I hadn’t realized it, but April is Holocaust month, a time to remember and think about the unimaginable events that marked our history in the last century.
Ron Rosenbaum, writing in “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” (The Naked Truth), wrestles with the meaning of the Holocaust. Wikipedia tells me that in the ’70s and ’80s, he spent years researching Adolph Hitler, finally publishing Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil in 1988. His life as a Jewish man, and a thinking, feeling human being has been haunted by the Holocaust. It, more than any other single event, has raised the question of evil and God. The study of the question even has its own field of study, called theodicy. How, it asks, can a God who is worshiped as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving deity,a God who is able to intervene in history and has time and again, be reconciled with the evil that pervades our world? Why would such a God permit the Holocaust?
Rosenbaum takes the attempts to answer this question one by one, and finds them empty, sometimes obscene, and always unconvincing. More, he agrees with the renegade Rabbi Richard Rubenstein who wrote, “Jewish history has written the final chapter in the terrible story of the God of History. And the pathetic hope of coming to grips with Auschwitz through the framework of traditional Judaism will never be realized.”
Or, as Bob Dylan put it, “hitler did not change history. Hitler was history….”
Rosenbaum’s essay in this instance has to do with his passionate opposition to every attempt to explain away this awful God, and the offense one of his listeners took to his words. My concerns take another direction.
When I finished reading Rosenbaum’s piece, I looked at the comments that followed–dozens of them, pursuing the same convoluted debates the author had already taken apart. Rosenbaum had been talking specifically about the God he knew as a Jew, the creator-God who acts in history, but most of the ranting men and women professed no such faith. And that’s why I wondered why none of them entertained the answer I’d given to the question of evil years ago.
I’d studied philosophy of religion on the undergraduate and graduate levels, so it wasn’t a question I hadn’t thought about. If God or the Divine couldn’t be both good and all-powerful, then it seemed to me it was obvious that the Divine was love and goodness, and not all-powerful. I think the point of the crucified son of God is exactly that: a demonstration of Divine love rather than power, God as one with humanity, weak, meek, with another kind of strength perhaps, but not that of the thundering Deity of the Old (and New!) Testaments.
Certainly, that answer isn’t original with me, so why, I wonder, why didn’t any of those ranting letter-writers consider that possibility? For those who believe, does God have to be all-powerful? By definition? Is our culture hung up on the idea of power? I could go on, but I’d love to hear what my readers think!