Saturday, February 25, 2006

Did God Put Hitler in Power?

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.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Shake Hands With the Devil: A Review

After witnessing the Rwandan genocide of 1994 first hand, LGen Romeo Dalliare was asked how he could still believe in God, and in the preface to his book he gives his answer: "because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil." But having reading his book, with its surprisingly hopeful conclusion, the question I have for Dallaire is how he can still believe in humanity.

Romeo Dallaire gives a clearer depiction of human depravity than perhaps anyone since the World War II era. Except in Dallaire's case, it isn't aso simple as just being able to blame the Nazi's or demonize Hitler. There is no easy scapegoat in his story. It is a scathing rebuke of the entire international community and it is delivered with an insight and accuracy that is only bolstered by a personal humility that borders on self-deprecation. Romeo Dallaire indeed shook hands with the devil. The truly troubling thing about this is that the devil appeared in many forms, all of them human, and in all colours of the political spectrum.

Although there are some incredible heroes in the Rwandan story, their efforts are overshadowed by the huge black cloud of global indifference, racism, selfishness, and ignorance which created the perfect environment for the grotesque slaughter of 800,000 people.

In a sense the world can look at the genocide like the picture of Dorian Gray, it shows us what's really behind the facade. The human race is capable of good, but even the good it attempts is laced with bad, and is unfortunately often serves as a deceptive cover up for an overwhelming undercurrent of evil. We have our silver linings, but they cover immense storm clouds and, as the Grateful Dead sang, are themselves streaked with a "touch of grey".

In the Rwandan story the United Nations is a perfect example of this. Although percieved by many as a symbol of global hope and hailed as the cooperative force for peace-seeking nations it is revealed in Dallaires experience to be little more than a tool for international cop-outs and scape-goating. His book is rife with occurences where diplomats are more concerned with the wording of their support to the peace-keeping mission than they are with actually putting their resources where their mouths are and giving that support. For Western nations who so boisterously pride themselves on their recognition for human rights and even Christian values, this is an embarassing indictment, and yet a must-read.

As a Christian myself, quite frankly this book heightened my concern over the state of Western evangelicalism, but at the same time it deepened my belief that the only hope for the human race is for divine intervention.

Dallaire has seen the human race at its worst, and remarkably still holds out hope. He writes:

In the future we must be prepared to move beyond national self-interest to spend
our resources and spill our blood for humanity. We have lived through centuries
of enlightenment, reason, revolution, industrialization, and globalization. No
matter how idealistic the aim sounds, this new century must become the Century
of Humanity, when we as human beings rise above race, creed, colour, religion
and national self-interest and put the good of humanity above the good of our
own tribe. For the sake of the children and of our future.

In one sense I couldn't agree more. Social commentators and scientists are quick to point out the apparent evolution of the human race, and have named the technological era as further proof of it. But every one of these so-called advances has come with two steps backward and I don't think it is merely pessimistic to conclude that the problem may not be with human evolution but with the human race as a whole. In my opinion there is no evidence to suggest that even Dallaire's "Century of Humanity", even though it would have many steps forward, would bring us any closer to the ideal he proposes.

I have no problem with his ideal, I simply question whether it can come from simple human effort. My suspicion is that Dallaire would agree with me, and simply didn't say so in his book. In fact, it is probably I who is agreeing with him, and I am only couching it in biblical terms.

For instance, on the final page of his book, in the paragraph preeding the one I have already quoted, Dallaire comes to a provocative conclusion. He writes:

The only conclusion I can reach is that we are in desparate need of a
transfusion of humanity.

I coudn't agree more. But I would go one further. I would say that the only worldview which even claims to meet this need is the gospel of Christ Jesus. Only in the Son of God made man is there hope for such a tranfusion. Only in a crucified Christ would there be any impetus for overcoming self-interest to achieve love and peace. And only in a resurrected, returning Christ is there any hope for justice and new life for humanity.

Indeed, my overwhelming thought as I put down Romeo Dallaire's well-written and incredible book was that it read like a prequel to the book of Revelation. I feel that the answer to every question this book raised lies in the experience of true New Testament faith. It saddens me that the Church falls so short of this on so many fronts today. It seems that far too often we are merely imitating Christ when we ought to be indwelt by Him; our spirits tranfused by His.

But Christ is gracious, and therein lies our hope, not only for the Church but for the whole human race. Thank you Romeo Dallaire for reminding me of how gracious He is.