In West Germany in 1959 teenager Michael Berg embarks on a passionate love affair with tram conductor Hannah. Then one day she leaves her flat and disappears. Several years later Michael attends a war crimes trial only to discover that Hannah had previously been a guard at Auschwitz concentration camp. Tormented by his memories of their relationship, Michael visits a former concentration camp and silently walks through the buildings. At one point he passes thousands of shoes, collected from those who had been murdered there.
Back in 1999 I visited Cambodia with a group of friends, while we were staying in the capital Phnom Penh we visited a placed called Tuol Sleng. Before 1975 it had been a high school, but when the brutal Khmer Rouge took control of the country it became an interrogation centre. Thousands died there. Walking around those buildings, seeing the pictures and accounts of what had taken place was a terrible day, in the end I had to leave my friends and stand outside in the quad, waiting for the others in the sunshine. I was overwhelmed by the horror of it all. Walking on the same patch of earth where such terrors had taken place was sickening and frightening. I was haunted by the same question that has haunted so many down the ages, how can one human being deliberately treat another so badly?
The Bible makes no pretence about how wicked people can be. There are accounts of suffering, and prayers and poems that ask the tough questions. The writers do not shy away from the horrors of life, nor do they pretend that to believe in God makes all things well. Chapter 11 verses 32-38 of the letter to the Hebrews documents the heroes of faith down the ages, some it said believed in God and saw miracles, others suffered for their faith. One day, says the prophet John in Revelation chapter 21, things will come right. There will be no more pain or suffering or sadness, no more torment and death. God’s kingdom of everlasting peace and justice will arrive and the world will be delivered out of the grip of evil men and women. But for now we live with the struggles and the questions. And these can be terrifying and soul-destroying. The news at times it so depressing. Jesus understands this and warned us that this world would hold trouble, he himself faced conflict and difficulties every day. But he also invited us to be part of the temporary solution, being peacemakers and bringers of mercy, in our own small ways, wherever and whenever we can.