Thursday, May 22, 2014

Postscript: Why Anti-Semitism?

     The survival of the Jewish people is one of the great mysteries of the human history.  More than once have kings, nations, armies, dictators and religions sought to annihilate the Jews across the centuries.  Each time, God has preserved His own.  His children walk in a toxic world, fallen from the sin of disobedience and committed to pursuing everything that is contrary to God.  His hand has been on His Chosen and it has not, nor will continue to be, easy to be His.
     Why is that?  Let's return once more to Cain and Abel.  Abel was a visible reminder of what it means to be obedient to God's word.  He brought the right kind of offering.  God didn't somehow favor him over his brother; Abel took what God said seriously and acted on that knowledge.  Cain has the same instructions, but listened to his own logic and decided he knew what was best and acted accordingly.
     Cain could have had two reactions to watching his brother come forward with his offering:  Yes, that's right, I need to bring an animal to offer to God.  That is what God instructed us to do.  I know these are fine grains, but God wanted a firstborn of our flock.  I don't understand why, but I will obey.
     Or:  What's up with Abel?  Does he think he's better than me?  Look at that offering...we could use that sheep, not God.  God doesn't need it. Who does Abel think he is?
     We sadly know which attitude he had, and how it yielded murderous results.
     In fact, one of Cain's descendants, Lamech, will boast: to his family:
"I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,   
then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Gen. 4:23-4)
     Do you hear Jesus' commentary on this?  "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matt. 18:21-22)
     Forgiveness is the antidote to anger.  Anger feeds revenge.  Revenge justifies murder in the sinful heart of humanity.  That is why Jesus spoke so forcefully to anger:  we can murder another person's body, yes, but also their soul with our hatred and wrath. 
     Look how far we have come in such a short time:  Cain murdered Abel in a field where no one was around, and it was Abel's blood that cried out and exposed the murder.  Yet, God in His mercy, didn't allow vengeance upon Cain, although he deserved it.  His descendant, Lamech, boasted of his killing another human being.  Lamech focused not on God's mercy, but his own logic that injury should bring merciless justice. 
     This is human history in a nutshell:  We want to receive mercy, but we want to mete out justice to those we consider deserving of it. 
     Those people who live in a universe inhabited by a Creator, Who has given them mercy and thus demands both obedience to Him and mercy for others, will, to the Lamechs and Cains, become suspect.  Why?  Those people are visible reminders that God is the highest Power, not humanity's fallen logic. 
     The people of God remind this fallen world of God's Presence, His laws, His grace and His demands for obedience. His people are a ray of light into a dark world. People don't like the light. Why? Jesus comments:  "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed." (John 3: 19-20)
     So, anti-Semitism is Cain's reaction to Abel:  Who do these Jews think they are?  Insisting on one God that speaks to them and give them laws to obey?  Our laws are fine!  They work for us!   The laws of the Jews--no idols, no worship but to God alone, forgiveness and mercy--who needs 'em?  If we get rid of them, we will get rid of that visible reminder that God, not us, is in control.
     Look at how Jesus dealt with how evil people react to God's visible reminders:  “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.  The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him."  (Matt. 21:33-39).
     When evil confronts the light, evil tries to destroy it, pure and simple.  Jesus is talking about the prophets who came before him, and then what will happen to Him.  The religious leaders and the Romans, when confronted by the very Son of God, tried desperately to extinguish the Light of the World.
     The Holocaust would not have stopped with a few strategic bombings on the camps.  That's like trying to redirect a hurricane:  it's very nature is one of chaos, and no matter where it goes, it unleashes destruction.  The hatred that permeated Germany wouldn't have stopped if a few camps had been taken out of operation.  The Holocaust was a progressive fury to find the most efficient way of eliminating the Jews.  If the camps had stopped, the mass shootings and mobile killing trucks would have increased. 
     The Jewish people, like Jesus Himself, are visible reminders that God is in this world. He is not ignorant or unfeeling towards the suffering of His Abels. Their blood cries out, demanding justice. His justice will be meted out.
    But, He is also painfully aware of the Cains doing the evil, and wants them to turn from their wicked ways: "'Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?' says the Lord God, 'and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'" (Ezekiel 18:23)
     Jesus Himself endured all the hatred that the world could give.  Whenever we cry out to God and say, "But You don't understand!"  Jesus steps off His throne and takes our hand and say, "Oh yes, I do."
     Before we leave this discussion, I know many will say that anti-Semitism was largely conducted in Jesus' name.  But, that doesn't explain the hatred of the Jews by their enemies throughout the Old Testament.  That doesn't explain the Romans' persecution and slaughter of the Jews.  Christianity didn't create anti-Semitism.  It sadly carried it on. 
     But one cannot serve the Lord and hate His people.   Throughout history, that has largely been the Jews.  But, in Nazi Germany, God's people in Christianity were despised as well.   "Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach said, 'The destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the national socialist movement.'"
      "And Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg, a member of Hitler’s inner circle, stated at the Nuremberg Congress of 1938, 'I am absolutely clear in my own mind, and I think I can speak for the Fuhrer as well, that both the Catholic and Protestant churches must vanish from the life of our people.'”
     “'It is only on one or two exceptional points that Christ and Hitler stand comparably. For Hitler is far too big a man to be compared with one so petty,'” said Julius Streicher, the publisher of the Nazi paper Der Sturmer."
Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, 'Our Fuhrer is the intermediary between his people and the throne of God. Everything the Fuhrer utters is religion in the highest sense.'”

      When we violate the first commandment, to have no other god before God, we allow evil to spark and burn into conflagration.  
     The Holocaust humbles us to remember our depravity and our need for God and His saving grace.  Abels can become Cains very quickly and yet, because of the work of His Son upon the cross, Cains can become Abels.

The quotations are from Ray Comfort's book, Hitler and the Bible.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Conclusion of My Question About the Holocaust

     Last time, we sadly witnessed the blood-soaked ground and the lifeless body of Abel in a distant field, and heard the callous comment from Cain:  "Am I my brother's keeper?"
     Isn't that the paradigm for every brutality that has been enacted since that day?  The hatred of one person/country/group for another person/country/group...waiting for the right moment and then...murder. When the guilty are confronted, no remorse is offered, just a callous excuse:  I am not responsible for what happened...I was just following orders...I was angry and the person deserved it...I was doing what I thought should be done.
     Those excuses and their variations have echoed down from that blood-soaked field to this day, with millions of Cains acting with hate-filled hearts and millions of Abels dying with stunned cries on their lips.
     Now:  why didn't God intervene?  Should He have warned Abel?  Should He have allowed Cain to trip and fall, smashing his head and dying, thereby keeping Abel safe?
     Sadly, Cain inherited an evil nature from his father, Adam.  Cain was not the master of the sin that crouched at his door, as God had warned him earlier.  Sin now had him and would have his descendants forever.  In fact, hatred is the single most devastating manifestation of sin in human lives.  Hatred is what we use to justify our actions.  Cain hated his brother for obeying God.  Cain the, over time, felt more and more that his brother was deserving of death.  In the end, he felt justified in killing his brother.
     Look at how Jesus sees anger: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Matthew 5:21-22).
    Do you see it, in light of what happened between Cain and Abel?  We can all agree murder is wrong, but what about the "murdering" of someone in your heart?  Most of us would never dream of walking up to someone and murdering them.  But hatred, nursed over time, dehumanizes the person, and slowly but surely, hatred's poison destroys our ability to rationally think about that person.  Anger, demeaning others with judgment and name-calling, will lead to overt action.  Jesus seems to be saying if you want to master the sin of hatred crouching at your door, then don't even allow anger to reside in your heart.
     The heart is truly the heart of the matter:  look at what resides in our heart, the legacy of Adam's disobedience to the very words of God:  "And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:22-23).
     Jesus warns us of what can emanate from our hearts, and did you notice that the first on the list is, "evil thoughts."  
    So, let's ask the question:  Why didn't God intervene in the Holocaust?  The Holocaust is the murder of Cain and Abel writ large.  Hatred, nursed over centuries, found its release in the policies of the Nazis.  God has repeatedly warned human kind in His Word the dangers of hatred.  In a sense, it is a fruit that we must not eat or the consequences will be devastating.
     We blame God for letting the Holocaust happen, not too dissimilar to Adam blaming God for his disobedience.
     Our First Parents listened to the logic that they would be like God, knowing good from evil.
     We now listen to the logic of our hearts and sometimes we do good, but mostly, we do evil.
     Sadly, the Christian Church has been a major purveyor of antisemitism.  Many Christians have claimed to love God but hated the Jews, but God's word speaks to that.  You can't love God if you hate your brother: "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen" (1 John 4:20). 
     God, in confronting Cain, exclaims, "What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" (Gen. 4:10).  God is not deaf to the cries His murdered children.  If every sparrow that falls to the ground is known by our Father, then every cry from every prison, every gutter and every gas chamber is heard.  God, surveying the long march of evil deeds throughout our history and its continuance to this day, still asks us, "What have you done?"
      Let me humbly offer two ways that I see He did intervene: He sent His Son to redeem the hearts of men, to recreate them and to write His word on their hearts--our only hope is a reformed heart in His image, if we are to be our brother's keeper.  Secondly, with no guarantees of success, men hit the beaches on June 6, 1944, bring an end to the evil that was Hitler's Third Reich.  I once heard a Holocaust survivor say, "I know what the Messiah looks like.  He was black and He was white."  Those were the colors of the two GI's who opened the doors to the barracks at Buchenvald and freed this then nine-year-old boy.
     We cry out to God, "What are You doing?"
     He looks at us and says, "I am asking you the same question."

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