Is it true that God called us to act against suffering? Is it our responsibility to take action against the travesties happening around us? Is it necessary to take the risks it involves to act against suffering? Yes.
Moses is the first example of someone taking action against suffering in the Bible. We all know how Moses really, really didn’t want to go back to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh and be a leader. I mean, he actually tried to argue with God! However, God was adamant, and he said to Moses that he wanted to deliver the people of Israel and use Moses to do it. After God agreed to let Aaron speak for Moses, he begrudgingly went back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of their suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. Moses took action to stop the suffering of the people he loved—God’s people.
A more modern example is a hero named Irena Sendler. She was a Polish Catholic young woman who all-but-singlehandedly rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. She was a social worker for the Warsaw government and had many close Jewish friends in the ghetto. When she found a young friend—a homeless, starving boy—dead on the street, she quickly realized that she had to do something. Irena went to her priest, who then put her in contact with an underground group called Zegota, and they began equipping her to smuggle children out of the ghetto. They were very clever with it, hiding babies in false-bottomed toolboxes, smuggling them out for “burial,” and taking older children out through the sewers.
She frequently had to think fast to come up with a believable fib so the Nazis would let her pass with her children. Even with nerves of steel, I’m not sure I could have done what she did. An informer eventually turned her in, and Irena was arrested and horribly tortured by the Gestapo. Her strength from God and nerves were not shaken, and she didn’t tell the Nazis a word of what they wanted to hear. They freed her because of a large bribe Zegota paid to the officer who was supposed to execute her (and, I believe, because of God’s grace). For the rest of the war, she stayed in hiding in the Polish countryside and remained unknown until the late 1990s when three Kansas high school girls discovered her story and brought it to light. She is one of my heroes and an excellent example of taking a stand against suffering. She did what was in her power to do and saved the lives of over 2,500 children. Those children grew up to be doctors, nurses, mothers, and fathers, soldiers and authors, architects, and teachers. Irena gave them the opportunity to live and the power to change the world.
This is a timely topic to be discussing right now. We are on the heels of the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht and the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Both of these events are memorials to terrible suffering. Kristallnacht was the beginning of suffering for most European Jews, and the signing of the Armistice was the end of four years of brutal, horrific trench fighting. I find it ironic that almost twenty years to the day after the armistice was signed, supposedly ending “The War to End All Wars,” suffering began anew as thousands upon thousands of German and Austrian Jews were arrested, their shops ransacked and burned, and homes destroyed.
I recently was at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and I realized once again the magnitude of suffering that took place during the Holocaust. I began thinking about what I would do if something of a similar nature began to happen where I live. I want to think that I would be one of the first to notice and to do something, but honestly, how likely is that? Would I be willing to risk everything just to save one, or maybe two lives? I certainly hope so. A Jewish proverb says, “If you save one life, you save the world.” One person can do so much for and to the world, either for good or for bad. Even a tiny gesture such as a smile or compliment can change someone’s life, and because of that, he or she has the opportunity to change the world.
We repeatedly see in the Bible, throughout history, and even today, people fighting against suffering. In almost every city and town, there are places to help the homeless and underprivileged, therefore taking action against suffering. In conclusion, I do believe that God calls us to act against suffering, and I hope that when I encounter suffering, I may be able to shine the light of Yeshua and do something.