I recently read a book by a fellow named Erwin Lutzer called Hitler's Cross. It is a revealing take on what happened to the church in Germany during Hitler's rise to power and on through his tyrannical reign. It also had some interesting points to make about the startling similarities between the German church of the late 30s and the American church of today. Check it out some time if any of that grabs you.
But the thing that really got me thinking is the question: If God puts kings and rulers in their places, what about Hitler? If God didn't put Hitler in power, who did? And where was God? And if God did put Hitler in power, what kind of God is He?
For his part, Lutzer says that it was Satan who did it and God knowingly allowed him. As for why God allowed him, Lutzer doesn't really come out and say, but he does point out that it sure purified the German church and made the world stand up and take notice of its own sin and evil. The hard-to-swallow suggestion is that God was orchestrating the whole thing to achieve his own redemptive purposes through (or despite?) Satan's work. That seems easier to say for a Gentile 60 years later than it would have been, say, for a Jew in 1944. I don’t necessarily think the truth always has to be easy to say, but you get the point.
Certainly, I can see what Lutzer is saying I think. I mean, if humanity is evil to the core because of rebellion against God we can expect some wrath to break out from time to time. But did God really plan it this way? I mean, did God really put Hitler in power?
For reasons I don't think I need to explain I just don't like thinking of it that way. Perhaps that's why I lean more toward being an Arminian or an Open Theist than a Calvinist.
For those unfamiliar with these terms, let me summarize them and then I'll get to my point. Essentially Calvinism says that God has chosen each person who will be saved and is plotting the course of each human life down to the "t". Arminianism basically says that, yes, God makes his plans, but he does so based on the foreknowledge of what humans will do with their free will (and this is a paradox we won’t totally be able to grasp with our finite minds). And Open Theism says that God is in control, but not necessarily of every detail. Rather, God’s control consists of confidently succeeding in all His purposes even though he has "stepped back" to such a degree as to allow human free will to run its course.
That's a pretty simplistic summary, and there are extremes and moderates in each group, but you get the picture. Anyway, here's the thing I've come to realize: When it all comes down to it, each of them, the Calvinist, Arminianist, and the Open Theist all are left with the same question: Why did God allow the evil?
The only real difference between their views has to do with the point at which God steps back and allows stuff to happen. In other words, the question between them is: How specific is God’s allowance?
Whether God put Hitler in power, or allowed Hitler to have the power he would have taken anyway (if that makes any sense), or merely allowed the world to get to the point where Hitler could come to power, is all beside the point. The point is why did God, in creating the world, allow for this evil? All Theists, whatever their shape, still have to answer this question.
I think the three main answers I’ve described differ mainly according to a person’s comfort level. For instance, I think Calvinists find it very comforting indeed to think that in the midst of their suffering, God has orchestrated everything down to the most minute detail. But I can also think of others (like myself) who find just as much, if not more, comfort in thinking God is can totally be trusted and counted on to work redemption even in the most minute details, even if he has stepped back to let us do our thing.
Some theologians today denounce Open Theists for their view, claiming it has a Low View of God's power and sovereignty. But I think that's pretty short sighted. Is it more powerful for God to be a puppeteer or to make room for human freedom and yet still be able to redeem humankind to the utmost efficiency?
So did God put Hitler in power?
I guess if I'm a Calvinist I say yes, and God knows exactly why. If I'm Arminian I guess I say yes, God knew the 20th century Hitler was going to do what he'd do and be allowed to do what he did and so He pre-planned it and worked in some redemption. And if I'm an Open Theist I guess I say that God made the human race free and free they would be, and so Hitler did what he wanted to do and people did what they wanted to do and God worked with the situation to make the very best of it.
I'm not going to say which one I am. I don't really like any of the views in totality actually, perhaps because I oversimplify them. But I will say this: I just think there has to be free will.
I have no doubt that evil and suffering are a result of rebellion against God and that God doesn’t want them. Romans 1 says that one of God's forms of wrath is to let people discover the awful consequences of their actions and inactions, so that hopefully they will turn to him for salvation. That sounds pretty Open to me, but some would say it’s Calvinist. One could talk himself in circles on this and I think I probably already have, but here's the thing:
To me it all boils down to a Sovereign God making room for Free Will. Without free will I can't see why a loving God would even create people. A loving God would want to give people the potential to love and be loved. But in order for that to happen they'd have to have free will! But if they had free will they could also hate and be hated, kill and be killed.
So to ask why God allowed evil is to also ask why God allowed love, and whatever your view it really all comes down to whether life as we know it is worth it. If there is a God, it appears He thought it was. And I might add, if He is the Christian God, it appears He thought it was worth His own Son.
Lots to think about. I suppose only eternity will tell. A pretty good reason to have faith in an eternal and loving God, even if this side of eternity we won’t always grasp what he’s up to.