Sunday, January 15, 2012

From brokenness to healing: A pattern repeated across creation

The ruins of the building where the assassination attempt
took place in July 1944 are being reclaimed by nature.
In September 2010, my father and I visited Poland with a couple of family friends. While there, we toured Wolf's Lair, Adolf Hitler's Eastern Front military headquarters during World War II, located in a remote wooded region just south of the present-day Russian border. This was the site of an assassination attempt against the Nazi dictator that almost succeeded, and possibly would have saved millions of lives if it had. (It was also the setting of the film "Valkyrie," which you probably didn't want to see because Tom Cruise was playing Claus von Stauffenberg, the main character.)

Near the end of the war, the retreating Nazis tried to blow up the installation, because they didn't want the Allies to use it after they were gone. But many of the structures on the site — including Hitler's bunker, which was designed to withstand an attack — remain intact, while others exist today as ruins. In either case, nature has taken its course in the nearly 70 years since the place was abandoned. Plants and trees grow atop the rubble, while moss and grass cover the sides and tops of the buildings where the highest-ranking Nazi officials once stayed, including the Fuhrer himself, who spent more than 800 days there.

Wolf's Lair, once a site where so much death and destruction was plotted by some of history's most notoriously evil men, is now a tranquil spot in the middle of a forest, where animals make their homes and visitors can walk peacefully through the deep foliage. Creation has reclaimed this place. Life is abundant in a location once symbolic of death.

The visit to that spot in northern Poland reminded me of the many times I've been hiking in the woods here in the Pacific Northwest, when I've come across young, healthy trees growing atop the fallen, decaying remains of dead ones — literally, a rotted-out trunk or stump holds the roots of a new tree, probably the same species as the one that died.

New life emerges from death. Healing and renewal surfaces from brokenness and injury. Creation displays this pattern over and over again. Visitors to the blast zone of Mount Saint Helens in Washington state, which erupted with cataclysmic force in May 1980, will still find a desolate moonscape more than three decades later. But they'll also find beautiful, fragile wildflowers, young trees growing beside the skeletons of the ones decimated in the eruption, and animals living in the area of destruction. It's another testament to the healing process that takes place over time, even amidst the worst kind of devastation. Someday, Mount Saint Helens will be fully restored — probably not while any of us are still around, but someday.

I have several friends who are atheists. I would never judge them. I can't. In fact, they probably have many of the same questions about God that I do. Why do so many of his followers act like holier-than-thou assholes? And how does a supposedly loving, benevolent God let terrible things happen to good people? One of the oldest spiritual dilemmas in human history has never been — can't — be satisfactorily explained.

God's presence — and his design for the order of the
universe — is evident even in the midst of trials.
Paradoxically, though, both of those questions (among others) reinforce my belief in an eternal, all-powerful, loving God. First, I know that I'm messed up as hell. Fractured. Flawed. Fallen. Fallible. I cannot restore anything or heal brokenness on my own. Often, I can only make it worse. Therefore, I have no basis on which to pretend I'm more righteous than anyone else (though I often do, anyway). And if my broken nature mirrors that of the world and other people — as news headlines would suggest — then none of us are unilaterally capable of bringing about the healing and renewal that I see in creation all the time, and in other people's lives. Doctors, who are themselves broken human beings, don't facilitate health restoration on their own. There must be a greater force at work who fosters this, and whose handiwork is evident everywhere, if we'd only just pay attention.

Second, bad things do happen: Sickness. Death. Injury. Disaster. Destruction. War. Hate. Discrimination. Addiction. Rejection. Broken relationships. Resentment. Anger. The list goes on. Some of these maladies are resolved or healed in our lifetimes; others, like the death of a loved one, are not, which makes coping even harder. We can't explain why these things occur, or why a loving God would allow them. In frustration — or perhaps desperation — it's easy to conclude that if there is a God, he isn't good, or perhaps, he simply doesn't exist. I understand that line of thinking. I've been close to it numerous times.

But if I can't explain why misfortune strikes, I can say that the belief in a sovereign God lends it greater meaning and makes it easier to endure. In the same way that he symbolically uses night, day, and seasons to assure us that dark periods will never be permanent, he shows us repeated instances of death giving way to new life, and affliction giving way to healing and renewal. It's why nature repairs and regenerates itself constantly. It's why we hear stories of Rwandan genocide victims offering forgiveness to perpetrators who once committed unspeakable evil. And it's why the greatest, most important story of God's relationship with mankind is one in which he became human, died, and rose again, to overcome death and despair forever. Yes, God himself faced adversity that, though it was inexplicable to observers at the time, ultimately changed the course of human history.

About five years ago, when I first arrived in Seattle, my friend who accompanied me on the cross-country trip took the picture above, which shows the sun breaking through some very heavy clouds over Puget Sound. Each time I look at it, I'm reminded that God created a universe in which evidence of his presence, glory, and goodness can be seen even in the midst of gray, foreboding, or bleak circumstances. When I face adversity in my own life, that's a concept in which I try to take heart.

1 comment:

  1. Having shared the experience you describe here, the visit to Wolf's Lair in northeast Poland, I have to say that the place had the same impact on me as it did on you. I believe that the Poles were wise in not restoring this place of evil to what it was before it was destroyed. Instead, nature has been left to reclaim it, symbolizing, I think, that life inevitably arises out of death and good out of evil. It demonstrates what we Christians believe: that death never has the final word, that life inevitably rises out of death, that good inevitably triumphs over evil, despite all evidence to the contrary.