A Wounded Faith

When Elie Wiesel was a child, he and his Jewish community in Romania began to hear rumors of Nazi atrocities, but no one believed them. “Nothing this horrible could ever happen,” his rabbi assured Wiesel, “for God would never allow such a thing.” So, Wiesel’s faith endured.

Then those atrocities came to his own village, and during this week in 1944, a teenage Elie Wiesel walked into the monstrosity that was the Auschwitz extermination camp. His mother and youngest sister died immediately in the ovens. Elie and his father Schlomo were sent to the attached work camp. Still, Wiesel’s faith – battered and beaten – endured.

For the balance of 1944, Elie and his father endured, but when the Allies drew close to Auschwitz, they were forced to march with other survivors 30 miles through a blinding, bitter blizzard to Buchenwald. The young Wiesel preciously guarded his father, who was terribly ill; but exhausted himself, he fell asleep one night and awoke the next morning to discover that his weakened father had been seized and cast into the crematorium. The frayed thread holding Elie’s faith in place, snapped. 

He wrote: “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget, even if I am condemned to live as long as God.” 

Wiesel survived the Holocaust, going on to win most every accolade possible – including the Nobel Prize – for his writings and fierce defense of all persecuted peoples. For decades he maintained a steely agnosticism, a coldness toward faith as bitter as that Buchenwald snowstorm he walked through as a teenager. Who could blame him after all he had suffered?

But then, like a stubborn flower erupting through frozen ground, Elie Wiesel’s former faith bloomed again. A journalist familiar with Wiesel’s journey asked him, “Do you still have faith in God?” The now old man’s answer was textbook chutzpah, filled with the glory of tenacious hope. 

He answered, “I would be within my rights to give up faith in God, and I could invoke six million reasons to justify such a decision, but I am incapable of straying from the path…We must not give in to cynicism. My wounded faith endures.”

You will never face trials like those of the late Elie Wiesel, but you will doubt. You will be tempted to quit on faith, and you just might for a while. Your hope will bleed and buckle, your angry cries will assault heaven, and you will be left with little more than aggrieved memories. 

But somewhere down the road, maybe decades from now, the ice will break; dormant flowers will bloom; and warmth will return to your disillusioned heart. Your faith will endure, because ironically, a faith that has been deeply wounded is only kind of faith that lasts.