May 25, 2008
Explaining Hagee's 'Hitler' comments
The right hand to the leader of Christians United for Israel talks about theodicy with an Israeli reporter
You probably heard last week that John McCain wants nothing to do with the Rev. John Hagee, the indomitable supporter of Israel who really wants the Jews to get home so Christ will return. The impetus was recent revelations of this sermon, in which Hagee explains that Hitler and his band of evil murderers were God's chosen "hunters," divine agents whose atrocities were sanctioned for the greater good of driving European Jews to Palestine.
Well, I haven't heard much from Hagee, but Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz traded e-mails with his No. 2, David Brog, which was published as a five-question interview. The most interesting bit ledes it:
1. The first question is an obvious one. Can you explain this quote in a way that will resonate with the readers:
"Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says - Jeremiah writing ? 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."
The theological exercise in which Pastor Hagee was engaged is so common that they have a fancy name for it: theodicy. This is the struggle to explain how a loving God could permit evil in the world. Religious thinkers have been debating this most difficult of questions for centuries and, of course, no one has come up with an answer that "resonates" with everyone. We just need to agree to disagree.
Pastor Hagee's view that an omnipotent God must sanction the evil in our world actually has deep roots in Jewish thought. To cite just one example, the Talmud teaches us that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of "sinat hinam," or baseless hatred. In other words, our own Talmud teaches that God used the Romans to perpetrate the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people (until the Holocaust) because of Jewish sins.
We are certainly free to disagree with both the Talmud and Pastor Hagee on why God permits such atrocities. But I don't think it's fair to single out Pastor Hagee and act as if his approach is so unusual, unique, or foreign. Those who are shocked by Pastor Hagee's theodicy demonstrate only that they are unfamiliar with centuries of Judeo-Christian theodicy.
Brog makes a nice reference to the Talmud, which no doubt scored some points with the folks keeping track at home. But how 'bout his explanation? I wish I could argue for, or against, it. Here's my problem: Theodicy is a black hole of theological clarity. Scholars and religious leaders have been trying to understand it for millennia, no doubt sparking thousands of hours-long conversations that ended without resolution (not the least of which were broached during my college Bible studies). Again, let's return to that story I mentioned after the earthquake in China:
"If there was a God, how come he let all that happen?" Tom Cotton, 51, of Pinion Hills asked while finishing a burger at a Carl's Jr. in San Bernardino.
"If it's his plan," Cotton said, scanning the restaurant as if he was going to curse, "he's sure got a messed-up plan."
God only knows what that plan might be.
"If God is wiser than we, His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil,' C.S. Lewis, the Christian philosopher and children's author, wrote in "The Problem of Pain.' "What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His Eyes, and what seems to us to be evil may not be evil."
So ... Does God sanction evil, as Brog argues? This appears to be the model from the Book of Job. Or is evil simply the result of man's sin, its consequences out of God's hands? If this is the case, which I heard many friends argue after the 9/11 terror attacks, than it would seem we have reduced God to a smelter, a far-from omnipotent being left to extract the best from the whole.
Anyone want to proffer a theory?
This article was cross-posted at The (new and improved) God Blog.