To encounter the Holocaust is to encounter evil. Its malice is breathtaking; its horror unfathomable.
It is not easy to look into this mirror of our human nature, but we must. We must.
When we do, and when we dare to linger at the Holocaust's unflinching image of our nature, we encounter a profound mystery. We see the devils we can be.
At the same time, in the same mirror, and through the clarifying lens of tears, we also see that startling beauty, dignity and love finds a way to grow, even thrive, in the center of unspeakable suffering, in the midst of murderous malice, in the face of sadistic glee.
Where was God? It is the beauty that we find, even in the Holocaust, that answers this question.
God was in the center of that evil, as he always is. Instead of preventing evil, he reveals his beauty in the face of its monstrosity, his dignity in the presence of its demeaning mockery, his undefeated love in the center of its ultimate hate.
Instead of preventing evil, he has chosen to use it against its will. He has chosen it to instruct us.
When we flinch in horror at the monsters we can be, we see something about ourselves that he wants us to see.
When we weep for the horror that innocents endured, we see another part ourselves. We see the beauty of what he created us to be.
Taken together, these two realities reveal his purpose for permitting evil.
It is all about the power he has given us to choose.
Instead of preventing evil, God has chosen to allow its existence, if only for a time.
Accordingly, while not the author of evil, he is responsible for its existence.
Accordingly, he also pays the price for its existence, redeeming both himself and us.
This is scandalous.
And yet it is his means for bringing joy from sorrow, gain from loss, life from death.
If we want these things, that is. Or, more accurately, if we want him. If we want him in spite of injustice, in spite of suffering, in spite of death.
And so again, it is all about the power he has given us to chose.
In the words of Israel’s greatest military strategist, everything comes down to this. According to General Joshua,
If it seems bad to you to worship Adonai, then choose for yourselves today whom you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers worshipped that were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.
But as for me and my household, we will worship Adonai.