The question at Auschwitz, wrote William Styron, should not be: ‘Where was God?’ but ‘Where was man?’
Recently, the world remembered again the horror of the Nazi death camps during the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
During this sobering commemoration, I watched with interest as one feisty survivor shared his story for the BBC. Tears welled up in his eyes as he told of the brutality of the camps and the memory of his parents, both of whom were gassed to death.
In the midst of his sorry tale he made a remarkable observation. ‘It was my optimism which kept me alive,’ he said. ‘I just knew that everything had to work out for me.’
‘I had arguments with God in the camp. I told him that he had to get me through this so that I could tell the world what the Nazis had done to the Jews.’
Optimism is a powerful psychological and emotional force. It can infuse even the darkest experiences with purpose. It can fill us with strength even when we feel most vulnerable.
Recently, a group of British psychologists conducted a study to address the question, ‘Why do some people seem luckier than others?’
They wanted to know why some individuals seem to have more ‘lucky breaks’, why they experience more ‘happy coincidences’ than other people.
The question is still an intriguing one and the researchers unearthed some very interesting findings.
For example, they said, people who experience a lot of happy coincidences actually have a more optimistic outlook on life than others. ‘Lucky’ people expect good things to happen for them, no matter what problems they face along the way.
This is, I think, what Easter is all about. It’s a time for optimism.
Yes, Easter has its cross. Whether you are religious or not, I think it's difficult not to be moved when you consider the deep compassion demonstrated in the life of Christ - which ultimately led to give himself to this gruesome death.
But Easter isn’t all about Friday, it’s about Sunday too and in the resurrection carries a message of optimism, of the turning of the proverbial corner - away from despair and into hope.
Like Easter, life itself has its crosses, times when we cry as Christ himself did, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ At some time, we will all feel as did that man in Auschwitz – even if, thankfully, not for the same reasons.
In the Christian tradition, though, Easter reminds us that a brutal wrong has been made right and a potent enemy, death itself, has been thrown down.