September 1, 2019 / Leave a Comment
This morning, September 1, 2019, marks exactly the eightieth anniversary since the start of World War II. On this date in 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland starting one of the most apocalyptic losses of human life in history. The death toll is estimated between 70 and 85 million souls that perished in the conflict—one driven by greed, ideology, and above all, human sin.
Our Naive Hopes Denied
Our cliche hopes that WWII would be “the war to end all wars” have been denied. It is, of course, naive for us to think that the event would. As the writer of Ecclesiastes observes, one generation comes, and another goes—rare is the generation that learns from the previous. (Ecc. 1:4)
But we are naive for a far more fundamental reason—human nature. Whatever you believe about the Bible and the world in general, what cannot be denied is the persistent tendency of humankind toward evil. We often bracket ourselves out of this while noticing everyone else’s evil. We marvel at the atrocities of the Third Reich, 20th-century Communism, and 21st-century terrorism, all the while failing to sense the abiding impulse in ourselves. Whether you call this human nature, total depravity, or just original sin, it all points to the fact that mankind, is not so good after all.
Waging War on Ourselves
Theologian Langdon Gilkey found himself trapped in China when the Japanese invaded. He was forced with many ex-pats to weather the war years there in the Shantung Compound. As a young intellectual and educator, he entered the compound with a rather positive view of human nature. By the end of the war, he was convinced of the Bible’s assessment of mankind as deeply sinful and in need of redemption. Gilkey contends that the hardest part of those years was not they’re Japanese captors, but in fact, the selfish things committed by themselves all as co-prisoners.
The historian Paul N. Hehn coined the phrase “A Low, Dishonest Decade” for the title of his book exploring the economic undercurrents beneath the start of WWII. This war undoubtedly showcased human depravity like no other event in history. But it was not the source of it. Something far deeper is operative and it lives in the human heart.
If a biblical author like the Apostle John had sat down to write a book on the causes of the Second World War, I think he would have named it “A Low, Dishonest Age.” Not to take anything away from Hehn’s compelling book. But an apostolic writer like John would be taking a far more panoramic picture of humankind. For a biblical writer, the issue would not be, why did this or that even happen? The question would fall far more on the lines of, why do these events happen at all, and why, no matter how horrible, do they keep on happening again, and again, and again?
The word “age” in the New Testament (ionos) means more than a time-period but refers more to a generation. Nor is this like the “X Generation” or “Millenials,” but an expansive epoch of history. For the New Testament writers, we do live in a low and dishonest age, and they did too. It is an age of crime, evil, injustice, and villainy. The Hitlers, Nazis and all other scourges of the world are not the cause of evil, but a symptom of what simmers int the heart of all humanity. Moreover, it is a doomed age. The apostles Paul says this:
1Cor. 2:6 “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.”
As Christians, we look for the Age to come. The Gospel promises a day when all the books will be opened, and every idle word spoken by every person will be judged. (Matt. 12:36)
A God of Judgement?
Maybe you find this offensive—the whole God of judgment thing. If so it is simply that you have not fully considered the consequences of a God who does not judge evil. God’s love and judgment are inseparable. You may not like to think of God as a judge, but are you really ok with a world where there is no reckoning? Are you ok with Hitler and his regime never truly answering for the deaths of 70–85 million souls? Are his systematic murder of over six million Jews and countless other souls sufficiently retributed in his cowardly suicide at the last minute? Does that satisfy you?
Does the loss of nearly 85 million people become a mere purposeless hiccup in a cold mechanical universe where man is a mere accident with no higher destiny beyond this life?
The Gospel promises an age to come where there will be a King and a Kingdom. It will not be a low and dishonest age, but an age of justice. It will be a kingdom without end; justice will reign, and God will wipe away every tear. The apostle John paints a beautiful picture of the world he has for those who love him.
Rev. 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
It will be a world set right, with no Nazis, no war, no grief, and no loss. There will be a war to end all wars, but that is yet to come. Until then we pray for mercy and grace.