A Hymn for the Holocaust (and Other Horrendous Evils)

by Kim on January 27, 2006

Children die from drought and earthquake,
children die by hand of man.
What on earth, and what for God’s sake,
can be made of such a plan?
Nothing - no such plan’s been plotted;
nothing - no such plan exists:
if such suffering were allotted,
God would be an atheist.

Into ovens men drive brothers,
into buildings men fly planes;
history’s losers are the mothers,
history’s winners are the Cains.
Asking where was God in Auschwitz,
or among the Taliban:
God himself was on the gibbets -
thus the question: Where was man?

God of love and God of power -
attributes in Christ are squared.
Faith can face the final hour,
doubt and anger can be aired.
Answers aren’t in explanation,
answers come at quite a cost:
only wonder at creation,
and the practice of the cross

(Suggested Tune: Scarlet Ribbons)

Kim Fabricius

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Ben Myers 01.27.06 at 2:53 am

Yes, exactly. Not “Where was God?”, but “Where was man?” — since God, too, has been a victim, broken and ground down under the brutal wheel of human history.

And since he was broken for us and in identification with us, the question “Where was man?” can now (by faith) be answered: “Man, too — man in all his wickedness! — was on the cross.”

2

Ian McKenzie 01.27.06 at 3:39 am

I’m trying to imagine the reactions of the “feel-good” worship music types. Most that I know would refuse to give consideration to these words. If they had to think about them, their heads would explode.

3

Kim 01.27.06 at 6:51 am

Thanks for your favourable comments, Ben and Ian.

I must admit that I forgot to alter one line in this second version of the hymn, which was originally published a couple of years ago. It’s the 2nd line of the 3rd verse: “attributes cannot be squared” (i.e. God’s attributes of power and love from the previous verse).

The classical problem of evil and suffering that theodicists struggle to resolve is, philosophically put:

God is all-loving.
God is all-powerful.
Evil and suffering demonstrably exist - and on a monstrous scale.
Therefore (it would seem) either God can do something about it but won’t - in which case God is not all-loving; or God wants to do something about it but can’t - in which case God is not all powerful.
Gottcha!

As I have learned, the problem cannot be resolved in the terms as put. But why accept the terms as put, as if we know what divine power and divine love are like apart from God’s actual deployment of them in Christ? As Karl Barth observed, potentia absoluta (as understood in late medieval nominalism) - “absolute power” is, in fact, evil. It is the devil’s power, rejected by Jesus in the wilderness. In the crucified God the divine power and the divine love are redefined, such that God is not all-powerful on the one hand and all-loving on the other hand, rather God’s only power is the power of love. So while the divine attributes of power and love cannot be squared in philosophical terms, they can be squared in theological terms - i.e. in the crucified Christ.

Hence in this second version of the hymn the first two lines of verse 3 should now read:

God of love and God of power -
attributes in Christ are squared.

I hope this gloss - and the new line - are helpful.

4

blonde 01.27.06 at 8:46 am

On the morning of holocaust rememberance day, the news is full of the election victory of an organisation whose founding principles include the destruction of the Jewish state - history has a scary way of repeating itself. Can we have forgotten so soon?

5

Ben Myers 01.27.06 at 1:16 pm

And Karl Barth was spot on: “absolute power” is, by definition, demonic power.

6

Richard 01.27.06 at 3:12 pm

Thanks for posting that Kim. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the revised version to the original. The revised version of verse 3 is a more positive statement, but I like the challeging (almost combative) original words. Have you sung it with a congregation?

For those churches for whom “Scarlet Ribbons” would be a challenge, can i suggest “Calon Lan” or “Hyfrydol” as alternatives?

7

dh 01.27.06 at 4:00 pm

Kim, you are still trying to project your understanding of evil and good onto God. God loves us so much that true love IS the choice to accept or reject by man. So you are right where was man? those who perpetrated the Holocost rejected God and it was God’s love that allowed them the opportunity to choose. God is all power but prefers man to not be robots and rather loves all humankind so much as to give them a choice to reject God and do evil or accept God and do good. We do know “all things work together for good to them who are called according to His purpose” Who is to say God didn’t do something about by making it work out for the good? That doesn’t neglect what happened in WWII but Germany, Japan and the like are so much better than otherwise. Not that they are perfect for nobody is, but you get the point. So God was there all along asking people to make the right choice to God and man chose to reject God and not “be there”.

8

dh 01.27.06 at 4:03 pm

God is all powerful by making together for His good and glory. Also, we forget God’s judgement on earth for sin. This also makes it for good in that more people than otherwise would come to Him and for that that is the ultimate love eternal life and the maximization by human freewill within that.

9

Kim 01.27.06 at 4:08 pm

Richard,

Thanks for your thanks.

It’s not the kind of hymn you’re going to sing very often, is it?! We sang it at Bethel on the Sunday after the tsunami disaster; perhaps one other time. It’s a hymn I’d like never to have to sing again (if you take my meaning)!

I hear what you’re saying about the original version, but I think the hymn is thought-provoking enough (Ian’s exploding heads) without people perhaps stopping there and thinking, “Hey, why can’t God’s power and love be squared”, and not focussing on the ending. Besides in such (I hope) challenging hymn the positive statement is needed, perhaps essential. Frankly, if it makes the rounds, I dont care which version people sing - nor which tune they sing it to (re. your suggestions, by all means).

10

Kim 01.27.06 at 4:38 pm

dh,

Your comments illustrate perfectly the problem with all theodicies - i.e. attempts to “justify” God in the face of human suffering by explaining it - they explain it away, they forget it as suffering - viz. your suggestion that while you don’t negelect the Holocaust, nevertheless Germany is now “so much better than otherwise”. So that’s all right then! I find that a repugnant moral calculus.

Indeed, not only do you play fast and loose with the sheer magnitude and horrendousness of evil and suffering, but you are in danger of turning God into a monster.

Theodicies, as I’ve said before, are a mug’s game. Before the unimaginable evil and suffering of a Holocaust we should shut up, repent, and bear witness to the Crucified God who makes our suffering his suffering in silence.

11

Beth 01.27.06 at 4:44 pm

dh - your history is bunk. You say: “That doesn’t neglect what happened in WWII but Germany, Japan and the like are so much better than otherwise” - a logic which demands that we see the Holocaust as part of what made Germany better. If that isn’t what you meant, please be clearer; if it is what you meant, please be cleverer.

12

dh 01.27.06 at 5:10 pm

I never thought that it was the Holocost was part of what made Germany better.
I never forgot it as suffering. It is by Grace that we are even alive. I was just reacting to the point you made that God is not all poweverful or not all loving. The fact is we are finite beings and for us to understand something infinite fully is what causes these ridiculous statements that God is not all powerful or not all loving. The fact is we have a devil seeking whom he may devour, we have people who gave into rejecting God and made choices against God and we have a God who is Soveirgn in all things and desires as many to come to Himself.

To Beth, God’s perfect will is for the Holocost to never happen in the first place. I also never thought that it is part of God’s plan but I was saying God took a horrendous, repugnent thing and prevented it from continuing. If God didn’t do anything the holocost would have continued. Also, if nations didn’t obey God in the midst of the Germans and the Axis’s rebellious choices toward God the Holocost would have continued. Do I fully understand this? no but God’s picture sure is different than our picture and for us to disrespect Him by stating that God isn’t all powerful or all loving is not the response in the face of tragedy that God desires.

13

dh 01.27.06 at 5:18 pm

Kim, I never said that it is all right then. Maybe you and I agree to a point and it is semantics. I only wrote in response to your statement God not being all powerful or all loving. “Before the unimaginable evil and suffering of a Holocaust we should shut up, repent, and bear witness to the Crucified God who makes our suffering his suffering in silence. ” I agree and I also claim God’s promise “all things work together for good.” Do we fully understand the passage? no but by Faith I hold fast to this promise “hold fast to what is good”. I love the phrase “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” That is promise is greater than any tragedy I or any of us may face in our lifetime. I hope this helps and I’m sorry for the misunderstandings perpetrated by myself in these writings. I hope you see the love and care I have in these things. At least I’m trying for many times in history I see God answering prayer and that goes with the ending of WWII. For me the blessings nations have had after WWII makes me humble in light of the tradegies during WWII. That is what I meant to say.

14

Ben Myers 01.27.06 at 11:41 pm

Hi dh. I see where you’re coming from. If you’re interested in reading something on theodicy (written by one of the major theodicy-philosophers), you should check out Marilyn McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God. Adams thinks that theodicy is possible, but she also takes seriously the reality of “horrendous evils” in the world, i.e., evils that can never be explained and that can never contribute to any higher good.

15

Beth 01.28.06 at 6:10 pm

Kim - thought you might like to know that my College chapel will be singing your hymn tomorrow evening. I hope that’s okay…

16

Kim 01.28.06 at 6:22 pm

More than okay!
I am sure that at least one part of the service will go well - your prayers! Send my greetings to the folk at Somerville, and tell them I retain fond memories of preaching there last summer.

Best wishes,
Kim

17

Beth 01.30.06 at 12:25 am

Sang it to Blaenwern - which would have been fine, if the organist could have been persuaded to play it at any kind of decent tempo. But still, it was well-received, and I saw more than one person look up confusedly, as though to say “am I really singing these words in a hymn”? - so, you shook up the Anglicans, you little non-conformist, you!

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