Should The Holocaust Force Us To Rethink Our View Of God And Evil? -- By: John J. Johnson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 52:1 (NA 2001)
Article: Should The Holocaust Force Us To Rethink Our View Of God And Evil?
Author: John J. Johnson

Should The Holocaust Force Us To Rethink Our View Of God And Evil?

John J. Johnson


This paper grapples with the impact the Holocaust has had on Jewish-Christian relations, and comes to the conclusion that the problem of evil is an age-old dilemma for biblical theists, and does not take on special meaning in light of the Holocaust (even though that was indeed a horrific event). The Holocaust must be seen in proper perspective, alongside all the many other large-scale atrocities which have occurred throughout history. The Holocaust raises the same issues as are found in the Book of Job, though the proper response is not a radical rethinking of Christian theology but, as Job long ago discovered, a humble, biblical acceptance of the limits of human understanding when faced with apparently pointless suffering.

By all accounts, the Holocaust was a nearly unimaginable example of human depravity, which caused an unimaginable amount of human suffering. The so-called problem of evil, which had vexed theists for so long, was perhaps never as startlingly apparent as it was in the gas chambers and the ovens of the Nazi death-camps. Ever since that horrendous event, many Jews have found it impossible to hold onto a faith which, for them, vanished in the ovens of Auschwitz. This position is well-exemplified in the fiction of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. The following lines from his short autobiographical novel well capture the spirit of much contemporary Jewish thought, both popular and scholarly, regarding the Holocaust. Wiesel describes his reaction to the pious prayers of his fellow inmates in the death-camps:

... why should I bless Him [God]? In every fiber I rebelled. Because He had had thousands of children burned in His pits? Because He kept the crematories working night and day, on Sundays and feast days? Because in His great might He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many factories of death? How could I say to Him: ‘Blessed art Thou, Eternal, Master of the Universe, Who chose us from among the races to be tortured day and night, to see our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the

crematory? Praised be Thy Holy Name, Thou Who hast chosen us to be butchered on Thine altar?’1

Many Christian thinkers have followed suit, and, after reflecting upon the Holocaust, are prepared to recast essential Christian doctrines in response to the horrors of the death-camps. In this paper, I hope to address Jews and Christians who hold such views because they feel compelled to do so in light of the tragedy of the Holocaust. My contention is that the real problem at hand is not the Holocaust per ...

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