Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Elie Wiesel: 20th Century Mystic?

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"...every question possessed a power that [is] lost in the answer. Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks Him...Therein lies true dialogue. Man asks and God replies. But we don't understand His replies. We cannot understand them. Because they dwell in the depths of our souls and remain there until we die. The real will find only within yourself."

--Elie Wiesel, Night, pg 5. (emphasis mine)

Out of the rubble that was the Holocaust arose a contemporary prophet that deserves our attention. Though Wiesel is a Nobel Peace Prize receipient, he deserves a new hearing with every generation, lest we forget the attrocity he lived. If you haven't read Night, you need to. This is a piece of contemporary literature that will stand the test of time, unlike the scores of junk currently for sale at the book store.

Though Wiesel is Jewish, I'm going to elaborate on this quote to expand some ideas in Christian theology. Some thoughts: this quote summarizes an early Christian dictum: faith seeking understanding. We have faith that God is active in our time and space, though it is hard to see at times. God interacts with us, though we do not understand God's message to us. It is a demanding love, a love that was bought with the cross, a love that is full of grace. Our Jewish brothers and sisters are in solidarity with this point: faith is seeking understanding. We desire God to speak to us today.

The final sentence in this quote, "The real will find in yourself," is very important. Though it may sound like a gnostic pitfall, I argue that it is not. Rather, God has given us all a conscience, an ability to reason, an ability to live for and with God. We must, in this time of fragmentation and worldly non-sense, come to our own answers. We are guided by the love of God into presence with the divine, but we must live amongst one another here on earth. We must learn how to love our brothers and sisters. We must never let the Holocaust happen again. And yet, it has, many times. Some of the well known: Bosnia, Rawanda, and now Sudan. We let people systematically kill one another with the fear that we'll step on some toes (talk about political crap). I'm all about non-violence and diplomacy, but Wiesel is a voice who cannot be ignored - we mustn't allow this to continue. Instead, how do we reverse this terrible equation? How do we systematically encourage peace?

The answers do remain buried in our souls until we die. It is our duty to search deeply and search for these answers. This is done, as Wiesel comments, with dialogue with God. We must ask God questions - and, in return, await God's answer. Wiesel is right, the real dialogue occurs when we ask questions. That is authentic existence. Have the honesty to ask the hard questions. Jesus did - "Father, why have your forsaken me??"


At 2:23 PM, Blogger John P. said...

James, this may be a little tangental, but i came across a fascinating article about the difference between early drafts and the final product of Wiesel's Night...if you look at and scroll down just a bit, you will find an article titled "Revising Night" on the right hand is a fascinating article, worth the read.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger James said...


I took a look at that article - thanks for pointing it my way. I cannot understand why some people refuse to put Wiesel's stuff up to criticism? I think everything, and I mean everything (myself included!) deserves fair, scholarly, and considered criticism. Now, the claims made in this article - I'm not so sure. Here's why: Wiesel experienced the Holocaust first-hand. Naturally, his memory has changed over the last sixty years - that's normal. However, I don't think we can do away with his status with a simple hat trick. Whether or not Wiesel's "Night" is a book of "facts" or not, I think that Wiesel experienced horrible things. He has the right to tell his story. That is the history in all of this. The victim has the right to tell his story, and we should listen.

Again, thanks for pointing me to this. It was a good read. And a great website, too! I'll have to put that on my template tomorrow...


At 9:17 AM, Blogger John P. said...

I agree wholeheartedly...i do not think that the article discredits the power and profundity of Night in its current form...It is still a must read.

It just reminds me how history is often much more complicated/interesting/human than our narration of it...


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