Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Auschwitz and God

I'm so far removed from this. My parents generation were born well after the wars were over. I'm in the UK. I'm a Christian. So it's hard to really get to grips with an understanding of what happened at Auschwitz. The best I can do is watch the movies, the documentaries, hear the testimonies. Even then I doubt I can fully grasp the horror of the death camps. I wonder if even those who were there to suffer in them had a full picture of the terrible place they were in.

I've been a little flippant dealing with the Problem of Evil. My only defence there is that generally I treat it as a logical problem. A philosophical argument that gets a thorough debunking. What I (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) often forget is that the strength of the Problem of Evil and Suffering is not in its philosophy, but in its emotional weight.

When you see, or worse, suffer hurt, sadness, loneliness, let alone the horror of being reduced to whatever subhuman category the Nazis treated people as, it's very understandably difficult to keep a level, logical, philosophical head about it all. It's no surprise whatsoever that a person who has gone through a bad time is going to struggle with looking at their situation with the passionless outlook of Mr Spock.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matthew 6:27
It's so easy to ask "Where was God when I needed him?", "Where was my guardian angel?".
It's so easy to think that the answer to the question is that he was never there to start with. And it's very understandable to not be comforted at all the by the answer "God has a sufficient reason to allow this".

You want to know the reason, you want to know why this happened to you. From the death of a goldfish right up to the incomprehensible evil of Auschwitz, you want to know the precise justification for all this. It's perfectly human to feel that way and it's wrong for anyone to expect you to shut up when you've heard that The Problem of Evil is the worst argument for atheism going.

So can I shed some light on why the comment "There is Auschwitz and so there cannot be God" has an explanation? I can try. I don't know if it'll be much more help than the solution to logical problem, but the best I can do is hope that it's a start.

During and after the countless evils of Auschwitz people asked "Where was God?". There were only three real answers.
  1. He permitted it to happen.
  2. He didn't care.
  3. He wasn't real.
For most, the first answer was the hardest to get their heads around. It made no sense that a loving God would allow Auschwitz to happen. It simply must have been one of the other two answers, either God created the universe and then left it to its own devices or he never existed anyway.

The interesting thing about answers 2 and 3 is that they hint towards the sense in answer 1. In 2 or 3, God is not responsible for Auschwitz. If he wasn't around to permit it or intervene in any way, that could only mean that the evil of Auschwitz was the fault of the human beings involved. All of the suffering that was inflicted was at the hands of men. God can't be blamed if he wasn't there.

So to drop the first answer in favour of 2 or 3 solves the problem of God's involvement in the evil of the world, but it does nothing else. People still suffered, people still died horribly, and now that God is out of the picture, any hope they had for a meaning to it all was in vain.

Jewish men and women were there because they were proud of their faith. They weren't going to abandon their beliefs in the face of the evil of men. Those brave souls who died standing up for truth and righteousness are heroes.
They understood what God had taught them. This life is in a fallen world. Evil is real, and so suffering will happen. People have the freedom to choose to behave for good or evil. Many Nazi soldiers tried to defend themselves by saying "I was only following orders". We can all see immediately that that is no excuse. A truly good person would have not followed orders that they knew were wrong. Easier said than done yes, but that's what is expected of heroes.

The Jews who bravely remained loyal to God were beacons of hope in an otherwise hopeless place. They were the lights that reminded the others that no matter what happens in this world, God will be there to set it all right in the next life. Evil will be defeated and along the way we have a duty to stand against it.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4:18
I'm writing this as someone so far removed from it all. I admit it's all easier said than done. I don't know if I would have the courage to face the evil in the way that those heroes did. I don't know if I would lie to save my skin. I wouldn't claim to be able to practice what I preach here. I hope I could, but I don't know how likely that actually is. I don't even know if I could have been a Nazi who didn't pull the trigger. Auschwitz was such an extreme evil that I can't imagine I have it in me to be a hero there.

Hope for God's eternal justice and faith that they would find it is the strength that those people had. God has promised it to all of us and though Jews don't have Christ's message, they have had the same promises made to them.  
Jeremiah 16:19-21: Jeremiah’s Prayer of Confidence
Lord, you are my strength and fortress,
    my refuge in the day of trouble!
Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
20 Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!”
21 The Lord says,
“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord.
For Christians we're happy to have and spread Jesus' word. It's the Good News. It's Good News because it's the revelation that we don't have to worry about what happens to us in this world when the next one will be so much better. We will face tough times, we might even face horror, but that's all part of the human experience that will build us up so that we're ready to become something much better in the next life.
Jesus was our role model. He was the perfectly good, completely sinless man. If we expect God to make sure nothing bad happens to good people, we should be pretty confused by the crucifixion.

Aside from Jesus, there was the apostles, there was Job, there was Samson, Daniel, and so many others who suffered for their faith. Believing in God is not about believing in a safety blanket. Prayer isn't for making monkeys dance. Faith and trust in God is a relationship.