Some deep thoughts about Auschwitz from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post today
Auschwitz is never far from my mind. I have been to
the place and read its literature. But even if I hadn’t, even if I knew
it just as a place where more than 1 million Jews and others were
murdered, it would still intrude at one of those treacly moments when
someone mentions the goodness of mankind or the benevolence of God. It
has been this way with me since childhood, when, over and over again, I
asked the rabbis in religious school: Why? How? Explain! They could not.
You saw some of this questioning in the aftermath of
the recent catastrophic tsunami. Some writers tried to grapple with its
theological implications: How could He? The children. The infants. What
sort of God is this? But the questions will fade as the tragedy works
its way toward the back of the newspaper and ultimately falls off the
page. It will become something that just happened. Besides, it was
impenetrably scientific, something geological, about volcanic pressures
and tectonic plates — and breathtakingly swift, to boot. Maybe God had
just turned His back.
The Holocaust, in contrast, was not an instantaneous
event. It lasted years. It consumed about 6 million, 10 million, who
knows how many million people, Jews and non-Jews, but 1 million Jewish
children — infants, too. This had nothing to do with oceans and lava
and tectonic plates and stuff only scientists could really understand.
Auschwitz was the diligent work of man, a constellation of camps and
factories, all of it worked by slaves, all of them marked for death.
Auschwitz was essentially about murder, about what people did to
people. A human being could go from physician or musician or mother or
child to ash in the course of a couple of hours. Geology had nothing to
do with it. The mysteries are not scientific. They are theological.
Cohen is right. These events should provoke theological speculation, and ultimately, drive one to a theology that can make sense of them. The rabbis couldn’t find explanations, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
Traditional Christianity teaches that horrific episodes in history like Auschwitz are not abnormal in spirit, just degree. As Paul McCain writes in a similar, albeit more theologically sound, piece today, the evil in the hearts of the Nazis exists in all of us. Left unchecked by moral teaching, self discipline and God’s grace, it flourishes to produce the same types of hell.
People want to believe that this event in history was a fluke, an
insanity, something unique and unusual. The truth is that it was none
of these. Look at what happened in Rwanda, and the Western world turned
aside and did nothing. Look at what happened in the Soviet Union for
many years and what happened in Cambodia after the Vietnam War. Look at
what is happening now in Uganda of the Sudan or North Korea or China.
Consider for a moment the millions of children killed before they ever
have to live in the death mill that is abortion.
He concludes his post, rightly,
the Holocaust, and all such slaughters, stand as a stark reminders of
how desperately evil we are and how profoundly lost we are. All the
more reason for us to cherish, rejoice in, and work to spread the light
of the liberating and forgiving Gospel of Christ Jesus, our only hope!