This post is written by a friend of mine, Anthony Billington, who is Head of Theology at the
London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
If we held 1 minute of silence for every victim of the Holocaust then we would be silent for eleven and a half years.’ So tweeted @therealbanksy earlier this week on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Although powerfully distressing in its own way, others understandably took considerably more space than 117 characters to unfold the horrors of what took place, with survivors urging that the tragedy never be forgotten.
Not for the first time are we challenged to ask how millions of men, women, and children were murdered with planned and systematic efficiency. Nor does what has taken place in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Syria and elsewhere leave us hopeful that we have moved on. We are probably not surprised that the involvement of ‘religious’ people in what happened at Auschwitz has been enough to rid some people of any kind of belief in a good God.
Indeed, there are some experiences of evil before which we defend our faith only with deep sensitivity. We listen with deference to those like Elie Wiesel who speak for the victims. In Night, an account of his experience in concentration camps, Wiesel describes in painful and graphic detail his first viewing of a hanging, with the haunting question of the man behind him, ‘Where is God now?’.
And yet, in a television interview years later, Wiesel affirmed: ‘For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But simply to ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference to God, no. You can be a Jew with God; you can be a Jew against God; but not without God.’ For Wiesel, the consequences of leaving God out of the Holocaust are worse than keeping him in.
From a Christian perspective, it’s right to have a problem with evil. It’s an alien intrusion into God’s good world. But the gospel allows us to understand the gravity of evil, our complicity in it, and God’s determination to deal with it. And for Christians, God’s wisdom and power are seen supremely in the death of Jesus, who died to destroy the power of sin and death, and was raised as the firstfruits of a new creation. There is a hope of unending joy for the earth – but not without God.
Antony is LICC’s Head of Theology