in bearing one another’s burdens that we are reminded of Jesus Christ, who carried the ultimate burden when he bore all of our sins to the cross. When we are faced with the horrors of this world, we are reminded how desperately we need a Savior, and how graciously God provided one.
Through our suffering, God reminds us to lean on Him and to have faith in Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings. There are times we must stare the horrors of this world in the face and remember how human we are and how desperately we must cling to our Savior. During these times we must join together as the Body of Christ and look to the cross. Lest we forget.
For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17).