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UK >

Mr Gumbel questions meaning of suffering

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 @ 12:22


Click to enlarge

Understanding: Nicky Gumbel 

Credit: HTB

Understanding: Nicky Gumbel 

THE Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton, the Revd Nicky Gumbel, has spoken about the members of his family who were killed during the Holocaust. He concluded that "no one has really ever come up with a satisfactory answer to the question of suffering."

In an interview for the Things Unseen podcast in November, Mr Gumbel described how his father, a German Jew, had refused to talk about his life. It was his mother who had broken the silence, just once: "I remember exactly where we were. We were walking along the promenade in Hove, near Brighton. And she said to us 'Your father is German and Jewish, and you are never to speak to him about it,' and we never did."

Although at the time he "couldn't really understand why" he was not allowed to ask his father questions, "now I do understand . . . when you realise the trauma that he must have experienced. I think of it like supposing the whole Christian population of the UK were put in concentration camps, and I have lost all my family and all my friends - not just dying, but dying the most horrific death. How would you ever begin to process that?"

After Mr Gumbel's parents died, his paternal aunt wrote to tell him all she knew about his father's life. Eighteen months ago, the Jewish Museum in Berlin contacted him,in search of information abouthis family. "They sent me a document that told me more about my family than anything I had ever discovered before. . . They also sent the family tree, which showed the different concentration camps that each of the cousins died in, and that made me realise just why he could not talk about it. It was just too horrific."

He had also discovered that one member of his family, EmilGumbel, had been a friend of Albert Einstein.

Asked how he reconciled his faith with the horrors of his family's suffering, Mr Gumbel said: "The issue of innocent suffering is the hardest question to answer. It's the biggest moral objection to the Christian faith, and no one has really ever come up with a satisfactory answer. . .

"Ultimately, I think, for me, the reason that Christianity is so powerful is that Jesus is not aloof from suffering. God is not aloof from suffering. He came, and was part of our world, and he died inthe most horrific way, so that he understands suffering."

Mr Gumbel, who has overseen the expansion of the Alpha course, revealed that, before his conversion to Christianity, he had been "quite an argumentative atheist". He was called to the bar before he trained for ordination, and described how, watching people who had been convicted being sent to prison, "I would always think, 'Is that really it for that person?'" It was an "amazing joy", he said, to see ex-offenders in his church. 


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