August 6 is memorable for two quite different reasons, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. In the church we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain and there met Moses and Elijah where they discussed Jesus’ coming crucifixion in Jerusalem. In this, Jesus’ robes where transformed into a brilliant whiteness, and the mountain was then enclosed with a cloud of the glory of God in which God’s voice was heard to proclaim and endorse Jesus.
But then there is another reason for remembering this date as it was on that day in 1945 that the atomic bomb was first used in anger over Hiroshima, Japan and the world would be changed for ever.
My question is whether the Transfiguration has anything to say to the use of the atomic bomb or to those who perished under it. The first point is that when He was being Transfigured, Jesus was discussing His coming crucifixion with the greatest of the lawgivers and of the prophets of Israel and how He was going to complete what they could not in the righteousness and counsels of God. At Calvary, Jesus who ‘knew no sin became sin …’ (2 Cor 5: 20) and here He would probe and become personally responsible for all sins of human history, ranging from the most trivial to the most barbaric and genocidal.
In Daniel 3: 19-25 we are given the account of how three Jews at the court of Nebuchadnezzar preferred to be thrown into a fiery furnace to denying their God by worshipping the king’s contrived image. Yet as they stood in the furnace, the king saw another ‘like the Son of God’ with them. As I see it, the story tells of how intimately God is committed to His people, especially to those who were steadfast in His worship. I see it as pointing to the presence of Jesus in the gas chambers and the execution pits of the holocaust with His own brethren in the blood. I also see it as pointing to the presence of Jesus with the innocent as the atomic bomb fell on them, and they were instantly incinerated or hideously burned or were taken by radiation.
But I also see it as pointing to Jesus with the perpetrators. Here it is easy to point to the bomber crews, especially the bombardier. But then there were those who conceived, designed, built, tested and then deployed the weapon against Japan. Further out, there were those in Germany also wanting to build the same kind of bomb, and use it against London, New York or anywhere else. Then there were the Japanese who had invaded China and the way they prosecuted their war. Were these not also part of the trail of responsibility? So just where did the responsibility for the bomb really end?
Equally, where does it end today? After all its possession gives a certain authority in the counsels of the world and in the United Nations. Not only that, but its possession also allows the conventional armed forces to be slimmed down. Without it, how many armed formations would be required to maintain national borders and interests? How many schools and hospitals might not have been built? Perhaps we also have a share in responsibility for maintaining the British nuclear deterrent and would rather not fund an alternative conventional defence and foreign policy strategy.
The connection between the Transfiguration and the nuclear weapon is closer than we might suspect and it is possible that we all have a share in its maintenance. There is of course a further perspective, for we also look to the time when Jesus will indeed come again and King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to establish a new kind of global governance, based His righteousness rather than a tyranny of 50.1 % in a newly-contrived Global Council.
Every blessing, Sydney Maitland