Today is Christmas.
I once tried to help a homeless person, in a pretty major way. It was hard, and It didn't go well. Let's just say that in some ways, it might have been better if I didn't try at all. Of course, homelessness is well-known to be a difficult problem. It's pervasive in my home state of California, and the state has had little success in solving it, despite its wealth and effort. From my limited but personal experience, it seems that it's not enough to simply throw money at the problem, or simply provide the housing. There are often fundamental, underlying conditions in the homeless which caused their initial conditions, which are not addressed by treating the symptoms. And yet, treating these initial conditions is difficult without stable housing. Note that I'm not saying we should give up on this problem, nor do I intend for the difficulty to be an excuse for inaction. By all means, let us not become weary in doing good. But at the end of the day, the difficult question remains: how do we help those kinds of people?
I also just wrapped up my post about my trip to Ukraine. Now, if helping a homeless person is hard, helping Ukraine is harder, by multiple orders of magnitude. There are multitudes of the homeless, the orphaned, and the widowed, and above all a whole generation of fallen men whose loss is irreplaceable. The war is still ongoing and their foe is still nuclear-armed and dangerous, and any aid we sent has to go into a country whose own citizens will readily admit is rife with corruption. How do you help those kinds of people? Again, I do not counsel despair or inaction, but make no mistake, this is difficult.
What about the Israelis and the Palestinians? Here we encounter a problem that's not only more difficult still, but of a categorically different nature. It's difficult in a new dimension, with a different order of difficulty. For everyone knows that what's going on there is terrible, yet nobody seems to know what the right course of action is, or have a viable, mutually beneficial long-term goal. Some will say that we should not help one of the sides at all, that their side should have total victory at cost of the total destruction of the other side: I will address these people next paragraph, but for now, I still do not counsel despair or inaction, though I acknowledge the immense difficulty.
What about people like Putin, or Hamas? How do you help those kinds of people? Their goals are clearly evil, and their means to achieve those goals are indiscriminate. Should we even try to help those kinds of people? And what does that even mean, to try to help them? Clearly we cannot aid or join them in achieving their wicked goals, but can we do anything for them, given that they, too, are humans, who also bear the image of God?
This is a picture of Majdanek. I took it on my last trip to Poland. The weather was sunny and warm on this day, and the open fields and the blue sky naturally look very inviting.
It is a Nazi concentration camp just outside of Lublin, one of the largest built during the war. Some 80,000 people were slaughtered there. One of the odd things about it is that it kind of catches you off-guard as you approach it, because it's so close to the city. So on nice days like this, as you emerge from behind the usual city-scape of buildings and trees, you cannot help but admire the natural beauty of the scenery. And surrounding it is a bunch of everyday amenities of city life: there are apartments next to it, with playgrounds that kids play in, next to the concentration camp. There are supermarkets nearby, where you can presumably buy pesticide along with your bread and milk.
Now, what do you do with a place like Majdanek? What do you do with a concentration camp? Some people may be too disturbed by the dissonance between the horrors that took place there, and the surrounding city life and the pleasant scenery. Okay then, so what do we do? Should we destroy the camp, burn it and bury it and bulldoze it to try to erase this scar in human history? To try to forget? Or to make it a scene of such utter chaos that no one may have any pleasant thoughts or experiences anywhere near it?
Or perhaps we should keep the camp for the sake of historical accuracy, but maybe these people shouldn't be allowed to live so near it? To raise their kids and do their shopping in sight of such a landmark? But where do we then draw the line? Should anyone be allowed to live in Lublin at all, or anywhere in Poland? Maybe we need to nuke the whole continent, to eradicate all trace of the sins that took place there? What do you do with a concentration camp?
Now let's take this to the highest level: what do you do with humanity? How do you help those kinds of people? What do you do with this species of animal, this race of beings? What could anyone do with us? We, who built that concentration camp, and started these wars, and say things like "that wasn't me", and are homeless and sick and poor and needy, and can't come to any solutions about any of this? We, who have such terrible fundamental, underlying conditions?
Maybe we should just nuke the whole planet, to expiate our sins. Maybe it would be better if we never existed, and so we should aim for self-extinction. Maybe God should have drowned us all in the flood, or tossed the planet into a black hole. Maybe the only thing we can do is wallow in despair and inaction.
But today is Christmas. Today we celebrate how God chose to help our fallen race, how he chose to solve this impossible problem. For God so loved the world, that he did not choose any of the options above in dealing with us, but instead gave his us only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. He became one of us, to take up our pain, to bear our suffering, to be pierced for our transgressions, to be crushed for our iniquities, so that the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
That is how he chose to help those kinds of people. That is how he chose to help us. And because he solved the problem at the highest level, in him we can solve all the lesser problems. In his solution, we have the hope of help for all people, and faith to resist despair and inaction. In Christ, we can earnestly work to help everyone as he did, and pray as he taught us to pray: "may [God's] will be done on earth as it is in heaven".
Merry Christmas, everyone! For in Christ - God's incarnate solution - we have God's help for all our problems.