In the second world war a group of British soldiers liberated a German concentration camp called Bergen-Belsen. Here is an account of what happened:
I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen…One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated.'
This account is horrible for so many reasons.
But at the root of it it is obscene and horrible and tragic because this was happening to PEOPLE.
Concentration camps were designed to strip people of their humanity.
In the beginning God created male and female in his image.
This is what is unique about humans.
Animals were created as animals without that divine image.
Humans were created in God’s image which means all of humanity reflect something of God’s image. So when you look at humanity you can see something of God.
So when humans are treated like animals its anti-human and anti-God.
When a person becomes a ‘that’ or ‘it’ its degrading and violating.
When the media or when we judge somebody by the way they look and rate their body on a scale of one to ten and treat them like an object, its against God. It’s against that person.
When a person wants to be graded for their physical looks.
When they treat themselves like an object, it does something to their soul.
It strips them of their God given humanity.
When we don’t respect the divine image in others its hellish.
Jesus spoke about lust.
He said that if we lust we should cut out our eye. Better than being thrown into hell.
Why has Jesus gone from speaking about lust to suddenly speaking about hell?
It can’t be THAT bad can it?
Well lets think about heaven first.
We’re called to bring heaven to earth.
Heaven is the place where everything is as it should be.
God’s love, justice and beauty are known in fullness.
So when we act justly and love extravagantly and treat people as beautiful we are bringing heaven to earth.
But there are times when we can bring hell to earth.
Hell is when something is void of all love and justice and beauty.
Concentration camps are hell on earth.
Hell is when people are not treated as fully human.
Hell is when people are treated like objects.
So maybe this is what Jesus is on about.
When we lust people are being treated like objects.
Something hellish is going on.
But when people are treated with dignity and respect and love, then something else is going on.
When people are not treated as objects as 'that' or 'it' but as human, as people, as him or her, then love is happening. When we love others as Jesus loved us then heaven is coming to earth.
Which brings us back to Bergen-Belsen:
'It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.'
Sometimes the difference between heaven and hell is bright red lipstick.