“When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition, and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we shall begin to learn that it is our true nobility.”
—Andrew Murray, Humility
More than fifteen years after World War II officially came to an end, Adolf Eichmann, a first lieutenant and the SS Nazi mastermind behind the death camps, was captured and put on trial in an Israeli court.
The year was 1961, and the shock waves of that horrific war still rippled throughout the world. For many, peace required justice. Thus, many dedicated their lives to tracking and capturing Nazi criminals, including Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal who survived imprisonment in multiple death camps in pursuit of the criminals’ prosecution as well as their own peace.
During Eichmann’s trial, prosecutors presented a wealth of evidence, including thousands of pages of Eichmann’s own words, captured during the pretrial interrogation. In addition, they presented the court with a firsthand witness, a man named Yehiel Dinur, a Jewish survivor of one of Eichmann’s camps. Dinur’s testimony proved a pivotal component of the prosecution’s case and, eventually, Eichmann’s conviction and death sentence.
In February 1983, twenty-two years after the trial and Dinur’s testimony, Mike Wallace interviewed Dinur for an episode of 60 Minutes. During the interview, Wallace showed Dinur a video clip of the Eichmann trial, the moment when Dinur entered the courtroom to testify. When he entered and saw Eichmann sitting several yards away, he collapsed to the floor. After the clip ended, Wallace turned to Dinur and asked him the reason for his collapse. Was it fear? Or hatred?
Neither. Dinur surprised Wallace and the viewers with his answer. It wasn’t hate or fear that caused Yehiel Dinur’s collapse in the courtroom. It was Eichmann’s ordinariness.
“Eichmann is in all of us,” he said, six words that shook all who heard them.
Eichmann wasn’t a monster or a fire-breathing dragon. There was nothing towering or terrifying about him. Instead, he was average, ordinary. Eichmann appeared no different from the man you meet on the sidewalk or the stranger you pass at the store. “I was afraid of myself,” said Dinur. “I saw that I am capable to do this. I am . . . exactly like he.” Dinur saw himself.
I’m not sure I’d have the same response. Seldom do I allow myself to consider the evil I am capable of. It is much easier to see the darkness in others. Although my flaws are many, I feel the pain of others’ infractions far more than my own. When someone I love fails me, I’m more likely to feel anger at the wrong than empathy for their struggle. And—dare I say it?—something dark within even wants to retaliate. Although they haven’t committed mass atrocities, I feel compelled to demand vindication for every wrong. And I doubt the weight of my sin would drop me to the floor.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus sits the familiar story of Moses delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Chances are, even if you are new to Christianity, you’re familiar with the story. At last count, somewhere in the neighborhood of seven movies have been made about the exodus story, proving that a narrative of unjust suffering and heroic rescue appeals to a diverse audience, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Although my early exposure to the exodus story was through simplistic Sunday school lessons, I’ve since learned the many ways the exodus foreshadows the gospel: a people enslaved by evil, a deliverer sent to rescue, and a promised land waiting for those who are set free. Moses’ journey foreshadowed a better salvation, one that would come thousands of years later when Jesus—a name that in Hebrew means “to save”—died on a cross to set those who were enslaved to their flawed humanity free.
But before the exodus, the Israelites faced a final Egyptian plague: the plague of the firstborn (see Exodus 11). In spite of God’s persistent warnings to “let my people go,” Pharaoh remained unmoved (Ex. 7:15– 16). Concerned about His people’s suffering and Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, God sent an angel of death to wipe out every firstborn male, both people and livestock. A devastating blow against evil. But this is what I want you to notice: the plague was to wipe out every firstborn male, Egyptian and Israelite alike.
But God offered the Israelites an out. Each family was to slaughter a single, perfect male lamb. Then they were to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of their door frames. That night, the angel of death would deliver the final judgment but pass over and spare Israelite homes covered by the blood of the lamb.
Sound familiar? Thousands of years later, another Lamb’s blood was offered for anyone who receives its cover. Even so, we mustn’t forget:
Egypt is in all of us. The Israelites were destined for death as well as their slave drivers. The only difference, their only salvation, was the blood of the lamb.
Theologian and Yale professor Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who has witnessed humanity’s propensity to see evil everywhere but in oneself, concludes,
“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. . . . When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.”
Yes, Eichmann and Egypt are in all of us. The only salvation for humankind, including both you and me, is to be covered by the blood of the Lamb.