What does the Holocaust mean? How could it have happened?
These questions have been asked so many times they are almost cliché. We ask them because we feel powerless when we are faced with it. We have no answers.
Yet while we may not be able to understand how a good and merciful God could permit the Holocaust, it can still make an indelibly clear statement in history.
God Allowed the Holocaust, But Did Not Create It
People try to answer for God’s role in the Holocaust and overlook the real culprit for this event: human beings. God may not have intervened in human behavior, but man is always responsible for his actions, even and especially when those actions hurt others.
Why do we blame God when man is clearly the perpetrator? Largely it is because we live in denial of our own nature.
Have you ever been caught by peer pressure, and thoughtlessly followed a group without truly considering its cause? Do you know what it’s like not to have empathy—for particular people, or even for all people? And if you have empathy, do you remember that it was difficult to learn? Perhaps more importantly, have you ever felt that entire groups of people were blameworthy, dirty, or wrong?
We need look no farther than American politics to discover this. If the extreme conservative owned his deep rage toward the “morally bankrupt” left, or if the extreme liberal owned his vitriolic hatred of “racist” conservatives – we easily understand how entire groups of people can become wrong in our eyes. Have you never felt, perhaps, that the world would even be better off without those people you blame for the world’s problems? And is that not what Hitler thought?
When we see ourselves clearly, we know that a Holocaust is an entirely natural consequence of human nature pulled to its worst extremes.
It is only when we are self-righteous that we virtue signal with ‘never again’ as if our disgust with the past will change human nature going forward.
God’s Greatest Competition
Why is this relevant to remember now?
Once upon a time God’s main competition was idolatry. Though hard for us to understand, idolatry was a reasonable alternative to worshipping God for the biblical and First Temple Jews.
But the desire for idolatry was uprooted. It has faded and been replaced. As mankind advances, with all its industry, science, and innovation – the temptation is not to trust in idols, but to trust in human beings.
Many of us trust that human science will end our pandemic by vaccinating the population, or we trust that human diplomacy will prevent a third World War from unleashing modern weaponry into the world. And while human beings may have the image of God, and have both the power to create and to do good in the world—we err fundamentally when we place our trust in human beings rather than placing it in God.
Human Beings Will Always Fall Short
In the world of trust, we have two options: trust in God, or trust in man. Yet while man is sometimes trustworthy, he lacks two things that God has. One is moral consistency. The second is unlimited power.
Sometimes humans are good. But they will always stumble—sometimes being unkind, sometimes unjust, sometimes unfair. But even the greatest human being doesn’t have the resources God has to deliver on her good intentions. God can move mountains to accommodate the man who trusts Him. A human protector? He might be able to get you an interview. While human goodness may be something we aspire to, it cannot be what we depend on.
What about when human beings are not good—are evil? No rapid animal, no natural disaster, no raging pandemic compares to the man who has chosen to use his godly power to destroy rather than to build. Animals, nature – these things do no evil. Evil is our human heritage alone.
We are enamored with human beings, with human power. Yet to trust in human beings is to place ourselves at the mercy of a creature with the potential of committing a holocaust.
Trust in God and do not trust in man.
Never Again is a Message for Us
When we say “Never again” about the Holocaust, it would be foolish to imagine that we are preventing a repeat of the human atrocities committed then. Quite the contrary, the Holocaust has solidified what years of human history have already shown us – that human depravity knows no bounds, and that in the struggle to consolidate power and to support self-serving ideologies, human beings may do literally anything. Where humans stumbled once, they can and will stumble again.
Never again must take on a different meaning therefore. If the Holocaust stands as a testament to something in human history, it stands as a testament to man’s moral unreliability. It is meant to—it must—disabuse us of our over-confidence.
Therefore, never again will we expect human rationality, good-will, and righteousness to protect us. Never again will we imagine ourselves safe under human protection instead of God’s.
Never again is a lesson for us, for the Jews.
God is our only safety.
That is the lesson.