Amazing (yet disturbing) grace

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By Nancy Kennedy

One of my favorite authors is Jodi Picoult.
She writes love stories mixed with some controversial issue — stem cell research, faith healing, euthanasia, teen suicide — usually with a lengthy courtroom drama at the end.
Her books are impeccably researched. When she tackles an issue, she knows her stuff.
In her latest book, “The Storyteller,” she writes about the Holocaust.
Picoult begins with a friendship between a young woman and a 95-year-old man who meet at a grief support group. Josef has lost his wife and Sage has lost her mother.
As the story unfolds and they become friends, Josef asks Sage to help him die.
He chooses her because she is Jewish and he, a German, had been an SS officer at Auschwitz, personally having killed countless Jewish prisoners. He wants forgiveness from her on behalf of those he killed.
A huge portion of the book is told by Minka, Sage’s grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor. She tells her memories of life in Poland as the daughter of the town baker and of the incremental way the Nazis encroached on their town and stripped the people of their humanity.
Minka tells of the fear and the waiting and of finally being rounded up and put on the train, of being torn from her father, of hearing about his death, her mother’s death, her sister’s death — everyone in her family brutally murdered.
Minka tells of the hunger and the desperation, the cold and the callousness of her captors.
She also tells of the bits of hope, like meeting up with her best friend and being assigned to the same barracks where they cling to each other and tell stories of the future when they’ll be free.
In her research, Picoult used the true stories of survivors, capturing their vivid, detailed memories, which she incorporated in her book. Hers is a breathtaking description of human cruelty.
At one point, Minka is reassigned to an office job where she works for a “kind” boss, kindness being a relative term. But she is able to be warm while she works, and her boss leaves his leftover lunch for her to “steal.”
He also gives Minka a journal for her to write in. She is a storyteller, and at night she writes her story of a cannibalistic monster that terrorizes a village. She reads it to the women in the barracks every night and to her boss every day.
“What happens next?” the women and Minka’s boss ask. Minka’s story is the one hope that keeps everyone going one more day.
Eventually the Allies come and liberate the prisoners in the death camps, including Auschwitz, and Minka finds her way to the U.S. where she never speaks about her Holocaust experiences.
I won’t spoil what happens to Minka or Josef, in case you want to read the book.
But I will tell you that there’s an attempt at atonement, a plea for forgiveness and an unanswered question — is it too late?
That’s our question, too. Is it ever too late for God to forgive? Is a deathbed confession ever too little, too late?
But the real question is whether God’s grace is limited. Are heinous, yet repentant, criminals excluded?
Two thieves were crucified on either side of Jesus. One died hurling insults and mocking Jesus, but the other one repented. Jesus told him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
A deathbed confession — not too little, not too late.
But what about a German SS officer who cold-heartedly killed people he thought of as “vermin” and not human?
What about Jeffrey Dahmer? I’ve heard from several sources that he came to faith in Christ while he was in prison for his serial killing and cannibalism.
Surely God’s grace can’t cover him! Not after all he has done.
Can it? Does it?
If the answer is no, then it’s not grace. If grace isn’t for everyone and anyone who asks, then it’s not for you or for me either.
True grace is disturbing. But that’s what makes it so amazing.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.