The upcoming movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise brings to light the interesting history Christian theology has with HITLER (scream heard in the night). While I poke fun whenever people prove Godwin’s Law correct, the truth is that the rise, existence, and atrocity that is Hitler is a fundamental challenge to traditional Christian theology (whatever that is).
On the National Geographic Channel (thank you to Comcast for forcing me into the higher dollar ‘lowest bundle’ package…which includes this channel)…there was a report called 42 Ways to Kill Hitler, which details all 42 attempts to kill Hitler, ranging from briefcase bombs to exploding brandy to snipers to strapping him to a chair during a Barney sing-a-long marathon. In short, 42 attempts on Hitler’s life…that’s almost 5 cats worth!
To this timely topic, several blogs ask “Why didn’t God allow ANY of these to succeed?” From the appropriately titled post Debunking Christianity: Just Where The Hell Is Either God Or Jesus When They Are Really Needed?!, there’s plenty to read through that are asking questions about God’s power, such as:
Why did [God] not let at least 38 of these assassination attempts succeed since the death of Hitler could have stopped the Nazi machine or the latter of the 38 attempts would have ended the war?
In fact, the documentary noted Hitler consider himself immortal and protect by God. Plus, after 42 failed attempts on his life, Hitler was allow to end his life on his own terms and when he was ready to.
Here are a few basic questions:
If there is really some God of love watching over his creation, why did this God leave millions of his chosen / Covenanted people to suffer and die horrible deaths? Why did thousands of Christian Jehovah Witnesses also died in Nazi concentration camps?
20 million plus russians died. 7 million germans died. ~12 million died in the camps. And all your god needed to do was snap its fingers and allow an assassination attempt to succeed…
All of which are channeling the famous Epicurus quote about the theodicy: the problem of evil existing under an omnipotent benevolent God.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
There’s many respectable responses to questions of extreme evil. They range from God wound the clock and let the earth run its course (Deism) to God wills everything, even evil (Determinism). But when pressured, every theological statement rests on the unknowable nature of God and the finite/infinite divide, succinctly shown in this response on Unreasonable Faith:
God’s wisdom is fathomless and His decisions are unsearchable and His methods are mysterious and untraceable. No one can even completely understand His mind or advise Him to the proper course of action. It is arrogant for us to seek to determine what God is doing in a particular event or circumstance. We cannot search out His reasons behind His decisions or trace out the ways by which He brings those decisions to pass. God’s ways are infinite in wisdom and cannot be comprehended by our finite minds
While honest and painfully true, it is still unsatisfying that the God who gave us reason would remain outside of it. While God is unknowable, there exist frameworks within Christian theology that can lead to abiding understandings of God and Evil that could sustain us until we can ask Her* .
The definition of omnipotence is “all-powerful.” We often think of God as all-powerful, like a really big Superman, who nonetheless can’t save everyone. From a paper that succinctly describes the tension:
Ultimately, any sort of concept of a supernatural deity who dwells outside the system and jumps in from time to time is problematic in the discussion of evil. Why would God choose to jump in and save some people and not others? Is this truly just a case of humankind’s limited insight into the future? Is so, why would an all-knowing supernatural deity create a world in which the lives of horrible people could ultimately hold more value towards a greater good than those who were just and ethical? Is truly more value to be found in God’s keeping Hitler healthy than there would be if God had jumping in and struck him with a fatal illness? Or, if this God always stays outside the system, never jumping in: why not? Does this God truly have infinite love if He is just setting up a system to let it run amok?
David Ray Griffin uses the example of Superman: “If there were a Superman who could prevent all these kinds of [evils] but refused to do so – perhaps on the grounds that doing so would ‘prevent opportunities for human growth’ – we would certainly question his moral goodness. A Superman, of course, could not prevent all genuine evils because, being finite, he could not be everywhere at once. But the [supernatural] God of traditional theism… does not have this excuse”
So if a Superman version doesn’t work, what do we do? Perhaps a better way to look at the problem of evil is from the perspective of grace: God’s unearned love for us that is given to everyone equally. If we accept that God loves us as a basic premise, then deterministic understandings of God become problematic.
In many ways, I subscribe to the Process understanding of God’s omnipotence and the problem of evil. It’s a long, long conversation, but to get us started, from a paper at Religion-Online:
Grace is at work not only in human beings but also in all other creatures. It is the way that God works in the world. There is not another, controlling and all-determining work of God. That means that all events whatever are influenced by God but that none are the direct expression of God’s purpose or desire.
This way of thinking changes the nature of the problem of evil. As usually formulated that presupposes that God’s power is the sort that determines outcomes. Hence, when there are terrible evils such as the Holocaust, one supposes that this must somehow embody God’s purpose. It is impossible to reconcile this with the belief that God is love. Process theology sees God’s work in the Holocaust in every expression of resistance and in every impulse to redirect the course of events. It sees it also in the steadfast faith and humanity of many of those who were slaughtered. It does not see it in the decision to effect the Final Solution or the brutal cruelty of many of those who carried it out.
I find the understanding that God is found in the resistance to evil to be empowering. God is not a clockmaker who walked away, but God is not the puppeteer ascribing everything to God’s purpose. Rather, God is found in resistance to evil, and evil is a byproduct of human freedom.
Yet, even for process thought, God bears a certain responsibility for evil. It is because of God’s grace that human beings are free. Much of the evil of the Holocaust expresses the misuse of human freedom. There could be no misuse if there were no freedom to misuse. God has taken a great risk in bringing into being creatures with the amount of freedom human beings have. Sometimes one may wonder about the wisdom of that risk. A better response is to resolve that we will use God’s gift in a more worthy way.
So, to answer the question, could God have been found in the 42 attempts on Hitler’s life? I don’t know if I can reconcile God wanting to kill someone, even though Bonhoffer’s informed consent strikes me as particularly legitimate. But I certainly believe God is found in the resistance to human evil, though humans ultimately have the free will to make the choice of how this resistance materializes.
This has been a basic romp through the problems of deterministic allegations towards God, and an opening of an alternative explanation of God’s omnipotence being grace, not exerting God’s will over every (or any) situation. It’s not meant to be a perfect argument, just a reflection.
Thoughts? Welcome to our visitors and all comments are welcome!