When I was a child, my parents had a set of encyclopedias that were stored in the bookcase in my bedroom that was also the living room during the day. I must have been around eight or ten years old when I would take these volumes to my bed and read them. At that age, I was inclined to page through and read only the captions under pictures that interested me. One day, I was reading the volume that had a “W” stamped on its spine. In it there was information about the two World Wars, the second of which ended the year following my birth. Mostly I saw pictures of world leaders meeting, of famous generals, of battle scenes and of military equipment. As I turned the pages, I came across some pictures that I have never forgotten. They were pictures of naked, dead bodies piled up in ditches and of people alive, but who were so thin you could see the structures of their skulls and their eyes were so sad it almost made me cry.
This morning I recall another moment in my life. I must have been in my early 40’s. I was teaching 6th grade religion at that time and the curriculum topic was the Old Testament. It was around the time that our family began to celebrate the Passover, so taken was I by the beautiful practices of the Hebrew people. I must have been reading a book about the Holocaust, because I found myself sitting alone in my bed weeping over what I was learning about the terrible suffering of the children. How could God let this happen, I recall thinking? There was actually a response, it seemed to me. Somehow, I thought that the intense sadness I felt was the actual feeling God himself felt…it was as though he were letting me into his own heart.
These two experiences come back to me as I see the scenes of the bodies of men, women and children in Syria. I don’t know what to do, or what the right thing to do. I don’t know. I just know God’s heart is breaking.