Memory Wounds and Holes in Our Hearts

But Thomas (who was called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when […]

CJ Green / 4.6.16

But Thomas (who was called Didymus), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

In July of 2011, 69 people were killed and more than 100 wounded on the island of Utoya in Norway, and one of the most striking aspects of the tragedy, beyond the tragedy itself, was that it had occurred in such a beautiful place—not a desert or a school but on a lovely wooded island. Despite the passing of unspeakable events, the landscape continued to flourish. The trees continued to grow and the birds to sing and the bugs to hum. It seemed as if the island had turned a blind eye to a brutal injustice.

When we mourn a loss, or celebrate a happy occasion, nature takes no notice. Funerals occur on sunny afternoons and marriages on cold winter nights. The earth doesn’t stop for us—the trees don’t clap for us, the mountains don’t bow to us. As the backdrop for the Utoya massacre, the beautiful landscape seems like a guilty bystander.

To honor the lives lost on the island, architect Jonas Dahlberg designed a memorial—not a statue or a building to be erected in loving memory but a channel to be cut through a peninsula near the island. In NPR’s interview with Dahlberg, he said:

During my first site visit, the experience of seeing those gunshots … it was like being in an open wound, and it took me to a stage of deep sadness where it was hard to breathe. So I didn’t want to illustrate loss; I wanted to make actual loss. It’s just a cut through the peninsula. …

Dahlberg intends to sever the landscape from itself, calling it a “wounded landscape.” Nature will not be allowed to forget the tragic events, and neither will we.


If it’s a lesson in moving on, it’s a hard one. Often we move on by forgetting, or by trying to at least. But forgetting is not the same as forgiving.

Walker Percy, in Lost in the Cosmos, writes that moviegoers love a good plot twist in which a character finds himself creating a new identity in a different country, or a telenovela in which the protagonist bumps his head and forgets his past. “The source of pleasure for the moviegoer is not the amnesia but the certified and risk-free license to leave the old self behind and enter upon a new life, whether by amnesia or mistaken identity.” Forgetting is the “way of nature.” It is growing new leaves to hide the dead ones, new branches to cover the lightning-struck bark. Forgiveness requires more.

Over at Artway Reinier Sonneveld connects Dahlberg’s “Memory Wound”/“Wounded Landscape” to the holes in Jesus’ hands. In the passage above, from the Gospel of John, sins are forgiven but their effects remain. Jesus doesn’t return as updated software, new and improved. He bears the scars of the cross–wounded.

He isn’t the only one. Thomas (like you and me) is wounded too, sinful as he is. Neither of them, in this resurrection scene, is unscathed. Both alive, and breathing, but the evidence of the cross remains.

Thomas’s first offense wasn’t doubt. He was, before all else, a bad friend. He fell asleep when Jesus asked him to stay awake, and did not protest when Jesus was handed over to the authorities. He was silent when Jesus died, and when he finally speaks, only then does he doubt. When he asks to see the wounds, Jesus holds out his hands and lets Thomas touch them.

Jesus doesn’t command us to cover up our wounds. Still bearing the scars of their betrayal, he enters the house where the disciples are huddled and says to them, “Peace be with you.” This passage reminds us that we don’t need to forget in order to be forgiven.