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A Trip to Hell and Heaven in 48 Hours

pen and paper

Principal's Pen - August 2023

Traveling is more than merely exploring new places; it is also about immersing yourself in the history, culture, and human experience that transpired in a particular location. Last June, my daughter and I took a “History of Israel” trip to Eastern Europe and the Middle East with 25 other Christian school administrators and their families from around the United States. We traveled to Poland and Israel, making stops at all the significant sites from the Bronze Age to the first century as well as the present day, sites that have witnessed the Jewish experience over the last four thousand years. While the trip lasted 11 days, there was a 48-hour window when we visited two unforgettable places - Auschwitz and the Mt. of Beatitudes. These sites and their proximity during the trip provided one of the sharpest contrasts between evil and good that can be imagined. One provided a picture of Hell, while the other painted a portrait of Heaven. 

The Nazi death camp known as Auschwitz is a horrifying testament to the depths of human depravity and evil manifested on a massive scale. It was a place where the murder of Jews became industrialized and efficient, a place where the “Final Solution,” the Holocaust, took place. And being there made it real like no history book or movie ever could. While we were there, we sat on the steps of the building where Josef Mengele performed his gruesome experiments on Jewish children, traversed through gas chambers built to kill thousands at a time, and walked on the railroad where Nazi officers and doctors decided which prisoners getting off the trains would live and which would be in the crematorium a half hour later. Seeing it made it real. And what was real, more than anything else, was the knowledge that human beings are capable of doing such things. A million people were murdered in Auschwitz - 10,000 souls per day at its peak. Undoubtedly, Auschwitz gave the world a snapshot of Hell. 

Pictured above - Inside the furnace room at Auschwitz and looking towards Auschwitz.

Two days after visiting Auschwitz, my daughter and I were in the Galilee region of Israel, sitting on the Mt. of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. The contrast between those two days and those two places was a chasm that, during our time on the mountain, could only be bridged by silence. For it was on that mountain that the Kingdom of God, in all of its ideals and perfections, in all of its pictures of eternal life, the way the world should be, was described by Jesus. For it was there that Jesus spoke of His people as the poor in spirit, the meek, those thirsty for righteousness, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. And it was there where He raised the earth's standards to those of His Kingdom. He equated lust with adultery and anger with murder. He pictured His people giving to those in need, loving their enemies, and turning the other cheek. Indeed, this starkly contrasted the Nazis’ actions against the Jews. In short, Jesus gave the world a picture of Heaven there on that mountain. And in light of His words and what He eventually did on the Cross, all my daughter and I could do there was silently reflect on our lives while imagining the Lord standing before us in that very spot. It wasn’t long before tears came.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured above: The Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes and contemplating on the Sea of Galilee.

Just as there is a massive chasm between the atrocities of Auschwitz and the ideals of the Kingdom of God, there remains an unbridgeable gap between this world and the Kingdom yet to come. But God has promised to finally and fully bridge that gap, removing the possibility of evil, unleashing justice, and making everything wrong right. John records the outcome of this promise in the book of Revelation, “I will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4, ESV). While depicting eternal life for the faithful and the eradication of evil, this promise nevertheless remains in the future tense, i.e., “I will.”  But those who have trusted in Christ have been welcomed into the family of God and are able to experience this divine transformation now. For God has promised them a “new heart,” a heart that enables His people to live in the present age as “ambassadors” (2 Cor 5:20), “exiles” (1 Pet 2:11), “strangers,” (Heb 11:13), “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14-16): “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Eze 36:26–27, ESV). 

Theologians call this the “already, but not yet, Kingdom of God,” The Kingdom is “already” present and active in the lives of God’s people but “not yet” fully present in its final form. This is why Jesus taught his people to pray, “Your Kingdom come…” (Matt 6:10). And while we await “the last day” while living in the “last days,” we are called to be faithfully present wherever God puts us. And being faithfully present means engaging and battling against evil wherever we find it. But fighting against evil is different for the people of God. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4, ESV). The weapons we fight with come from the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Revelation 12:11, ESV). We fight evil in the world by sharing the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the Gospel.   

The primary lesson from the aftermath of Auschwitz is “if it can happen once, it can happen again.” And while we can imagine modern ideologies once again manifesting into massive genocide and other evils, we can also imagine how the spread of the Gospel can prevent them. And so we do what Jesus implored us to do: “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38, ESV). And when we pray that prayer, we realize we are the answer! We are the laborers! We are the ones He has called!

May the Lord bless you as you live for Him and battle against evil in His world!

Maranatha!

Nicholas Harris 

 

 


 

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