“Where is God now?”

I finally picked up Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and read it in less than 48 hours. The story follows a young German girl through Nazi Germany. At the end of the book, I was sobbing.

In a lot of ways this is one of the strangest books, not in the least because it is narrated by Death. And yet, as the book moves forward, the more it seems that the only appropriate narrator for a book about WWII is, indeed, Death. The style of the writing is unusual, but brilliant.

This was one of those books that, without acknowledging it, likely without the author even believing it, brought me back to the gospel. Because the book paints the human condition in such vivid, undeniable, heart-wrenching words. Because the people lie somewhere on a spectrum of good and evil. And, especially, because the good people do what they can though they have so little power. The stands they take are often small–one life saved, one act of kindness, nothing more–but, at the same time, they have an unbearable magnitude.

I cried twice when reading this book, and the first was when a character was stupidly, sorrowfully, incredibly good. Something about the truly good acts of humanity brings me to tears more than the truly wicked, and that’s why I say this book brought me back to the gospel, or maybe I brought the gospel to it. In the face of a story like this and what it remembers, the only answer is Christ.

I read Night by Elie Wiesel back in my freshman year of college. There’s a line in that books that I misread all these years. I read it quoted somewhere recently. It’s the one where the Jewish prisoners witness an execution and someone asks “Where is God now?”, and the response is “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.”

Wherever I read this quoted made me realize that all this time, I’d read this wrong. In their suffering, they meant that God is dead, absent, has wiped his hands of his creation. But this whole time, I’d been reading it in light of the Crucifixion–“Here he is—He is hanging on this gallows” as Christ who suffers with us. Emmanuel.

And, ultimately, this is what The Book Thief brought me back to.

There’s a lot more to say about this book, a lot more themes and implications, but this was the most important for me. This is the reason I cried.

Elizabeth King

About Elizabeth King

I am currently living it up as a preschool teacher in China. I divide my reading time between theology textbooks, contemporary literature, and Newbery Medal winners. When I'm all grown up, I want to write like Madeleine L'Engle.

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