Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Talking About God at Buchenwald”

On reading & sharing Richard Beck’s blog post

"Barbed wire at Buchenwald," by Richard Beck (2018) Richard Beck, author and professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University, publishes an excellent blog called Experimental Theology. His June 26th post is “Talking About God at Buchenwald,” writing about time spent last week Germany, during which he took his class to Buchenwald concentration camp.

The short post is worth reading in its entirety.

After touring the grounds and going through the crematorium, where we viewed the ovens used to burn the corpses, I walked the group over to a shady spot, the zoo built for the entertainment of the SS officers. And there I tried to talk about God….

We shared the link to Beck’s post on our Facebook Group page and have received some interesting responses.

Friend Nancy S. wrote:

The idea that there is a human-faced God who feels human emotions and follows the details of our daily lives and then allows Buchenwald to happen are concepts I cannot reconcile.

This is perhaps the question that confounds caring people as well as skeptics: the so-called “problem of evil.”

I asked Nancy for a few days to ponder, and this is what I posted:

Nancy and other Friends, This morning it is clearer to me how to approach—though never to satisfy—the question of a human-faced God “allowing” human-caused horrors such as Buchenwald.

Humans both caused and allowed the Holocaust, as they continue to cause and allow slaughter of humans by humans all over the planet. Germans and French and British and Americans allowed Buchenwald, either but participating in it or by refusing to intervene—or at least to give asylum to the Jewish and other refugees who were fleeing the violence.

Even those of us who are horrified at the willful violence of our race may be part of allowing. We do what we can do…or else we say “What can I do? I’m just one person.” The hard choice is to risk our own safety and comfort to stand non-violently in the way of violence, publicly stepping over to join with conviction in the suffering of our fellows.

Sometimes, when enough people do that with enough conviction (Selma, Montgomery, South Africa, etc.), others who are passively allowing violence come over to our side too. Sometimes enough come over to compel the human governors of the world to intervene—or at least to give asylum.

That does not seem too hopeful, does it?

We humans put a human face on God. Then we blame and barter with that God, having projected onto God the capacity for human action, human courage and compassion, human intervention. We ask, “Why does God allow this?”

“A feather and a stone equally balance,” by barneyboogles (2010) [purchased through CanStockPhoto]
God—whatever the sacred Real is that we label “God”—made us in the Real’s image, not the other way around. The Real is full of compassion and love, as well as mortality and suffering. When we say “God allows” we are pretending not to be the human part of the Real.

It just isn’t that simple. The only way God can work in this world is for humans to use their God-given gifts to intervene.


What canst thou say?

Image Sources

“Barbed wire at Buchenwald,” Richard Beck (6/26/2018).

“A feather and a stone equally balance,” by barneyboogles (2010) [purchased through CanStockPhoto ]

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