Friday, January 29, 2016

World History Without HIS Story

It is estimated that approximately 93 percent of Europe’s Jewish children younger than age 16 were exterminated in the Holocaust orchestrated by Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.  Approximately 1.5 million children of age 12 or younger were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.  Most Americans either cannot fathom the Jewish Holocaust or simply regard it as one more tragic historical event.  However, astute Americans have taken note that Holocaust history may be repeating itself, this time in the form of radical Islamic extremists who are waging genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, executing thousands and driving tens of thousands from their homes.   Could this be a case in which failure to learn a lesson from history dooms us to watch history being repeated?

John Koenigsberg, Jewish Holocaust survivor
According to a newspaper report in the Newark (Ohio) Advocate, John Koenigsberg considers himself one of the lucky Jewish boys who avoided death in the Jewish Holocaust during WW II.  John was graciously taken in by a loving Catholic family, the Snijckers, who provided him shelter from the Nazis during the war by welcoming him to their southern Holland home.  After the war, John was able to reunite with his mother, father, and aunt.  But 90 percent of his family had died in concentration camps.  He and his parents lived in Holland until his sophomore year of high school when they immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Cincinnati.  His business career led him to Central Ohio in 1972.

Now, as he nears 80, Mr. Koenigsberg lives in the Columbus, Ohio area and he has devoted his life to what he considers an important cause in addition to being a successful businessman.  He has made dozens of presentations to citizen groups over the years to remind the younger generations of the horrors of the Holocaust so that it will serve as a lesson from history not to be repeated.

In May, 2015, Abby and I were invited by her sister, Mary, to attend one of John Koenigsberg’s presentations.  This one was held in the New Philadelphia, Ohio Library. 

Mr. Koenigsberg began his presentation with a statement of his testimony and purpose. “I am very fortunate to be here,” he said. “I believe the lessons of the Holocaust must not be diminished to just a footnote in history.”

Koenigsberg proceeded to deliver a very stirring and interesting presentation of his experience of being spared the unspeakable horror of falling into the hands of the Nazis.  His passion for telling his story, complete with visual aids and Holocaust memorabilia, made it seem as though it had just happened.  The account also provided a striking contrast between unspeakable evil on the one hand, and the overflowing love and generosity that provided John with a safe and loving haven in the Snijckers’ home.

During the Q and A session at the end of the presentation, I thanked Mr. Koenigsberg for his commitment to teach the realities of the Holocaust.  I also allowed that it must have been a very difficult experience for this gracious Holocaust survivor to reconcile the trauma of this chapter of his life with his maturing outlook in the post-war years.  Then, I asked if he had come to an explanation for how humankind is at once capable of such atrocities and yet, such kindness?"  Mr. Koenigsberg paused and looked at me as if he were slowly gathering his thoughts.  Then, he said, “I wish I knew.”

My reaction to Mr. Koenigsberg’s inability to answer my question was one of disappointment but not surprise.  He had not mentioned God or religious faith specifically in his presentation, although the evidence of God’s providence was written all over the story, particularly in the unselfish risk his protectors took to conceal him.  Furthermore, I had to allow for the possibility that he had simply chosen not emphasize God and religion.  Yet, it seems clear to me that unless Mr. Koenigsberg presents at least some explanation of the origin of good and evil that spawns many bloody chapters in human history, his presentation will have missed its mark.

Several days later, I was able to communicate again with John Koenigsberg by phone.  Perhaps in a more private conversation he would answer my question about the existence of good and evil in humanity.  I greeted him, thanked him again for his presentation, and then repeated my question.  His answer was the same.  I thanked him for taking my call and we said, “Good-bye.” A few days later, I wrote a lengthy e-mail to Mr. Koenigsberg explaining as best I could my understanding of the origin of good and evil in mankind, but did not receive a reply.

During the months that followed, I mentally replayed the experience of Mr. Koenigsberg’s Holocaust presentation and his inability to account for the good and bad in human beings.  I debated whether it would be appropriate to publicly share my encounter with Mr. Koenigsberg.  After all, who was I to question this man who had lived through such a horrendous chapter of world history?  How would I have processed this experience myself?  Would I have had the same passion to share my story with the aim of making a difference in the lives of others? 

An entrance to the crematoria at Auschwitz, Germany
Regardless of Mr. Koenigsberg’s reasons for not offering an explanation for the evil represented in the Holocaust, I do not want to be critical of this dear man or minimize the significance of his experience and his passionate attempt to retell the history of the Holocaust.  However, I now believe it is appropriate to present a valid basis for why such horrors occur and recur throughout human history.   In fact, I hope readers will see this article as contributing at least a bit to Koenigsberg’s cause.

Two worldviews vie for human acceptance and each offers a lens through which to view the world.  Each of us holds to one or the other of these two worldviews that determines our understanding of reality and the human condition.  One of these worldviews denies that reality exists outside of the realm of matter-energy and random chance events.  In this naturalistic worldview, there is no supernatural reality and no God; nor is there any purpose or any objective foundation upon which to base law and justice.

The other worldview allows that reality includes not only the realm of energy-matter and time but also the existence of a Supreme Being, a personal God Who created and sustains the realm of energy-matter.  This God has revealed and continues to reveal knowable Truth through divine revelation and through the “natural” order and operation of His creation. 

Throughout history, all human cultures have demonstrated an ability to honor God and give thanks (Romans 1: 20-21) or at least to acknowledge the existence of some “higher being” or beings in their definition of reality.  The Judeo-Christian Scriptures of the Bible, regarded as divinely inspired revelation, teach that God specially and uniquely created the first man and woman in His image with “personality” and the ability to worship, exercise rational thought and behavior, and do meaningful work as part of the dominion-stewardship mandate (Genesis 1: 26-28; 2: 15). 

But the first man and woman rebelled (sinned) against God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3). Instead, they chose to believe that God had withheld knowledge and better things from them.  So, they ate the forbidden fruit in pursuit of the better things, being the first humans to worship at the altar of human reason.  But their sin separated them from God. “Professing to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1: 22).” The rest of the account in Romans 1 explains how the seeds from the fruit of human rebellion by fallen mankind and their descendents have sprouted and produced a harvest of more fruit that permeates our culture today:

being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful… (Rom. 1: 29-31).

Francis Schaeffer in his “The Abolition of Truth and Morality” (From: A Christian Manifesto, 1980, Crossway Books) explains the inevitability of different outcomes (“fruit”) of these two different worldviews, the Judeo-Christian worldview and the impersonal, matter-energy, random chance worldview (emphasis mine):

It is not that these two world views are different only in how they understand the nature of reality and existence. They also inevitably produce totally different results. The operative word here is inevitably. It is not just that they happen to bring forth different results, but it is absolutely inevitable that they will bring forth different results.

Schaeffer points out that Christians have tended to view the implications of their faith in pieces rather than realizing that “Christianity is Truth—Truth about all of reality.”  God’s Truth should transform individual lives but also impact the moral and ethical standards in every area of culture—science, education, the arts, government, etc.  Christians and others who have not developed a comprehensive worldview will not connect the dots among a host of social upheavals like the sexual revolution, the undermining of biblical marriage, the breakdown of the family, and the disregard for law and order.  All of these and more are inevitable results of the disregard for the Truth claims of Christianity by both the church and the secular world.   And, these social changes have contributed to an even larger “holocaust” than the Jewish Holocaust; namely, the “abortion holocaust” that is responsible for nearly 60 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, in 1973. 

Returning to Mr. Koenigsberg, we can now see that he is not unique in his apparent inability to connect the pieces.  Like so many, he apparently mistakenly views the Jewish Holocaust as a separate piece and not one of many consequences of the evil that can result from rejection of Judeo-Christian Truth claims in favor of a worldview of material-energy and chance.  But how exactly does this emergence of evil occur?

As Schaeffer predicted, there is an ensuing inevitability that follows rejection of the Christian worldview in favor of the material-energy and chance worldview which lacks any objective basis for ethical and moral guidelines.  Humans are devalued and relegated to the level of animal populations in competition according to the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest.  Without objective truth, survival belongs to those who weld enough power to survive.  For example, Darwinian evolution provided the basis for Nazi Germany’s eugenics experiment involving the Holocaust to deliberately exterminate Jews and favor the Aryan race.  Likewise, without respect for moral values such as the sanctity of human life, the rights of the mother over her unborn child are used to justify abortion.   Legal definition of marriage, religious freedom, right to bear arms, and many more legal protections are all under assault because the U.S. Constitution is no longer viewed in objective terms.  After all, a worldview that rejects the ultimate reality, God, does not recognize “inalienable rights” that come from above.

Holocaust survivor prays at 71st Anniversary of liberation.
This week, dozens of Holocaust survivors lit candles commemorating the 71st anniversary of the closing of the death camps at Auschwitz.  Certainly, news reports of this commemoration as well as the presentations by survivors like John Koenigsberg ought to remind us of this horrible chapter in human history.  Yet, if you consider my logic in the previous paragraph, doesn’t it seem that the lessons of history are being lost on many in America and the Western World today?  Again, I believe Francis Schaeffer offers the answers to how then we as Christians ought to think and live today. 

First, we must recognize that God’s Truth is powerful and comprehensive enough to address all of reality.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ can not only transform our individual lives in Christ, but also they empower the outworking of our servant stewardship as Christian ambassadors to transform culture.  Second, Schaeffer reminds us, as it were, to present [ourselves] approved unto God as a workman who [do] not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2: 15).  In so doing, we can see the current culture through a robust Christian worldview and accurately assess the causes and effects of when Scriptural truth is or is not represented in the marketplace of ideas.  

Third, Schaeffer challenges Americans to realize how unique our democratic republic is in all of world history.  The United States, Canada, and a few other nations of the West are unique in having achieved a form-freedom balance in government—that is, a balance that acknowledges the obligations of the individual to society while also protecting the rights of the individual.  It is this form-freedom balance that characterizes our constitutional system of government that enables America to withstand mass demonstrations, even recent, violent ones such as that in Ferguson and in Baltimore, provided our law enforcement and judicial system function as intended.  Without this form-freedom balance, American governance would wobble back and forth between anarchy and tyranny like an airplane without a stabilizing gyroscope.  

John Witherspoon (seated 2nd from right, facing table)
among signers of the Declaration of Independence (1776)
What we must recognize, according to Schaeffer, is that America’s democratic republic came about by an historical progression heavily influenced by men who stood in the stream of the Judeo-Christian worldview.  These included British judge Henry de Bracton (1210-1268), Scottish Presbyterian pastor Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), Presbyterian minister and president of what is now Princeton University, John Witherspoon (1723-1794).  In 1644, Rutherford’s Lex Rex gave the bold assertion that “law is king” which stood against the tide of history marked by rex lex (“king is law”).   Lex Rex opened the door wider to what became our constitutional heritage of “rule of law.”  In our system of government, “the king” was transformed into “the president” who is supposed to serve America as an executive, who like any citizen is subject to the law. 

Yet, the form-freedom balance also respects the rights of each individual living under the law.  Each possesses “certain inalienable rights”—rights from above, not rights that the state can take away, but rights granted because the constitutional framers believed there is Someone there—the God Who is full of justice and mercy.  British judge Henry de Bracton, centuries before America’s founding pointed out that God has ultimate power to crush wrongdoers, but the true mercy of God chose this most powerful way to destroy the devil’s work, He would not use the power of force but the reason of justice.”  Schaeffer explains, “…Christ died that justice, rooted in what God is, would be the solution.”  Henry de Bracton’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture was influential in the Reformation three centuries later.

Jewish children and mothers walking to the gas chambers.
Is it possible to feel the heat from the pit of Hell amid the darkened world of the Jewish Holocaust and yet not be able to account for how that evil originates and causes men to do what they do?   The answer is “yes.”  And apparently there are multitudes today including John Koenigsberg in that camp.  Indeed, today, thanks to the materialist, time-chance worldview and its liberal, humanist following, we are led to believe that truth is relative, laws should be enforced subjectively, the U.S. Constitution should evolve, and there is no such thing as “evil.” 

History without HIStory of perfect creation, fall of mankind, and Christ’s death to redeem fallen man is leaving our culture helpless and adrift.  Adrift without  moral clarity in the face of the evil and lawlessness being manifested in events like the “Christian Holocaust” in the Middle East today, mass murder in San Bernardino,  and riots in Ferguson and Baltimore.  The old saying, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” should better be stated, “Those who fail to study history that includes HIStory are doomed to repeat it.”

We thank John Koenigsberg and others for standing against those who would deny the Jewish Holocaust and even dismiss “evil.”  Today, more than ever, we need to be reminded of past atrocities under Lenin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.  And, let’s also pray for those who are enduring hardship today for their faith living under totalitarian governments like Iran, Syria, and the ISIS Caliphate.  Finally, we ought also to pray  for the multitudes around the world in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4: 4). 

Dedication and special thanks to my sister-in-law, Mary Johnson, Dennison, Ohio.

Your Comments Welcomed:  And I’d like to hear your thoughts particularly on one or more of the following:
1.   In his A Christian Manifesto, written 36 years ago, Schaeffer noted, “The humanists push for ‘freedom,’ but having no Christian consensus to contain it, that ‘freedom’ leads to chaos or to slavery under the state (or under an elite).”  What indications if any do you see that Schaeffer’s scenario is becoming reality once again America?
2.  According to A Christian Manifesto, a culture must have a Judeo-Christian worldview in order to successfully establish a form-freedom balance of government so rare in world history.  Is there support for this claim in the difficulty the United States has had in establishing democracy in Iraq from the top down?
3.  Does the message of this article, and particularly, the message of A Christian Manifesto, serve to warn those who, in the name of compassion, would support the alteration or bending of U.S. constitutional law so as to aid the oppressed—e.g. illegal immigrants, unwed pregnant women, those who cannot earn an income above poverty level, or those who “are offended” when they encounter Christian truth claims or symbols?


Mike Naylor said...

Thanks for this post, John. It had an interesting turn that I didn't see coming. Sadly, Jews (and any other people who reject the Messiah) are truly without hope.
Your reflections on Schaeffer remind me of a John Adams quote. The founding fathers obviously recognized that our government only works if you have the morality to undergird it.

While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is [sic] practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence , this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
-John Adams

John Silvius said...

Thanks, Mike, for reading the article and for your valuable quote from John Adams. Isn't it amazing to read the words (often warnings) of the Founders who had such usual insight about the morality of the electorate that would be either supportive of the Constitution or destructive of the government for which was conceived? Adams' last sentence is really powerful. I wonder if his challenge, clear as it ought to be to Christians, can be a warning to those whose hearts are "veiled" and whom "the god of this world has blinded the that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4)." I know we share a common burden in this regard, and thankfully, we know the answer, thanks to the Apostle Paul who said "we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, Who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." Thanks for the value you place on the authority and power of Scripture, and your example in living out 1 Peter 3:15.