I have been up since 2:00 a.m. After watching the news about the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, my spirit was restless. I needed to get up to pray and write. For a few days something has been on my heart and this morning, I felt it was time to share my thoughts.
Last week, we remembered the events 500 years ago that began the Protestant Reformation. A priest named Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany setting in motion a transformation of Christianity and releasing the Reformation. It wasn’t just a war of words. A lot of blood was shed over the contents of Luther’s writing.
Jan and I lived in Berlin for four years in the 90’s. It was a short 40-minute drive from Berlin south to Wittenberg. I remember the first time we visited the church where Luther preached. I was able to see his writing desk and the museum pieces revealing his personal life. I saw his pulpit and the interior of his church. It was amazing to walk through the history of this influential man. I was also able to see his brokenness. Luther was known to have anti-Semitic leanings. In fact, he even wrote about his feelings against the Jewish people. He was a man of two natures. Walking outside the church I saw in graphic imagery the dark side of our broken human nature.
High up on the outside wall of Luther’s church is a sculpture embedded in stone. The 13th-century sculpture is called the Judensau (German for “Jews' Sow”). The sculpture depicts Jewish people having obscene contact with a pig, a forbidden animal to the Jews. This sculpture was not just on the Wittenberg church. It was on many churches in Germany and across Europe. It was also popular to have a miniature version of this demeaning sculpture in homes. We focus on Luther and his anti-Semitic leanings, but the prejudice against the Jewish people was not just limited to one man or one nation. It covered a continent.
As I stood looking up at the Judensau, below it on the ground was another sculpture. This one was created in 1988 on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht in remembrance of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. This sculpture was equally dramatic. It is comprised of four steel plates that seemed to be trying to cover up something. A darkness was oozing up through the seams between the steel plates as a reminder that our human capacity for evil remains and that we must be ever-vigilant over our broken humanity. It was a dramatic contrast with the weathered image of the Judensau that stared down at me from above.
There is a movement afoot in Germany to remove the Judensau. Some want it destroyed and others want it removed and placed in a museum to remind us of our past, and the dangers that still exist in our future. That will be a decision for the Germans to make. My only comment as someone who visited Wittenberg and who was emotionally struck by the contrast between the two sculptures, I will never forget the message they conveyed. In their context, the two sculptures reminded me of our on-going struggle with good and evil – a struggle that was apparent in Martin Luther and still lives on today in the rest of humanity, redeemed and unredeemed alike. It is easy to forget that Germany, known as a Christian nation, came under the evil spell of Nazism. Our labels have little power over evil. Only love has that kind of power.
Paul wrote about the struggle between our two natures in his letter to the Galatians. Paul said, “These two forces are constantly fighting each other” (5:17). This is a struggle that will never end until we stand in eternity with Jesus. Yes, the old nature was put to death on the Cross, but its deception is still alive and strong enough to speak to us in deceptive tones if we are willing to listen. We need reminders like the sculptures in Wittenberg to keep us from assuming that we are immune from believing a lie – a lie that can lead a person to perform unspeakable evil whether it takes place at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas or in the Stadtkirche in Wittenberg, Germany.