The Holocaust, Forgiveness and Evangelism
The furor of spring 1985 has died down, but the injuries have not healed. President Reagan laid hold of a veritable hornet’s nest last year when he announced his impending visit to a German military cemetery to honor those killed in World War II. Shrill sounds of wounded protest blared from the news media as worldwide Jewish community leaders were joined by sympathetic Gentile friends in attacking the Administration’s diplomacy.
Many Christians could not comprehend why Jewish people reacted so violently. After all, had not the German people and government sought to make reparations? Had they not, in many ways, shown remorse for Hitler’s persecutions? Then, too, in a sense, the German war dead were also victims of Nazism. Not to compare their suffering with those who perished in the death camps, but all the dead and injured were wronged by the Nazis. Taking these facts into account, many Christians still puzzle over the Jewish need to continue recounting horror stories of the Holocaust like a nun counting her rosary in a litany of prayer.
The key to understanding lies in a fundamental difference between Jewish and Christian theology. Christians do not understand that God required different things from his ancient people Israel than he requires of the Church. Each is a chosen people, yet is elected to function differently. Some things permitted to Israel were forbidden to the Church, and some things allowed to the Church were forbidden to Israel.
For a man under the Old Covenant it was a sin to eat pork, but allowable to have more than one wife. A man of the New Covenant is allowed to eat what he desires, but is forbidden to have more than one wife. Under the Old Covenant marriage was exalted, but under the New Covenant celibacy is commended. Likewise, under the Old Covenant God’s people were required to take up residence in a certain land and worship in a certain city. Under the New Covenant, however, we are not required to worship at Jerusalem, but are instructed to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24), each believer being a temple of the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual pilgrimage” then takes us to the uttermost parts of the earth to proclaim the truth of the gospel—and though our message is to the Jew first (Roman 1:16), it certainly extends also to members of every kindred, tribe and nation.
These are but a few of the numerous God-given differences between Jews and Christians. In an attempt to find unity and agreement between the two, many have ignored the differences, resulting in a catastrophe of Christian misunderstanding.
Jesus emphasized a difference when he said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you…” (Matt. 5:43-44). This passage is in part quoted from Leviticus 19:18: “…but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…” It doesn’t mention hating one’s enemies. The Savior quoted it as a proverb of the people, not as Scripture. It is important to note that in the 1500 years between Moses and Jesus the precept had already been amended to say what God had never said, so that Jews felt it a duty to hate their enemies. Forgiving the wrong done by others is a Christian virtue clearly commanded in the New Testament. Among the Jews, however, it is a vague and alien notion that they see working against their survival as a people.
Take, for example, the Passover celebration. In celebrating our redemption from Egypt, we Jews must rehearse the wrongs done to us. We must remember Pharaoh as our slavemaster in order to rejoice in God’s deliverance. Again at Purim (the Feast of Esther), we recite the evil of Haman that we might rejoice in God’s preservation of our people. See how this carries over into contemporary situations. We rehearse the wrongs of Nazi wickedness and our persecution by Hitler’s henchmen to insure that it will never happen again.
We Jews are indoctrinated from childhood not to forgive those who have perpetrated wrongs against us, but to remember the wrongs in order to survive. As defensive and contrary to Christian doctrine as this stance is, it is steeped in centuries of real persecution and pain.
Jewish sociologist Dr. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin feels that the reason we Jews have survived is because we have developed the ability to remember the past and, to a degree, feel the pain all Jews through the ages have felt. In a Passover article in the Jewish Week newspaper on March 29, 1985, she wrote:
We were able to endure 2,000 years of homelessness and persecution because we remembered. By the alchemy of the strength and devotion of our remembering, we made a living link of our present and the hope of our future as well.
The mastery of creative remembering which has made us the eternal people is strikingly illustrated by our Passover observances. The many rituals and rites of the seder…have but one purpose—to make us experience and feel what it meant to be a slave in Egypt and to be redeemed from slavery.
Dr. Weiss-Rosmarin doesn’t know that it was not “the mastery of creative remembering” that made us the eternal people. The purpose of remembering the Passover was not to focus attention on our slavery and deliverance. It was similar to the reason Christians are to contemplate Calvary—to remember the Redeemer.
Unless our remembrance brings us to the consciousness of God, it can lead us into imageless idolatry. By remembering oppression and our survival of it in a ritualistic way without God, we Jews can stumble into “ethnolatry”—that form of idolatry where a people venerates its peoplehood and exalts its own existence as something holy in itself. The cosmogony of “ethnolatry” is the belief that a people created itself and, by rituals and folkways, sustains itself. Such was the “religion” of Nazism —a belief in a self-perpetuating super-race.
No! A thousand times no! We Jews did not create ourselves, nor are we sustained by our memories of the past or our struggle to survive as a people. We were called into existence by the Creator. Our survival does not depend on our remembering our history, but on God’s remembering Israel. Our survival is according to his purpose that one day all Israel shall be saved to serve our divine Savior (Romans 11:26).
Instead of remembering the male children slaughtered under Pharaoh’s decree, we need to remember that a multitude were redeemed, rescued and revived out of the land of Egypt. Instead of reciting morbid litanies over the six million murdered by Hitler, we need to remember that 12 million survived. We have survived all that could be done by a wicked Pharaoh, a wicked Haman and a wicked Hitler.
Throughout history the unseen enemy, Satan, has breathed his soul into many who, as his agents, became oppressors of the Jews. Satan, who always despises and opposes God, needs to destroy the Jews. Every living Jew is objective evidence that the God of the Bible is, and that he keeps his word. Our continued existence, even in unbelief, proves that the God of Israel lives and that his hand arranges the events of history. In spite of all Satan has done to obliterate us, we Jews survive because our God lives.
My unbelieving fellow Jews see Jewish survival as something of our own doing, a fragile situation because it depends on a fragile people. Without Christ and without “ethnolatry” the reason for the survival of the Jewish people is obscure. As an unbelieving Jew, I too sensed that I was part of a people who had a destiny, but it was vague to me. Then, in Christ, I discovered our Jewish destiny.
How ironic are the rabbis’ claims that missionaries to the Jews work against Jewish survival! I did not realize the destiny of the Jewish people until I became a Christian. The Bible seemed written in a secret cipher, a code that I could not understand without the key, which I believed lay in the hands of the learned rabbis. But then I found Jesus. I saw he is the key to that code, and the Bible is just so much babble without him. Christ is the answer to the riddle of all our past sufferings and the missing piece in the puzzle of Jewish destiny.
One of the many reasons my Jewish people need Christ is to be relieved of the horrible burden of needing to remember past persecutions. In Christ I can see German Christians as loving brothers and sisters who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But without Christ I must try to see them as the children, nieces and nephews of murderous Nazis who, without compassion, wanted the people I love most to be tortured and killed.
What a burden upon one’s soul to feel obligated to despise others! How that “duty” of remembering the wrong done to one’s people can keep a person from happiness! That kind of grudge is a cancer that eats out the vitality of the spirit. It creates perpetual alienation from all except those who share the same morbid grudge. Thus, my people have become a fellowship of the wronged, an association of the persecuted, the perpetual victims of their neighbors. Our noble religion, revealed by God, is perverted to become the reason for our defensiveness.
As Christians, we learn to forgive because we have been forgiven much. In so doing, we allow the Savior to repair our sin-damaged souls. If we set out to do what is right with only our human strength, we build a structure of our own self-righteousness. Then, because it is constructed from human strength and not God’s strength, it becomes not a shelter, but a prison. And the walls of self-righteousness have no door through which the Savior, the one who brings God’s righteousness, can come.
Such is the dilemma of the observant Orthodox Jew without Christ, of whom the Scripture says, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it…” (II Tim. 3:5). It tears the heart to see humanly righteous people devoted to their religion being kept from the truth because of that religion.
My Jewish people, like all people, need to learn that without the forgiveness of the Almighty received through repentance and regeneration, all of our good deeds are as filthy rags—the unclean apparel that in our sin-demented minds seems to be a resplendent garment. Yet our sin is all the more apparent to God and the godly.
As a Jew, I needed Christ first of all to be free from the burden of my sins. But I also needed his atonement to free me from the burden of considering myself a member of a victim people. In Jesus, God forgave me. In Jesus, he set me free to forgive others. Through the Holy Spirit I can now say to Gentile Christians, “You are my brothers. You are my sisters. Because you are the people of God, you are my family.”
How is it then that some say, “We should no longer preach the gospel to the Jews because of past persecutions”? After the Holocaust in which we Jews were Hitler’s victims, would they now by their silence let the Jews become victims of a greater holocaust—the conflagration of unforgiven sins?
How is it that some maintain that Gentiles should refrain from telling Jews that Jesus is Savior because it offends them? Don’t they know that the offense of the cross is normal for those who perish without Calvary (I Cor. 1:23; I Peter 2:8)?
If the Bible is not true—if Christ is not risen from the dead—don’t bother my people with heathen legends and Gentile superstitions. If the suffering of Jesus has not accomplished your own salvation, keep silent and mourn.
But indeed, the Bible is true. Indeed, Christ did rise. Indeed, he has saved all who believe. Now he commands us—his redeemed—to proclaim his forgiveness to others. My Jewish people so desperately need to be freed from their prisons of fear and self-righteousness. They desperately need to be forgiven and to forgive. Would you, in the guise of tactfulness, deny them that opportunity to hear and be healed?