God and the Holocaust: Is there an answer? ‎

What is God? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 0

			First, let’s make sure we have the question. We don’t have to go into any details about the ‎Holocaust as they are already well known. It was a time of incredible evil - evil that almost ‎defies belief. Today, even those who want to know about it and have seen the actual ‎photographs or the live footage, have trouble fully understanding the scope of what actually ‎happened. It is just too much for the mind and the emotions to assimilate. The numbers, going ‎from the thousands to the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands to the millions, ‎become so large that they approach meaninglessness. ‎
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But it happened. Six million or so Jews perished, in addition to countless others. This, of ‎course, is aside from the tens of millions who died in the rest of the war. All-in-all, it boils ‎down to around 50 million deaths that were brought about by the direct hand of human ‎beings. The question is - where was God when all this was going on? Granted we can excuse ‎God from being a direct cause of these deaths, but we have to question why God did not ‎intervene to stop the killing. This is the stark and naked question: why didn’t God stop the ‎Holocaust? ‎
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There are several different approaches to attempt to deal with this question. They range from ‎what we can call respectively: classic Orthodox, non-interventionist, indifferent, and non-‎existent. Before beginning to analyze these positions, it is worth pointing out the obvious ‎observation that nobody really knows the answer. Any attempt at an answer is nothing more ‎than a guess based on some combination of faith, tradition, emotion, and logic. Dealing with ‎the theological implications of the Holocaust is a minefield at best and a bottomless pit at ‎worst. Let us enter the minefield. ‎
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As a preamble, we can clarify the problem by identifying conditions concerning God and ‎reality that the Holocaust exposed as mutually exclusive. The first is that God is all good. This ‎does not mean partially good, or mostly good, or almost entirely good, but all good. There is ‎no room or anything evil or imperfect in God’s goodness. The second is that God is ‎omnipotent. God can do anything He chooses to creation, including taking away human free ‎will. This is also an absolute condition, not some halfway compromise. Either God is ‎omnipotent or God is not omnipotent. The third condition concerns the world and not God, ‎at least directly. This condition is that evil exists in the world, however it may be defined. The ‎Holocaust involved a great deal of evil. This last condition is difficult if not impossible to ‎deny. ‎
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The problem is putting all three of these conditions together in the same reality. Any two of ‎them can fit together with no problem, even evil with either omnipotence or all-goodness. The ‎problem is when we try to combine the two conditions concerning God with the reality of ‎evil. How could an omnipotent and all-good God allow for such evil? It doesn’t mean that ‎God caused the evil directly, but that God allowed the evil to take place and did nothing to ‎prevent it. If we took away either omnipotence or all-goodness (or both) the problem would ‎be solved. God either would have liked to prevent the evil but couldn’t, or could have ‎prevented the evil but didn’t. As Archibald MacLeish put it in his play ‘J.B.’, which is a ‎modern version of the story of Job: ‘If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not ‎God’. This is the problem in a nutshell. ‎
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The classic Orthodox position accepts the traditional conditions about God without question. ‎God is both omnipotent and all-good. What it tampers with is the reality of evil. In one of ‎several ways, it attempts to defend God’s goodness by justifying the apparent evil. Among ‎the ways to do this is the claim that the victims were guilty either individually or collectively. ‎Another way is to say that they were unwitting and perhaps unwilling sacrifices that were ‎needed for some divine plan. A third way is to resort to otherworldly compensations such as ‎the world to come or previous incarnations. A fourth way, which is probably the most ‎popular, is to say that the temporary evil resulted in an ultimate good. Either way, the evil was ‎in some way only a passing thing that was worth the ultimate benefit. ‎
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Needless to say, to many, these answers fall on deaf ears. They just cannot see how the death ‎of six million Jews can be justified for any cause whatsoever. While there is no way of ‎absolutely disproving the classic Orthodox approach, there is no denying that it requires a ‎great deal of buying into. Consequently, it is not surprising that many Orthodox Jews ‎dropped their faith either partially or completely as a result of what they experienced or ‎witnessed. ‎
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The second approach is non-omnipotence. This approach says that God’s omnipotence was a ‎false belief to begin with that was built around a naïve understanding of what God actually ‎is. This approach sees God as nothing more than a Creator who remained a concept of ‎ultimate goodness in the world but was helpless to do anything about the preponderance of ‎evil. This is simply the way things are – God is that subtle but powerful source of good in the ‎human mind that can do no more than human beings themselves to enable that goodness to ‎come to be. God is restricted to the whims and the morality of humanity, and to the ‎unforgiving laws of nature that simply act regardless of the consequences. For obvious ‎reasons, it is difficult to truly worship and revere such an image of God. Consequently, most ‎of those who have maintained such a position have largely dropped belief in anything ‎resembling the Biblical or Jewish image of God. ‎
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The third approach is even more radical than the second approach. While possibly maintaining ‎a belief in God’s omnipotence, it drops the belief in God’s all-goodness. God, according to ‎this view, could just as easily be indifferent or cruel. According to the view, there is no reason ‎whatsoever, either historical or experiential, to maintain belief in God’s all-goodness. God ‎simply lets the world run as it does, without any regard to whether or not it is following some ‎preconceived plan of ultimate goodness. ‎
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The drastic consequences of such a belief are obvious – is this a god that one can truly revere? ‎Who would want to worship a god that is indifferent to human suffering, and who just lets ‎terrible things happen even though it would take nothing more than a whisk of His divine ‎hand to put a stop to them? If the choice has to be made to drop either the ‘good’ out of God ‎or the ‘God’ out of good, most people would probably take the latter over the former. ‎
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The fourth approach is straight atheism. In a sense this is the easiest answer to Holocaust-like ‎questions. It simply tells it like it is – people do awful things to each other and we should not ‎blame a non-existent God for human problems. Modern atheism, which has no supernatural ‎Creator or Guide, was not created to solve the theological problems of the Holocaust. It was ‎created simply because there was no longer a need for a supernatural god to explain the ‎workings of the world. It happens that it does solve dilemmas like the Holocaust by ‎eliminating a deity altogether and attributing everything to the choices of human beings. As a ‎bonus, it also gets God off the hook for natural disasters such as earthquakes or plagues. They ‎are simply acts of nature with no divine agenda behind them. ‎
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None of these approaches are particularly compelling to the person who really wants an ‎answer. The first lives and dies with faith. If one lacks the faith, the answer is empty. The ‎second leaves one wondering if God is anything more than wishful thinking. The third creates ‎a God that is almost impossible to respect. The fourth is honest and brutally straightforward, ‎but devoid of any ultimate hope. Is there another possibility? ‎
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A possible alternative is to assume that God’s omnipotence is manifested through allowing ‎human beings the complete freedom to steer their own course. God may not want things to go ‎a certain way, but nevertheless allows them go that way because that is the nature of God’s ‎absolute power. It is the power to let things develop without intervening. We have seen ‎indications of this image of God as far back as certain early stages of the Bible. The non-‎interventionist God may not seem very Biblical, and it certainly may not be the image that ‎people would hope for, but it may be a fact of life. Non-intervention means that God grants ‎us the power to play God with our world. We may not really want such a power, and we may ‎not be worthy to wield such a power, but we are stuck with it for better or worse. The ‎Holocaust, according to this outlook, was an extreme example of what happens when things ‎get too far away from the path that God wants. God does nothing to change the course of ‎events other than to remain as a source of spiritual anguish deep within the human ‎conscience. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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Going straight to this final image of a Holocaust-surviving God, how are we supposed to ‎perceive it? First off, we have no right to expect this image of God to intervene to save the ‎day for us in some miraculous manner. Whether God used to do these sorts of things in ‎Biblical times is another question, but it does not seem to have happened during the ‎Holocaust. So what does God do to fill His time if He is not intervening in worldly affairs ‎and righting all the wrongs of the world? Perhaps simply maintaining existence is enough to ‎keep Him busy. That seems to be the 20th century role that is reserved for God, so why ‎shouldn’t we just allow God to be God and not expect anything more out of the poor Guy? ‎God is still all-good; He just refuses to micromanage any longer. ‎
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Can one pray to this image of God? Can one revere it or worship it? If one sees prayer as a ‎means of making concrete changes in the world by means of divine intervention, it would ‎seem that this image is going to lead to nothing but disappointment. However, if personal ‎prayer harbors no such expectations, then the doors are wide open. To pray to this image of ‎God would be to direct the mind and the soul to the ultimate mystery that lies behind the ‎veneer of physicality that covers so much of contemporary life. Prayer would no longer fit ‎into the conventional religious sense of the term but would be more of a spiritual awakening ‎to the almost hidden depth of wonder that underlies the scientifically predictable veneer. ‎
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Even something as despicable as evil can somehow be encompassed within the domain of ‎God’s reality. God does not intervene; God enables things to be. To pray to this God is to ‎pray to ourselves that we be worthy of what God wants from us. To praise and to revere this ‎God is to acknowledge the gift of being allowed the opportunity to experience God’s reality ‎and to place one’s course of life in the direction that God favors but does not tilt the balance ‎towards. To worship this God is to be the greatest person one can be, for that is the only way ‎one can approach God. God may no longer intervene, but God is still there. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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There is no question that many people will not be satisfied with a non-interventionist image of ‎God. Putting aside all other questions, we still have to ask how this image fits in with the ‎Bible, which has God intervening right and left. Is this image ultimately a rejection of the ‎Bible? ‎

		


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