On believing in God after Auschwitz (part 1 of 2)
|August 2, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
It has been asserted that it is impossible to believe in God after Auschwitz. This of course is part of the much larger argument that evil in the world (of which Auschwitz has become a potent symbol) disproves the existence of God.
This is not an argument against an impersonal God indifferent to human suffering, but it does raise a serious objection to the Christian God, who is supposedly loving, benevolent, all-powerful, and at the same time active in the world. How can he tolerate so much evil and suffering, and why would he create a world in which such things exist?
Much has been written about this problem from many angles, but I think it is worth pointing out that the people who raise these questions against God do not (usually) end up committing suicide. In spite of all of the world’s evils, life still remains worth living. There is much good in life and this good, for most of us, outweighs the bad. This is a powerful truth that should never be omitted from any discussion of the problem of evil.
But still the question of Auschwitz remains. Where was God? A deep and difficult question – yet religious faith has not died out. People still believe in God – and they also marry, start businesses, raise children, and enjoy a nice meal or a beautiful sunset without constantly looking over their shoulders at the Holocaust or other evils in the world. The life force in us is more basic and more powerful than problems of evil, however dark and terrible they might be. Yet, those of us who claim to believe in the God of the Bible cannot leave it at that. We have been challenged with a troubling question.
Some years ago I got into a conversation with a Jewish man from a German background. He and his family had managed to get out of Germany in time when he was a child, but he lost many relatives in the Holocaust. He said to me, “When I found out what happened to them, I knew there was no God.” How do we respond to that? This requires something more than debating points and arguments.
One thing that is necessary to put this into perspective is the day of judgement. When the criminals of the Holocaust have to stand before the Creator of the universe, all of their evil will be fully seen, and they themselves will see and know their guilt. They will come to a true realization of what they did, and will experience the utmost shame, horror, guilt, self-loathing, and disgust for their crimes – but then it will be too late for repentance. They will be sent to hell, the place of eternal punishment.
This covers a very significant part of the problem of evil. Someone may object, however, that a Nazi war criminal, even Hitler himself, does not deserve eternal punishment. Even Hitler’s evil was necessarily finite and could theoretically be atoned for by, say, a few billion years of torment. This argument is based on the mistaken assumption, however, that sinners have committed a finite amount of sins, the guilt for which is continually lessened by punishment until at last the slate is cleared and no more guilt remains.
We can’t always apply fallible human logic to higher spiritual realities, however, and the situation of the doomed souls in hell may be very different from what is commonly thought. What if (and I speculate beyond the bounds of scripture here) the evil and rejection of God that dominated sinners in their earthly lives finds a fuller expression in hell, and they so rage against God that, instead of diminishing over time, their guilt intensifies and increases? Thus, instead of earning their way out of suffering, they increase their just penalty yet more and more? If this is the case, eternal punishment is more comprehensible.
What about the possibility of forgiveness for mass murderers, who could then go to heaven? What kind of justice is that? Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Hess, Eichmann, Heydrich, the vast majority of Nazi killers, however, never expressed the slightest interest in repentance, or in the faith in Christ necessary for forgiveness. I did read somewhere of a concentration camp guard who after the war repented and sought forgiveness in Christ. This is possible, since Christ on the cross atoned for the sins of the entire world, and his blood is sufficient to atone even for a Nazi. This would require more than mere human, psychological guilt, but would have to be a work of the Holy Spirit.
Apart from the just punishment of the Nazi war criminals, there are some other considerations showing that the fact of Auschwitz does not necessarily nullify the possibility of a caring, personal God. One such consideration is that Hitler was not allowed to win the war. If he had won the war, and he and his successors had succeeded in exterminating every last single Jew, this would have been an unanswerable argument against Christianity. “It says in the Bible that God’s covenant with the Jews will endure as long as the sun and the moon endure, and that in the end they will be reconciled to God – it seems the Bible was wrong.” Then we would have to admit that the Bible was in error on this important point, and that the story of God’s covenant with the Jews was a fiction.
But, God is still active in the world. The course of modern history was not decided by Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill and Hitler, while God sat on the sidelines not able to interfere because our freedom is primary and his sovereign control is limited by our rights and powers. Many Christians by the way do not really believe that God is in control of world events by the way. This is because they believe in a God of their own limited imagination and weak faith, not in the God of the Bible.