Friday, April 11, 2014

Part I: Why Didn't God Intervene in the Holocaust?

Note:  As Easter approaches, I am going to spend some time exploring why evil is allowed in our world.  How did we go from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane?

   “Why Didn’t God Intervene in the Holocaust?” This question initiated my spiritual search as a young person. Upon watching a film about the Holocaust in the 8th grade, I was stunned that something like this had ever happened. I knew that horrible things happen; I lived in LA next door to an LA cop, whose children loved to show me black and white photographs of crime scenes. It was the time of the Zodiac killer and Charles Manson. Clearly bad people existed and did terrible things to good people. 
     But watching that film set the bar higher for what man was capable of in our world.  I will never forget the photographs of the heads in buckets, the bodies laid out like grotesque sardines upon the ground and the skulls staring from amongst the ashes in the crematoria.  I became an atheist.  No god/God in my mind could possibly exist if such evil was allowed to happen.  Done.
     Or so I thought.  I felt for a time quite superior in choosing such a stand:  hideous images and a good God?  No way.  And yet…when I realized that most of the Nazi perpetrators literally got away with murder, I faced another choice:  if man could commit such evil and avoid the courts of human justice, then how can justice as a concept even exist?  If no afterlife exists and no presiding Justice exists, then evil wins.  Pure and simple.  That was unacceptable. 
     Human beings need to be accountable to someone other than themselves or their fellow human beings.  Why?  We have a vast capacity to delude ourselves that what we are doing is justified.  Listen to Himmler in his 1943 speech to his SS officers:
           Most of you know what it means when a hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or a thousand. To have stuck it out, and at the same time — apart from exceptions caused by human weakness — to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history, which has never been written and is never to be written.... We had the moral right, we had the duty to our people, to destroy this people [the Jews] which wanted to destroy us.
      Himmler had no moral qualms about genocide and sought to persuade others.  He was very successful in doing so and had no shortage of those willing to act on his words.
     Over time, I made my way slowly back to God.  I sought Him because humans are not trustworthy.  We need to know that a beyond-this-life Judgment exists, and that the cries of victims are not just carried off in an ash-laden wind to a silent sky.  If we cannot extend dignity to our fellow human beings, then our failure becomes Heaven’s cause:  God’s reality reasserts human dignity.  If He is our Father, then all people are our brothers.  No exceptions.
     I never cease to think about the Holocaust.  It is a subject I constantly pursue.  It has and always will send me into a kind of theological dilemma.  How could He allow such evil to even take root, let alone to continue as long and as furiously as it did?
     So, in contemplating this catastrophic period in human history, I revisit the Garden of Eden, to remind myself of the original plan, knowing our heinous history is not His design.  The Garden is a microcosm, a little universe where evil first entered the world.  It will be that very moment, in the Garden, that will eventually  lead to the Cross.   

The Divine Gamble
     God engaged in a Divine Gamble when He created humans.  He created us to respond to Him, but how we respond is our choice. 
     He could have compelled us to love Him, using a kind of natural law to achieve His ends.  Caterpillars would eat leaves, geese would fly to warmer climates and humans would love God.  This is one possible plan. 
     But then love is no more than an instinct.  It carries no sense of awe or wonder for the Object of our affections.  We would simply love the way geese migrate:  an urge, a kind of preprogrammed response to stimuli.  Our love would be expressed mechanically and without an engagement of the heart and mind.
     Or God could have used fear to compel us.  Fear is a remarkably effective way to control behavior.  An abused child will say that she loves her mother, but deeply woven into that love is fear of pain and reprisal.  Her choice is really not to love but to appease.  A love that is compelled and laced with fear is equivalent to spiritual rape. 
     Or God could have been indifferent.  His “love” could have been passive—no involvement with our lives, no concern, just an occasional nod of His head towards the Garden. 
     God’s plan with our First Parents was simple:  He affirmed His love for them by giving them a beautiful environment in which to live.  He anticipated their needs and provided abundantly for them.  He engaged in fellowship with them on a regular basis—He walked with them in the Garden.  He counselled, directed and lovingly warned them of where disobedience would lead.  Knowing how wonderfully He cared for them elicited a response:  our First Parents loved God, and ran to Him in joy with gratitude.  God’s Gamble with choice was paying off.  Their love was unhindered and real.  God enjoyed their company.
     I am sure there were times, however, when they took His bounty and thanked Him, without a surge of love.  They perhaps were growing accustomed to such gifts and were becoming more focused on enjoying creation rather than the Creator.  They would obey only because they saw the logic of it.  Perhaps they thought they were entitled to such goodness—they had been blessed richly and may have thought it was because of something in them.  On some days, did they decline His invitation and walk in the Garden alone?     The power to love is also the power to reject.  The power to be with the Beloved is also the power to draw away. 
     Wanting His children to act wisely, God put our First Parents into the Garden with clear directions on what they could do and what they could not do.  His love for them made it clear.  No surprises were store in that Garden.  God acted with complete transparency. 

The Maturing of Adam and Eve’s Character
     But what about that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  The whole Garden was theirs to explore and relish, except for that one spot that was clearly designated as off-limits.  Could God have not put that Tree in middle of the Garden, so Adam and Eve could go anywhere, do anything and never experience any consequences?  Yes. 
     But character that is never tested is really not character at all:  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5)
     Character-building is a process, resulting from encountering difficulty and learning to navigate it: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
     Look at it this way:  a toddler is fine until you take away his toy, his binkie or anything else that child feels is his right to have.  Did Adam and Eve slip into an entitlement mode, thinking that they deserved the Garden because of their own goodness? 
     God wanted mature creatures occupying His Garden, and so He placed one restriction on His children.  Just one.  The rest of the Garden was at their disposal.  Yet it is that one tree, that one fruit that Eve was drawn to.  Maturity is knowing what the options are and choosing wisely.  Adam and Eve could have either complete confidence in God Himself and thus act loyally to His loving words or they could entertain doubts and explore other ways of occupying the Garden.
     Thus, the Divine Gamble played out:  God allowed His children to not only choose to love Him but to act in accordance with that love, and do what He demanded.  He wanted their obedience not based on instinct or on fear, but based on which voice they would listen to:  their own or God’s. 

Why Didn’t God Grab That Apple?
     Why did God not intervene as Eve reached out to pluck down the fruit?  He could have easily slapped her hand and it would have hit the ground.  Why didn’t He have Adam trip and fall over a rock to prevent him from listening to Eve?  Why did God stand idly by while these two chose to do wrong?
     Did they not know what would happen?  Yes: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’” (Gen. 2:15-17)
     Obviously, Eve was in the vicinity of that Tree that day.  She had the whole Garden to wander in.  Why was she wandering near that Tree?
      “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?
     The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’
     ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”
(Gen. 3:1-5)
     Eve’s response shows she added to what God had said:  He had made no specific prohibition about touching it.  Satan, slithering along the ground as an innocuous snake, was able to maneuver Eve’s thoughts away from God’s words and encourage her to interpret them.  We can choose to listen to God’s voice and trust what He says, or we can listen to our own logic. The whole Garden was theirs, except the one Tree, but that is not how Satan spun it.  If Satan had really shown himself as Satan, Eve would have tucked tail and run.  But who can be afraid of a talking snake, gently coiled around a branch, the soft sunlight dappling his skin? 
     Remember:  we can be deceived by appearances.  We must test the words we hear in order to know the truth.  Eve failed the test.  She didn’t focus on God’s words but allowed them to marinate in her own logic. 
     She then reinterpreted the words for Adam.  Adam had heard the words from God Himself, and yet he chose to listen to Eve and not grab her and run:  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Gen. 3:6-7)
     Why didn’t God step in?  He was watching no doubt—the universe is always under His gaze.  He is not an absentee Landlord.
     Yet, the power to love is the power to reject.  God watched as His children rejected His words, which were predicated on love.  Satan twisted God’s words and insinuated that God’s motive was denial—denying Adam and Eve knowledge that was rightfully theirs.  Satan hisses into her ear:
     God is a control freak—He thinks that only He deserves knowledge!  Take that bite and look at all you will know!  Your ignorance is God’s purpose and my job, Eve, is to enlighten you.  God keeps you in the dark with His autocratic rules, but my way is the high way:  freedom to be like God.  The world you are in is so limited—I promise you freedom!  God is not the benevolent Creator you take Him for—He’s a despot, eager to control you and hold you back from reaching your full potential!  Good, Eve, good…bite that apple and Adam, now it’s your turn.  Good. 
     If God had stopped this, would Satan have slithered away, never to seek to tempt them again?  Satan would have bided his time, and waited again for another opportunity.  Satan cannot destroy God, but he can infiltrate God’s creation and destroy the ones nearest and dearest to God’s heart:  His children.  Satan would have relentlessly gone after them until he accomplished his mission:  estrange Adam and Eve from their Creator by appealing to their logic, and with them then acting on it, be disobedient.  Satan’s machinations brought about the ultimate weapon against God’s own:  death. 

Next Time:  Losing the Divine Gamble

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