As this Thanksgiving holiday nears, we are exhorted to be thankful for the blessings we have. But how can we be thankful when we see and face so much unfairness and evil in life? Can we understand this crazy world, let alone be thankful?

Reading Maus, a serious comic about the Holocaust, and watching the famous, based-on-life WWII miniseries Band of Brothers brought similar feelings to me. The Holocaust suddenly wasn’t just a word, but a real horror done by unspeakably evil men to normal people. This evil haunted me for hours as I walked outside in the beauty of a woodland’s autumn morning, my mind unable to concentrate on normal activities because I just couldn’t stop thinking of those Jews. Some had their skulls crushed in the gas chambers as they piled against the doorway, trying in vain to get out. Others broke their fingers climbing the walls. As I walked numbed in the horror, I felt both thankfulness and humility.

Why thankfulness? Because the problems in my life suddenly seemed vaporously trivial in comparison. The disagreements, discomforts – all seemed like nothing. How can I complain in anything? My grandparents were soon coming up, and we were worried that we did not have enough beds. My sister had suggested that the both of us sleep in our truck’s seats. The crazy idea suddenly became noble: Why worry about a slight inconvenience, when others have endured and survived so much more?

Why humility? I like to find a reason behind everything, and evil’s no exception. In history, the Holocaust actually had the effect of helping bring God’s people the Jews into Israel, their Promised Land, just as God had prophesied hundreds of years ago in the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures. He promised in Deuteronomy 30:2-3 that He would bring Israel back to the land even after they were scattered and persecuted throughout the world, and careful study of Ezekiel 4:3-6 shows that God prophesied 1948 as the date of Israel’s return (The Signature of God by Grant Jeffrey). God had turned around evil for good.

Yet despite these clear workings of God’s hand in the grand scheme, I strained to see His purposes within the microcosm of the concentration camps. Why were these Jews suffering so, so much, with no hope? The magnitude of this event hushed my mind into silent, awe-struck humbleness. Surely I cannot know the purposes of God in the ways of life. Life is so complex, so mysterious, it defies figuring out. I thought of the 6 billion people living life on this planet, in one year out of thousands of years in history, and I felt small. And awe-inspired.

How can I know what this is, this life? My life is short and insignificant. Who will know me when I am gone? Who will know I ever lived? I cannot even fathom what a billion people look like – the 6,000 stars visible to the naked eye are already too many for me to count. Yet all these billions have lives just like me. It suddenly felt breathtaking, to be so small and know so little. How little we know about life. What a mystery we live each day, not knowing what is happening a few feet away from us in the next house. Not knowing when we will die, who we will meet, or what lessons our lives will teach.

Someone may blame God for the evil that happens in life. But we are like children, and He is our Father. What does a child think when he is punished with time-out? When he is forced to do homework rather than play with his friends? Either the child will hate his father or trust that his father knows best, even when the child cannot understand why. How can the child know homework will help him prepare for college and for the workforce to raise a family, years beyond his present time? Such things seem too far away, yet they are in reality too wonderful for the child and beyond his comprehension. So it is with evil. Either you will hate God or trust Him despite not knowing every reason why. A God who can create the intricacies of DNA can certainly have a purpose for every evil, yet I do not know how He fashioned DNA nor how He will fix every wrong. I can only trust Him as a child trusts his father.

Yet even fathers have mercy on their children. Sometime after I read the horrors of the Holocaust in Maus, I watched an episode of Band of Brothers, “Why We Fight.” The Americans were occupying Germany in its waning days and wondering why they had their lives turned upside down just to fight these people. Comrades had died, wives back home grew cold, and lives were marred in disillusionment with the evils of war. Why where they here?

Yet a horrifying discovery in the forest answered their quest for meaning. A patrol found a concentration camp. Such things had only been rumors before, but now the full force of German evil became plain as the American soldiers stepped into a camp of pale, emaciated bodies barely grasping life within their barred prison rags. Lying on the ground were dead bodies so thin their skin outlined only a skeleton almost unrecognizable as human.

As the dazed Americans mingled among them, these gaunt figures reached out their hands and grasped a soldier’s sleeve, like the woman of old seeking healing with a touch of Jesus’ hem. One man brought his dead wife or daughter to the Americans’ feet. Another man saluted the soldiers. They gathered around the Americans like they were saviors. They were.

I cried. Suddenly I realized that these people were not hopelessly suffering – God was saving them. As the terror of the Holocaust spread across Europe, God was kicking Americans out of warm beds and comfortable lives. He was training them in war and sending them across an ocean to a land many had never seen, to save men, women, and children whom they had never met. Many died in combat without seeing the fruit of their objective, but whether they knew it or not, they were all saviors from the hand of God. Hundreds of death camps were liberated and the oppressed peoples of Europe were freed. That single Jewish salute implied so much to be thankful for.

As the credits rolled, I saw life anew. Life is like a movie we watch, an intricate weaving of plot and character two hours long. History threads through its actors small and great. Each of our lives is a 20-second snippet in the film, filled with good and bad, beauty and ugliness. Taken by itself, 20 seconds in a motion picture is nothing – we can hardly infer much about the plot or lesson. Some 20 seconds jolt you to recoil, while others overflow you with joy. Yet how can we judge a whole movie based on 20 seconds?

My life has been a pretty few seconds of comfort and beauty, of things and people I enjoy intimately. I’ve often asked myself why God made my life so beautiful, so wondrous. I know that others do not have the same experience; their 20 seconds are so much darker. And then there is life after death and life in the spiritual world – another realm of the story that is not visible in my 20 seconds. How can I know life when it’s only a tiny snapshot of a much longer reel?

Yet God has given us the synopsis for the movie – the inside scoop from the Producer Himself. The perfect story He has given in His Word, the Bible. He shows the main characters and the high points of the plot. He shows how evil works for good. And He has also stepped into the set of the story. He has become a man in the person of Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. He stepped in as the main character in this dramatic adventure and suffered the ultimate unfairness: unmerited execution of an innocent as a criminal. He was humiliated, tortured, and went through Hell – for us. He paid the punishment for our evils, for the daily Holocausts we pit against each other in our petty hatreds and jealousies and superiority-complexes. And then He rose from the dead to conquer death forever as a promise of our own resurrection. And for those who place their trust in Him as their true Father and Savior, He has promised a life after this life that cannot even be put into words:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Without eternal life after death, life here does not make sense. Without Divine justice in the world to come, justice here fails to be fulfilled. Without Divine everlasting Love, love here fades away in death and time. Without the Word of God, our words and deeds fade away and come to naught. Without God, life is nothing: We are just dust wandering in the wind.

Yet we are not without these things. God is here. He brings sense to life, even when we cannot always understand Him. He is too wonderful to understand completely, like a stunning autumn storm that strikes breathtaking fear in our hearts and rains down blessings on our souls. Through Him, we can trust that our 20 seconds will be an indispensable piece of the two-hour show. We are part of His story. And that is something to be thankful for.

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