A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly: The Pope and the Holocaust

Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to Auschwitz, raised the question of how God could tolerate the Holocaust (full story). He said, "In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is a heartfelt cry to God, Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"

Benedict's words remind us that as Christians, even though we can hold firm to our convictions and put forth our basic doctrines in a confident way, at the same time we do not know and understand everything, nor do we need to in order to have assurance that the Gospel is true. We see through a glass darkly, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:12). Any discussion of the problem of evil must take this into account. There are times in the midst of great evil perpetrated, in the midst of tremendous suffering, the only adequate response is silence.

It takes great faith to question God over things we do not understand. I was raised in a certain kind of Protestant tradition, where questioning God was a sign of doubt, not faith. I have come to realize how untrue this is. The Psalmists are not afraid to put the tough questions to God, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent" (Psalm 22:1-2). In such times we echo the words of the anxious father to Jesus in Mark 9:24, "I believe, help my unbelief."

There is a kind of false humility in certain sectors of Protestantism that does not want to claim much in the way of truth, that does not want to insist on such basic and necessary affirmations of faith as the doctrine of the Trinity or the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I do not speak of nor support this kind of doctrinal knownothingism. What I am referring to is the assurance that we can be confident in and affirm the critical things of the Christian faith and at the same time understand that we are ignorant in other things, particularly when it comes to evil and suffering.

Christians have affirmed from the very beginning that God is dealing with sin, suffering, and evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the end, God will have God's way; but prior to this it is important that the church not avoid asking God the tough questions. In this, Pope Benedict XVI provides an example for us. As Job's friends sat with him in silence for seven days and seven nights, they were a suffering presence (Job 2:11-13). The church also needs to be a suffering presence in the world and avoid the temptation, as Job's friends would later succumb to, of providing an explanation for all of life's miseries.

To be sure, there is a day coming when God in Christ will have finished putting the world to rights (Revelation 21:1-5), but in the meantime, less talk and more action, less speech and more presence is the task of God's people in a world still being ravaged by suffering and evil. When the church is a suffering presence in this world, it is reflecting the way of Jesus, who is the suffering presence of God among us.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I think I really like Pope Benedict!

I grapple often with tough questions before God. Yet, like Job, it always seems to come back to the fact that He knows lots of things I don't -- and that I can trust Him.

Oh, how I really enjoy knowing God! Even in the midst of heartache -- thinking about the Holocaust or other horrible atrocities that truly are heart-wrenching -- His presence soothes and lifts me up. I can't imagine the despair those who do not know Him must feel when faced with evil -- this in itself is heartbreaking.

I enjoy your blog, especially the encouragement to less talk and more action :)

Christopher said...

"it is important that the church not avoid asking God the tough questions" I like how this was said. It seems to me that pastors have to be models of how to do this faithfully. And Pope Benedict seems to understand this. Many people have taken the 'fear of the Lord" a little too seriously, to the point that there is hardly any genuine interaction at all. And even if there is, it is often a perfunctory "thy will be done". I would think that God would rather hear our anger than to hear fruadulent praise.

Keep up with your writing. I will certainly return. In the meantime, check out my blog at amongthehills.blogspot.com. This week I have a 3-part posting on Memorial Day

Allan R. Bevere said...

Absolutely true. God wants our honesty. In the world of the 21st century we dare not avoid the tough questions to God and ourselves.

Thanks for your comments. I will check out your post.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I agree; I do not know how I would continue on in life without the presence of God. I have been a pastor for 22 years, and I can tell you that there is a world of difference between a funeral for a Christian and one for a person and family who appear to have no kind of faith convictions. The despair at the latter and the hope at the former contrast starkly.

Thanks for your comments.

Miroslav said...

Good stuff. It does strike me as odd that the Scriptures are full of angst between man and God, written in honesty and truth ... and yet our churches are primarily places of "answers". Perhaps the wrestling between the seen and the hoped for is something that is only intended to be a private affair?

"I do not know how I would continue on in life without the presence of God." - Not a fun journey, I can assure you of that. Bloggin' my way through it as best I can... Poor ol' me is in the middle of a DEEP Dark Night of the Soul. Yet hope remains...

Jim Martin said...

A very good post! As someone already mentioned I like your phrase, "Itis important that the church not avoid asking God the tough questions."

Allan R. Bevere said...


I had a homletics professor in seminary who said it was not always a bad thing to leave a sermon open-ended. Not all questions need to be answered.

Thanks for the comments.

Ted M. Gossard said...


Very good. This needs to soak into our hearts and minds. Thanks.