GoodWithout_God from Twitter asks: Do you think your [G]od ignored & rejected the prayers of the people these actors from the movie "God on Trial"portray? Giving to me a link to a specific scene from the movie where one of the actors launches into a series of questions that explore God's actions from the escape from Egypt to the present day of WWII which is the timeframe when this movie’s storyline supposedly took place.
Doing a quick bit of research into the movie, “God on Trial” you will discover that the storyline was inspired by the ‘legend’ that a group of concentration camp prisoners conducted a mock trial against the Almighty God. (1) A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale authenticity. Legend, for its active and passive participants includes no happenings that are outside the realm of "possibility", defined by a highly flexible set of parameters, which may include miracles that are perceived as actually having happened, within the specific tradition of indoctrination where the legend arises, and within which it may be transformed over time, in order to keep it fresh and vital, and realistic.(2) So from the start, GoodWithout_God’s question is faulted as with the storyline being merely legend, the actors are only portraying people described in a fable which are not and were not ever real.
My reply to GoodWithout_God was that the movie is merely a legend and from (Deuteronomy 6:16) that "You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, … " I also stated that only prayers of true faith in God are answered by God.
With the truth about the movie now known and my quick reply back, let’s get to the next question GoodWithout_God asks: “So all of the 5 million+ Jews and Christians (polish political prisoners for example) that were killed during the holocaust, their prayers were ignored because they weren't faithful enough?
What we don’t Know
We do not know what the prayers of each of the ~6 million (3) Jews and Christians (polish political prisoners for example) were but we do know why the ~6 million Jews and Christians (polish political prisoners for example) were murdered. They were murdered because Adolf Hitler rejected God and instead placed his beliefs into his own opinions as morals. Laws do not come from nowhere. They must come from lawmakers or lawgivers. If there is no God, laws must come from humans; that is, they must be derived from the best and worst proposals of humankind. To embrace atheism is to embrace a world without any transcendent Lawgiver. Thus Adolf Hitler took it upon himself with his rejection of God to embrace his own law and to enforce it upon everyone inferior to him through his belief in his own opinions. If Adolf Hitler had not rejected God he would have followed what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 22:34-40 yet Adolf Hitler did reject God and thus directly did the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 22:34-40.
Unlike the movie “God on Trial” which is merely a legend, we do know the thoughts and prayers of Elie Wiesel, a real Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. Jewish people already accept Elie Wiesel as perhaps the most well-known and respected voice of the Shoah. Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 to a religious family in the village of Sighet, Transylvania. He received a traditional Talmudic education, studying with the Chasidic rabbis in the village. In 1944, the Nazis deported all of Sighet’s Jewish inhabitants to various concentration camps. Wiesel’s mother, father, younger sister, and other relatives were murdered. His two other sisters survived. (4)
Wiesel’s experience during the Holocaust
Describing his life during the Holocaust in Night (5); Wiesel described a hanging that he witnessed when he was only 16 years old:
[The head of the camp] had a young boy under him…a child with a refined and beautiful face….
One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place….SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains—and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel….
All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips….
The three victims mounted together onto the chairs.
The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses….
“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.
Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting….
We were weeping….
Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive….
For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony before our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “Where is God now?”
And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.”(6)
The immediate impact of these events on Elie Wiesel at the young age of 16 years was an emotional atheism. Wiesel believed at that very point that his God died. Many Jews believe that evil won out and that God died in the Holocaust which settles the quandary for them, but it didn’t settle it for Wiesel. His bitter experiences during those horrific years of the Holocaust didn’t deprive him of belief in God once-and-for-all… but it did make him seriously question his belief in God.
After the Holocaust Wiesel’s Further Reflection
Wiesel adjusted some of his perspectives on the Holocaust as time pasted and told about his shift in perspective in his more reflective writings and discussions about the Holocaust. Wiesel affirmed in a 1967 journal article (7) that any genuine protest against God—such as those of Abraham (Gen 18), Moses and Aaron (Exod 5, 32; Num. 16), Job (Job 13, etc.), David (Psalms 10, 13, etc.), Jeremiah (Jer. 12; Lam. 3, etc.), and Habakkuk (Hab. 1)—must come from within the covenant context, not from without. Specifically, he stated, “The Jew…may rise against God, provided that he [the Jew] remains within God.”
Wiesel in 1974 testified to his own ongoing struggle with God when he declared, “To be a Jew is to have all the reasons in the world not to have faith…in God, but to go on telling the tale…and [having your] own silent…quarrels with God.” (8) Here Wiesel emotionally refuses to embrace the painful reality of the God of his own Jewish tradition; as does Jacob in the past, the rational Wiesel grapples with God as a living Being, seeking blessing for himself and his people.
In Wiesel’s book “The Trial of God” (1977), he depicts a trial in which a man accuses God of "hostility, cruelty and indifference." (9) Wiesel expressed the following in a TV interview in 1979 (10): “For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But to simply ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference to God, no. You can be a Jew with God; you can be a Jew against God; but not without God.”
Why Maintain Faith in God?
Wiesel, throughout his life, refused to completely abandon his belief in God as caretaker of His people, while at the same time he questioned God’s seemingly indifference to Jewish suffering. Why would Wiesel (or anyone for that matter) withstand all of this existential tension? What would drive someone like Wiesel to maintain his theism (faith in God) when religious atheism seems to be more viable especially after all he had gone through and had seen during the Holocaust? It is likely that Wiesel ultimately refused to abandon God altogether because he was able to envision the logical consequences of his Holocaust-induced religious atheism.
Wiesel realized that laws do not come from nowhere. They must come from lawmakers or lawgivers. If there is no God, laws must come from humans; that is, they must be derived from the best and worst proposals of humankind. To embrace atheism is to embrace a world without any transcendent Lawgiver. Hitler (although not a proclaimed atheist) we know rejected what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 22:34-40 thus rejecting God and therefore directly did the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 22:34-40. In his rejecting God and God’s commandments for us to follow in Matthew 22:34-40, Hitler derived his own set of commandments in which to govern and control people.
Without a transcendent moral Lawgiver there can be no transcendent moral laws, and the people who govern or control therefore will be the elite who are in power, either the consenting majority or the empowered minority or individual (e.g., Hitler and the Nazis). As Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881) observed in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, if there is no transcendent rule or reign of law, that is, “if there is no God, all things are permissible.” Therefore indeed, a world without a transcendent Lawgiver (as it was demonstrated in Germany during the Holocaust under Hitler’s rule) is a world that is devoid of any true meaning, purpose, and value thus subject to being ruled by opinions of someone who could become in power like Adolf Hitler.
In such a Holocaust kingdom (as was Germany under Hitler), it makes perfectly good sense to destroy the undesirable (e.g., the Jewish, the Gypsies, the political dissidents, the homosexuals, etc.) before they destroy the desirable (i.e., the Aryans). Auschwitz (and other death camps) was the logical outcome of such a humanistic, relativistic worldview. (11) Without the moral restraint of a transcendent set of laws from a transcendent moral Lawgiver, anarchy inevitably will result (Rom. 1:18–32; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). With Hitler rejecting God and not following Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 22:34-40, Hitler created his own laws based from his opinions on what he wanted he and his followers to do which he had carried out.
The “higher” laws of The Hague and Geneva Conventions ironically, were used in the Nuremberg and other International War Tribunals, that served to convict and punish the Nazis for crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. (12) These two modern war conventions were born out of the Middle Ages and grounded in biblical worldviews that were committed to a transcendent moral or natural law, to which all men were accountable. (13) “There was a strong Christian influence that led to international gatherings such as the Hague Conferences….From these meetings came decisions that limited the nature of war, protected the rights of prisoners of war, affirmed the need to care for the sick and the wounded, promised protection of private property and guaranteed the rights of neutrals.” (14) This transcendent moral law is nothing less than the universal law of God “written on human hearts” (Romans 2:14–16; cf. Acts 17:22–31). (15)
Wiesel appears to understand that it is important to remain committed to the divine Judge and Lawgiver, as Abraham did when he proclaimed, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25). Perhaps Wiesel believes this because he knows the serious consequences of atheism, the second of which follows.
Like laws, morals and ethics do not come from nowhere; they come from moral and ethical determiners. Any set of morals that is not transcendently based, that is, determined from outside the human frame of reference, of necessity must be determined from within the human context. This means that any moral or ethical system derived from such a godless world must be relative to its very core. We, accordingly, could not talk about “morals” (i.e., prescriptive norms: what people ought to do), but only about “mores” (descriptive norms: what people actually do).
Philosopher Norman Geisler states this dilemma as follows: “How would you know that the Holocaust is ultimately wrong [or evil] unless you knew what was ultimately right? If you don’t have an absolute standard for right, you can’t say that [the Holocaust] is absolutely wrong. That’s just your opinion, and somebody else’s opinion could be, the Holocaust was the best thing in the history of mankind.”(16) Geisler and Turek make this same point in relationship to Hitler’s actions and the Nuremberg War Tribunal:
When the Nazi War criminals were brought to trial in Nuremberg, they were convicted of violating the Moral Law (which is manifested in international law)—the law that all people inherently understand. If there was no such international morality that transcended the laws of the secular German government, then the Allies would have had no grounds to condemn the Nazis….without God to provide an objective standard of right and wrong, people set the rules. And if people set the rules, there is no objective moral standard by which to evaluate Hitler’s actions against those of, say, Mother Teresa. (17)
To those who say that everything is relative and that there are no moral absolutes, Geisler counters, “You can’t make everything relative unless you’re standing on the pinnacle of your own absolute.” (18)
If God is removed from any system in which all moral values derive from Him, then His removal inevitably must result in anarchy (Romans 1:18–32). Even Jewish death-of-God theologian Richard Rubenstein is forced to grant this point: “Murdering God…is an assertion of the will to total moral and religious license.”(19)
Historian Paul Johnson points out that the relativistic morality of the Nazis grew out of the existential philosophical notion of obeying the “iron laws” that were created by the state (20) instead of the absolute moral laws that were taught in the churches: “Hitler…appealed to the moralistic nature of many Germans…[who desired to live ‘morally’ but did not possess any] code of moral absolutes rooted in Christian faith.…Marx and Lenin translated [this philosophy] into a class concept; Hitler into a race one. Just as the Soviet cadres were taught to justify the most revolting crimes in the name of a moralistic class warfare, so [were] the [German] SS…in the name of race.”(20)
Johnson also observes, in a frontal way, that if we cut “the umbilical cord [from] God, our source of ethical vitality would be gone.…we humans are all Jekyll and Hyde creatures, and the monster within each of us is always striving to take over.”(21) In other words, morality without God is Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”!
In states of relativism, it does not matter who the moral ethicist is or what his or her particular view is. (22) All of these systems leave one in the moral abyss determined by those in power at the time. Whether it is Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and his relative utilitarianism (i.e., one should act so as to produce the greatest good for the greatest number in the end), or Joseph Fletcher (1905–1991) and his relative situationism (i.e., everything is relative to the situation and the only thing required in any moment is love), or any other approach leaving the divine perspective out of the formula, we are left in the hands of those who have enough power to determine for us what is the moral truth at any given moment.
Because of their rejection of God, Hitler and the Nazis, as well as most of the rest of Germany’s population, certainly were convinced that their solution to “the Jewish question” was the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run (i.e., Bentham) and that they were carrying out the most loving acts of ethnic cleansing in that particular situation (i.e., Joseph Fletcher).
GoodWithout_God asks: “So all of the 5 million+ Jews and Christians (polish political prisoners for example) that were killed during the holocaust, their prayers were ignored because they weren't faithful enough?”
Prayer not motivated by love is “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2). In The Passion for Souls , John Henry Jowett said, “The gospel of a broken heart demands the ministry of bleeding hearts.” Again, “As soon as we cease to bleed we cease to bless. When our sympathy loses its pang we can no longer be the servants of the passion.” Without love, prayer is empty; without prayer, love is unfulfilled. (23)
Does God Answer Prayer?
For sound reasons in accord with His holy, loving, and wise purposes God cannot grant every request as asked. Several hindrances to answered prayer are mentioned in Scripture: iniquity in the heart ( Ps 66:18 ), refusal to hear God’s law ( Prov 28:9 ), an estranged heart ( Isa 29:13 ), sinful separation from God ( Isa 59:2 ), waywardness ( Jer 14:10-12 ), offering unworthy sacrifices ( Mal 1:7-9 ), praying to be seen of men ( Matt 6:5 , 6 ), pride in fasting and tithing ( Luke 18:11-14 ), lack of faith ( Heb 11:6 ), doubting, or double-mindedness ( James 1:6 , 7 ), asking wrongly to spend it on selfish passions ( James 4:3 ), and inconsideration of husband or wife ( 1 Pet 3:7 ). (23)
Affirmatively, God has promised to answer requests when His children, having ceased speaking wickedness and accusing others start pouring themselves out for the hungry and afflicted ( Isa 58:9 , 10 ) and believe that they will receive what they ask ( Mark 11:22-24 ), forgive others ( Mark 11:25 , 26 ), ask in Christ’s name ( John 14:13 , 14 ), abide in Christ and His words ( John 15:7 ), pray in the Spirit ( Eph 6:18 ), obey the Lord’s commandments ( 1 John 3:22 ) and ask according to His will ( 5:14 , 15 ). Until a believer has properly responded to God he cannot properly make request of God. (23)
Although to their own knowledge some have met the conditions of answered prayer they ought never seek to compel God to act in a certain way. Surely Jesus met every condition of answered prayer, but in Gethsemane He concluded, “not as I will, but as thou wilt” ( Matt 26:36-44 ). If any Christian was qualified to pray expecting his request to be answered, it was Paul. But God did not remove his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul’s greatest desire was answered, although his request was not. He was given the grace to live with his “thorn…in the flesh” and minister effectively ( 2 Cor 12:7-9 ). When the unworthy Israelites insisted upon their way, finally God gave what they asked, but also “sent a wasting disease among them” ( Ps 106:15 ). Prayer ought never to be turned into magical compulsion, but must always remain request to a wiser, personal God. (23)
No, not all of the approximately six million Jews, Christians, (polish political prisoners, etc.) killed during the holocaust who prayed to God prayers were ignored. Only those who didn’t have faith in God had their prayers ignored. Those who had trust (even the slightest bit of trust) in God had their prayers answered by God. The answers to our prayers are not always what we want the answer to be especially if our prayer is against the will of God. For those who prayed to God, in God’s will to be done, their prayer was answered. For example; Wiesel stated in an interview; “My ambition really was, even as a child, to be a writer, a commentator, and a teacher…” to which he is and has been. God answered Wiesel’s prayer.
Thank you for the questions GoodWithout_God, God bless you.
- Elie Wiesel, Night, trans. Stella Rodway (New York: Avon Books, 1960), 44, 74–76.
- Elie Wiesel, quoted in Emil Fackenheim, Richard H. Popkin, George Steiner, and Elie Wiesel, “Jewish Values in the Post-Holocaust Future: A Symposium,” Judaism 16 (Summer 1967): 298–99.
- Elie Wiesel, “Talking and Writing and Keeping Silent,” in The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, ed. Franklin H. Littell and Hubert G. Locke (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1974), 277.
- Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Fifty Key Jewish Thinkers. New York: Routledge, 1997, 128.
- Elie Wiesel, quoted in Alice L. Eckardt, “Rebel against God,” Face to Face 6 (Spring 1979): 18.
- Moral philosophers explain that every evil power in history has employed two sets of tactics to perpetuate the moral wrongs that they have instigated. In Nazi Germany, there was one to condition the soldiers that the Jews really deserved to be exterminated (to force them to view the Jews as evil and as vermin), and another to condition the non-Jewish population that the Jews required deportation (to force them to suppress all questions about the fate of the Jews). See J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 156; and What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2003), 192–97.
- For the use of these conventions in the post-World War II tribunals and “The Crystallization of the Principles of International Criminal Law,” see Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972 ed., s.v. “War Crimes Trials.” See also Gideon Hausner, Justice in Jerusalem (New York: Holocaust Library, 1966); Adalbert Rückerl, The Investigation of Nazi Crimes, 1945–1978: A Documentation, trans. Derek Rutter (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1980); and Bradley F. Smith, Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg (New York: New American Library, 1977).
- For background on these conventions, see Percy Bordwell, The Law of War between Belligerents: A History and Commentary (Chicago: Callaghan and Co., 1908).
- Robert G. Clouse, ed., War: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 23. See also Bordwell, 28–49.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 17–39 (this section originally published as The Case for Christianity in 1942); C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001, originally published in 1944); and J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart.
- Carey Kinsolving, “For Christian Apologist, God Speaks in the Voice of Reason,” The Washington Post, July 3, 1993, Metro Section, B7. See also Norman L. Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1978).
- Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality, 20, 63–64. See also Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 176.
- Carey Kinsolving, “For Christian Apologist, God Speaks in the Voice of Reason,” The Washington Post, July 3, 1993, Metro Section, B7.
- Richard L. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1966), 151–53.
- Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 296.
- Paul Johnson, The Quotable Paul Johnson: A Compilation of His Wit, Wisdom and Satire, ed. George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and Heather Richardson Higgins (New York: The Noonday Press, 1994), 20.
- For an overview of approaches to ethics, see Norman L. Geisler, Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981).
- The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible
- www.equip.org/articles/holocaust-apologetics – this article greatly inspired and contributed much of the information found in this answer.
Elie Wiesel Interview