Night fell, shoah is here

[For a variety of reasons, I’ve taken some time away from working on my book about the Gospel. But, I’ve recently picked it back up again, and I’d like to start posting pieces of it here for review and feedback. Please feel free to let me know what you think. (I’ve also added a page to the blog with all the excerpts I’ve posted so far.) Tonight I was playing with this piece as a potential introduction for the chapter on the spread of sin in the world. I’d like to use shalom and shoah as balancing terms throughout the book to talk about the way things ought to be (shalom) and the destruction that results when sin enters the world (shoah).]

Shoah Has Come

Night fell.

There’s something eerily sinister about a sentence like that. If you run across it in a story, I can almost guarantee that things are about to get crazy. You could be reading a book about nice, old ladies drinking tea and playing cards, but if you see “Night fell,” you can expect vampires, serial killers, and/or giant spiders to come from nowhere and start wrecking some serious tea party havoc. Night is when evil walks free. Night falling in a story is never a good thing.

Night fell.

Nights are lonely. A while back I was talking with someone whose wife had left him several years into their marriage. He was reflecting on how difficult that transition has been—custody issues, financial pressures, and tense negotiations, among other things. But, out of everything, he said that nights were the hardest. During the day, he can keep himself busy with work and other responsibilities, distracting himself from the loneliness, pain, and bitterness. But, when night falls, there’s no more hiding. In the darkness, he’s alone.

Night fell.

Guilt and shame like the darkness. They wear it like a cloak, hiding deep within its velvety folds, safe from prying eyes. And, in a sense, darkness is liberating. People do things at night that they would never consider doing during the day. The shadows of night free us from the inhibitions and constraints of day. With our guilt and shame well covered by the darkness, we are free to pursue our desires, satisfy our needs, and soothe our lusts. In the night, guilt and shame find a home.

Night fell.

Kids seem to understand all of this instinctively. You don’t have to teach kids that bad stuff happens when night falls. They just get it. I woke up the other morning to find my youngest daughter asleep on the armchair in my bedroom…upside down, head dangling from the bottom of the chair, legs sticking straight up its back, blanket a tangled mess around her arms and chest. I wasn’t surprised. This happens a lot in our family. My daughter can play happily by herself for hours at a time. But, when night falls, she looks for any excuse to be close to someone. Nights are scary, dangerous, lonely places.

Night fell.

When night fell on Elie Wiesel, his life ended. One day, Elie was living with his family in their quaint, tightknit, and occasionally quirky community. One day he had a place to belong—family, friends, faith, and freedom. One day, Wiesel had shalom. And one day, night fell.

Elie is a Jew, and his family lived in Eastern Europe during World War II. Although they’d heard warnings about what was happening to Jews everywhere, they refused to flee. They just couldn’t leave their houses and synagogues, abandon their communities, lose everything that they had called home. So they stayed. And night fell.

For the next twelve months, Elie and his father try to survive the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps. And, Elie describes the experiences as being like one long, brutal “night,” not the simple period of darkness that concludes each day, but the dark night of loneliness, despair, and inhumanity that had descended upon him and his family. A night in which, as one prisoner tells him, “there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends,” where “everyone lives and dies for himself alone” (110); a night where every value is inverted, perverted, and destroyed.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.”

Night fell.

Among Jews, the Holocaust goes by another name, shoah, the Hebrew word for destruction. And, it’s a good word for describing the terrible reality of the Holocaust. Shoah. The destruction of community, intimacy, trust, hope, faith, love, even humanity itself. Shoah. A destruction that does not simply eliminate the good—no, that would be too easy—this is a destruction that crushes and corrupts the good, reshaping it into a twisted parody, a mockery of all that was once held dear.  Families remain, but only as a burden holding back those who would seek to survive the abyss, fighting and killing one another over mere scraps of bread. Hope remains, but only as a weapon used by guards to keep prisoners in line, tantalizing them with a vision of what they know will never come. Faith remains, but only as a painful accusation against a deity once trusted and adored. Shoah.

Once there was a boy named Elie. Once he had a family and a home. Once there was shalom. No longer. Night has fallen. Now there is darkness, loneliness, pain, despair, shame, and loss. Shalom is gone. Shoah has come.

Night fell.

Once there was a time when God’s people were naked, living in shameless intimacy with him and with one another, displaying his glory in the world as they cared for the creation he’d so graciously given them. Once there was shalom. But one day, God’s people decided to go their own way, abandoning his purpose and plan to pursue their own glory. And night fell. A night of loneliness and alienation, despair and brokenness, shame and guilt; a night seeming without end.

Once there was shalom. Now there is shoah.

Night fell.


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 8, 2010, in Gospel, Salvation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I like this, Marc!

    I think we can all relate to this too . . . we’ve all been kids 🙂 .

    And, most, have gone through garbage, like health, financial, or relational loss that certainly can be captured by “night fell.”

    Have you read Alan Lewis’ Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday? I think it hits the themes, in relation to the death of Jesus, that you are introducing here. Living in that ‘in between’ time.

    I didn’t know you were working on something like this; is there a deadline for it, or is it something that will get done, when it gets done?

    • I’m familiar with that work, but I haven’t read it. I should check it out.

      I’m definitely not on a timeline for this yet. I started to look into finding an agent and moving toward publication, but I pulled back when school started again. Now I’m just trying to get the ball rolling again and have some fun with it. I need to get a little more done before I feel comfortable putting myself on a timeline.

      • Please let us know when you get closer to publication, it sounds really good, Marc!

      • I will certainly do that. And I’m sure I’ll also post more excerpts here as time goes on. I tend to do that whenever I do something a little different, just to see how it strikes people.

  2. This is great. Well written, good cadence.

    The transition from the next to last, to the last paragraph: This is a transition from talking about Wiesel’s experience as a Jew in WWII to the cosmic, universal shoah, right? The last paragraph could be read epexegetically, which is not what I think you are going for, i.e. Jews were in camps because they pursued their own glory, etc.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I was a little concerned about using Holocaust language for precisely this reason. I really like how shoah captures idea of the destruction of shalom and God’s good plan, but I definitely wouldn’t want this interpreted along the lines that you mention. And, I also wouldn’t want someone to think that I’m saying that the Holocaust is really nothing more than the shoah that we all experience after Eden. But, I’d still like to draw on the power of that language and the horror of that event. So, I’ll work on that paragraph some more to see if I can avoid some of those implications.

  3. Marc, you are so depressing!!
    Other than that…very well written! I think you use tangible illustrations that most readers will connect with in some way. I also thought the nod to Elie Wiesel’s story is fitting. The definition of shoah that you give is poetic, appropriate, and explained in a way that most will not have heard before. This is good since we need to hear old truths taught in new fresh ways that shock our minds back to reality. I don’t know if this would be a spot to interject at least a nod to the hope of the gospel. You definitely feel the darkness of night at the end of reading it.

    • Thanks, Billy. I’m particularly glad that you thought the “feel” of the piece came through. That’s actually why I’m a little hesitant to move too quickly to hope. I don’t want to shortcut the brokenness by moving too quickly to hope. So, my plan at this point is to focus on how messed up things get when shalom is broken. But, the next chapter will clearly highlight God’s grace from the very beginning.

  4. Given the feel of this piece, I did have to laugh when I inserted it into the beginning of the chapter and noticed that the next section starts with, “Imagine that you’re an alien.”

    I think I’ll need to work on the transition there a bit.

  5. Actually when I hear “Night fell” I immediately think of the phrase “and morning came” but this could be because of a game we used to play that used this pair together. I do like the format you wrote it in though. I would say about the paragraph on guilt and shame that guilt usually does not need too much of a covering or hiding since it is generally (though certainly not always) internalized, but shame and hiding definitely works (sorry, I am steeped in guilt and shame language at the moment in research).

    • I should post the piece from the previous chapter where I deal with guilt and shame to see what you think. There I associate “guilt” more with the objective reality of having done wrong, rather than the subjective awareness of being/feeling guilty. The term can definitely be used in both ways, but I’ve chosen to focus on the first because I think it pairs more naturally with the subjective aspects of shame.

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