Amir’s commentary as the world observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Imagine two-thirds of Americans wiped out. 220 million people dead in the span of just a few years. Then imagine that it wasn’t because of a pandemic or any accidental means. It was intentional, systematic, well-planned, and precisely executed. When it was all said and done, there would likely not be one person left alive left unaffected by this genocide, whether from losing a family member or a friend or a neighbor. Those who survived would be profoundly impacted by this evil – permanently scarred for generations to come.
This is what happened to European Jewry. Nearly two-thirds – six million living, breathing souls – were intentionally, systematically exterminated. “Extermination” is an appropriate word, because it fits how Adolph Hitler and his minions viewed the Jews. They portrayed them as rats – vermin. Through movies and posters, Jews were shown to be greedy, avaricious, dirty, and only out for themselves. They were characterized as less than human, cartoonish with huge noses and greedy leers, disgustingly scurrying about with their half hominid/half rodent bodies. Of course, what do you do when you have a rat problem? You exterminate them, thus the genesis of the “Final Solution”.
Most Jews have a connection to the Holocaust. My grandparents on my mother’s side somehow survived the infamous Auschwitz, before emigrating to Israel. What they endured left them with scars so deep that they cut down into the hearts of my mother’s generation. Some of the survivors carried with them lasting physical damage. Others suffered emotional trauma. And for many others, the spiritual ramifications were devastating.
Where was God? That is the question you will hear from so many of the Holocaust generation and the succeeding generation. If there truly is a God, why would He allow this? Sadly, there are a great number whose conclusion was that a good God would not have allowed the Holocaust, therefore there must not be a God. I know that it was horrific pain that led them to this conclusion. However, I believe there is a better answer that can leave us with the hope and comfort that comes from knowing that no matter what we see around us, there is a good God who loves us and watches over us.
The answer to the Holocaust is found in the necessity for God to allow evil. God didn’t create evil. He never had a desire for evil to exist. However, He had to allow for the possibility of evil. That’s because God is love. The apostle John wrote, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) We have been created in the image of God, and one aspect of that imago dei is our ability to love. However, in order for us to truly love, we must have free will. Forced love is not real love. It is programmed love – robot love. If we are truly going to love God, we must have the ability to choose whether or not we want to love God.
What does it look like for us to love God? Again, it was John who wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) In other words, how do we know that we love God? By choosing to live righteously. For us to be able to “choose” to live righteously, we also have to have the freedom to “choose” to live unrighteously. Sadly, unrighteousness was the choice that Adam and Eve made in the Garden, and it is the same choice that everyone of us has made since then – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) For there to be true love, there has to be the possibility of true evil. If God were to eradicate all evil, free will would go away taking real love with it. If God were to eradicate all evildoers, I would not be around to write this article and you would not be around to read it.
“Okay, Amir, so evil must exist until the time that God brings about the new heaven and the new earth. But that doesn’t mean that God has to allow all evil. The Holocaust was so very evil, why didn’t He step in then?” That, admittedly, is the more difficult question. I can easily explain the existence of evil. But it pains me to have to try to explain God’s allowance of this particular evil. To attempt an explanation, I have to go back to what I know about how God deals with evil.
First, God limits evil. We see this in the story of Job, when the Lord first limits Satan to attacking Job’s possessions and family – “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” (Job 1:12) Then He allows the devil to go after Job’s body, but not his life – “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.” (Job 2:6) In both situations, God lays down a “this far and no farther” line. When it comes to the Holocaust, our line may have been very different than God’s line. We may have put it before even one life was lost. But this is when we have to trust in what we know about God. As we read earlier, God is love. He is the epitome of love. We may not understand His limits, but we have to trust in what we know about His character and His perfection. The very fact that I am alive right now shows the “this far and no farther” nature of our God. Why did He allow my grandparents to survive while so many others perished? I don’t know, but I am very thankful that He did.
Second, God allows evil to exist, but not to win. Hitler did not win – he died in a bunker when, like a coward, he took his own life. Goebbels did not win. Himmler did not win. Göring did not win. They are all dead and gone, and their memory is one of infamy and disgust. This is the final end of all evil and evil-doers. Even Satan himself understands that he doesn’t stand a chance in this good versus evil battle. He has seen God. He knows he’s a goner. This is why He fights so hard to hurt God in the time that he has left. What is the best way for Satan to bring pain to God? By hurting those whom He has chosen to be His – Israel and the church.
Satan used a morally twisted Austrian corporal to lead Germany to war, thereby opening the door for his demonic attack on the Jews. God allowed this genocide for a time until He said, “No more.” After eradicating the evil and the evildoers, God did what He always does in the midst of pain and sorrow, He brought beauty to the ashes. What the devil intended for the wiping out of the Jews, God used to bring His people back to their homeland and create the State of Israel. In the fulfillment of Ezekiel 37, God took the dry bones of the survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Dachau and all the others, put muscle and flesh back on them, breathed new life into them, and returned them to their ancestral home. This would not have happened without the Holocaust. In the words of Joseph to his kidnapping brothers, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let me encourage you to use it as a time of prayer. First of all, pray for those who still bear the scars of the suffering and the loss, particularly those of the generation of my parents and my grandparents. It has affected them profoundly, and still many struggle today. Second, pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Despite the Abraham Accords and the growing relationships with other nations, Israel still has many enemies aligned against it. Pray that God keeps the rockets and missiles on the other side of our borders. Finally, take time to praise God for His love. We can love because He first loved us. And even though there are times when we may not understand exactly what He is doing, we can still know His character and be assured that His love is as profound as always and that He is working out His perfect plan for those who love Him and follow Him.