The cross of Christ over Auschwitz
|October 27, 2010||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
In his autobiographical narrative Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi describes a death camp selection in which weak prisoners were designated to be killed. He calls it an abomination “which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again.”
Primo Levi was right – there is nothing at all in the power of man that can atone for or expiate even one such crime, let alone all of the horrors of the Holocaust – yet there is something not in the power of man, and far above the power of man, that can atone for those evils, and for yet more evils.
Try to imagine all of the suffering and misery that has taken place in the whole world, from Cain’s murder of Abel up to the present day. Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas – how many uncountable centuries, millions of years of combined human experience, spread out over vast expanses of the globe, over deserts, forests, jungles, frozen northern wastes, prisons, camps, dungeons, slave ships, plantations, killing fields, and abortion clinics? What an incalculable amount of human suffering has taken place. Wars, hatred, slavery, famine, torture, killing, revenge, exploitation, racism, injustice, loneliness, fear, greed, selfishness, alienation – a significant part of the human experience can be seen as a dark, turbulent sea of evil, suffering, sorrow, misery, and sin.
The extermination of 6,000,000 Jews was only a small part of humanity’s combined evils – yet the Holocaust was and rightly remains unique in world history because of the concentration and intensity of its evil. It was also unique in that it was carried out in supposedly civilized Europe, and facilitated by technology, by inventions such as the railroad and electricity that should have been used for the benefit of mankind. It was also, unlike so many other crimes, thoroughly exposed. Nevertheless, in spite of its undeniable uniqueness, in spite of its well-deserved elevation as a towering and unassailable symbol of inhumanity, the Holocaust can be seen as part of a larger whole. Nazi cruelties were extreme manifestations of human traits that have existed throughout human history.
It is extraordinary to think that there might be a force for good in the universe vastly greater than all of this evil, more powerful than all of the passions of human hatred and cruelty, a force that tolerates this evil for the time being, even as it offers deliverance for those who will accept deliverance, but in the end will deal justly with evil and end it. Such a concept of goodness seems impossible to the natural mind – but then, the natural mind is very far from being the final arbiter of what is and is not true, what is and is not real. Many people have glimpsed this higher reality, and have tried to shape their lives accordingly.
There are deep spiritual truths far beyond the grasp of human reason, truths that have been revealed by God to us in his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the bible. Many Christians are uncomfortable with stating this too directly, at least at the outset. The concept of the necessity of divine revelation alienates unbelievers who, it is assumed, should first be won over by more general philosophical truths and / or by our “winsome” characters. Nevertheless, however or whenever it is introduced, this is the Christian teaching. There is a place for tact and careful approaches, but if deep down we are ashamed of this essential aspect of Christian teaching because it isn’t intellectually respectable, we are in serious trouble, and are half-defeated before we even begin to speak.
By Christ, the Spirit, and the written word, and in no other way, we can begin to discern the invisible realities of the spiritual world. We can also find insight into the mystery of evil, and its final resolution. These insights are denied to those who simplistically rely on human intelligence alone. They ridicule us for our beliefs, but it is in fact they who are blind, deceived, and in darkness. May God have mercy on them, and may we be fit to be instruments of that mercy.
Several of these spiritual truths beyond the grasp of reason unaided are not merely that God exists, but that He manifested himself in human form, showed us the way to Himself through his only begotten Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and appointed his Son to die as a sacrifice to appease the divine wrath at the wickedness of man. I John says that Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” When Christ, who knew no sin, became sin, he took upon him the entire sin of the human race, including the sins and the evils of Auschwitz.
There is a place for reasoned debate, argumentation, establishing credibility, inference, evidence, and persuasion – but there is also a place for presenting straightforward biblical teaching in and of itself, let the world respond as it will. Some will scoff, some will turn away, but some will listen, and will hears, if God so grants it. Some Christians fear if we are too biblical the world will marginalize us, and will not hear us – but, if we marginalize ourselves in advance, they will not hear us either. If we are ashamed of or even embarrassed by what we believe because it is not intellectually respectable enough, perhaps we need to be less concerned about what unbelievers think, and more concerned about these words of Christ: Whosoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him also will the Son of man be ashamed.
Because of Christ’s divinity, his sacrifice is sufficient to atone for the entire human race in a way that nothing else can. Thus, no human action can cleanse the evils of Nazi atrocities, but the blood of Jesus the Son of God shed on the cross can. It has the power to cleanse those evils, and all of the evils of the world. Even victims of the worst atrocities, not to mention all of the lesser hurts and wrongs of more ordinary human experience, can in Christ find peace and release, healing forgiveness for those that have wronged them, and newness of life. Our eternal life, if we are in Christ, beings now, and I am thankful that salvation for sin begins not merely someday, before the judgment seat of God, but now, in this life, and in our hearts and minds and spirits.
God’s grace, his mercy, his love, and his power are infinitely greater than the Nazis, and than all of the power of Satan, which the Nazis exemplified so well. Essential biblical teachings remain untouched and unchallenged by the evil and cruelty of this dark and sinful world. It is not scriptural truth but secular fantasies about human goodness and the inevitability of progress that are permanently destroyed by Auschwitz – or would be, if secularists were half as detached and objective as they like to imagine they are.
It is possible to believe in God after Auschwitz. What is not possible is to believe in the power of science and human reason to bring about a better world without some sort of higher moral guidance. That historical development does not make people better, but may make them worse; that people are by nature sinful; that false ideas can be taken to the farthest extreme; that rejection of God’s law does not bring freedom but brings slavery and misery; that human progress can sometimes be progress in the wrong direction, taking us farther and farther from the truth – these lessons of the Holocaust are confined to earth, and do not reach to God.