“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. ‘For whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it’.” (I Peter 3:8-11)
“He was not the man I thought he was, and he was the man I thought he was.” That is what Edith Hahn says of her husband after a long discussion with one of his colleagues in the play “Delicate Particle Logic.”
Based on a true story, the play depicts the struggle of Edith and physicist Lise Meitner in coming to terms with the contradictions in the life of chemist Otto Hahn.
IHahn won the Nobel prize for his role in discovering nuclear fission. Many thought Meitner deserved to share in the award, but at the time in pre-World War II Germany, women scientists were rare and hardly ever acclaimed.
Of course, the understanding of nuclear fission led to the atom bomb, something that Hahn grieved over. But that wasn’t what causes the anguish experienced by the two women in “Delicate Particle Logic.”
Lise visits Edith in the mental hospital. During their talk, Otto’s wife is appalled when she learns that Otto helped develop gas warfare for the Germans during World War I. Lise Meitner, though not happy about her lack of recognition, is more upset at Hahn’s lack of resistance to the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler.
The women are not totally dismissive of Otto. He did arrange for the Jewish Meitner’s escape from Nazi Germany. Lise considers Hahn a friend. And Edith appears to appreciate her husband’s attentiveness.
The interaction between Edith and Lise goes on for a couple hours. What conclusion do they come to?
Finally, Otto’s wife says simply, “He’s just a man.”
In the end, Hahn visits the ward and we learn that Lise Meitner’s visit is a figment of Edith’s imagination. However, it seems that having come to terms with her husband’s life as a result of her imaginary dialogue with Lise has made her quite cheerful, something her doctor notices and relates to Hahn.
In coming to understand Otto’s humanity, she gives him grace.
I saw another example of grace today when I attended a presentation by an Israeli professor at the university where I work. The historian traced the background of the recent developments in the war-torn regions of Iraq, Syria and Gaza.
Many of my Arab students attended, and I noticed that he was warmly received. I also heard this Jewish man say, “We need to work hard to see the other side.”
He noted how difficult this was since many people have had relatives or friends who have been influenced or even killed. The professor also said that in his discussions with his Arab friends, he found that understanding was hard because both sides were coming at things from completely different narratives.
During the question and answer period, it was clear that this Jewish man comprehends that Israel has made mistakes. He lamented the inability of his friends to also see their side’s own failures, even if they don’t agree with him.
“I wish they would move a little bit,” he said.
The Israeli historian’s own generous spirit displayed the same kind of grace Edith and Lise offered Otto Hahn in the end.
We are greatly divided in this world. People and groups of all kinds are at war with each other.
There’s an alleged war on women, for instance. A symptom of this is that professional American football players are being drawn and quartered in the press for their brutality toward their wives and girlfriends.
Politicians are at each other’s throats. Leftists can’t stand right wingers and vice-versa.
I could go on and on with more examples.
None of this today surprises God. In fact, the Bible says that Jesus when he was wandering Palestine knew the blemishes in men’s souls. (John 2:24).
Yet, he died with grace on his lips. Hanging on a cross, and taking the sin of the world on himself, Jesus expressed his own generous spirit. He interceded with His Father for them, entreating God to show His compassion.
“Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing,” he said before taking his final breath. (Luke 23:34)
I know my own lack of grace with others. On a daily basis I find myself taking a hard line with people who I see as immature, self absorbed or disrespectful.
It would do well for me to do apply a currently popular meme: “Keep Calm and Let it Go.” After all, these folks are just men.