Holocaust Remembrance Day: May 4, 2016


On your calendar, you may notice that today, May 4, is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

Hebrew: Day of “Destruction” or “Calamity” Not only is it of inestimable social importance to mark the lives and cultural heritage lost in the holocaust, it is important to remember how narrow interpretations of the New Testament Scripture contributed to the anti-Semitism that has been rife in the church nearly since the beginning (Don’t forget –Jesus was Jewish!) and to correct religious teaching that suggests a supersessionist theology.

As you study the Gospels be particularly aware that Christianity began as a Jewish sect—the intention was never to start a “new” religion: that separation came later. Remember that the disagreement between the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes and Christian-Jews was about how to live, teach, and fulfill God’s covenant with God’s people. Without this context in mind, and the firm assertion that God’s people are trying, for the most part, in good faith to interpret God’s will for blessing, it is  possible to villainize sects of Jews (“Sadducees are Sad U C (sic) or to derogatorily call someone a “Pharisee”) or Jews in general, and villainizing Jews of the first Century and today  is flat out wrong.

Related to this point, and important for Holocaust Remembrance is understanding that the Shoah changed theology (how we think about God) significantly. As you might imagine, one of the central questions of believers during this time was “How could God let such a thing happen?” “Where was God when the Jews (and other minority groups including gypsies, gays and lesbians, dissenters) were being systematically destroyed?”

Post-holocaust theology takes seriously the suffering and covenantal implications of this event in light of these questions, and in order to stamp out anti-Judaism.

One trajectory for Post-holocaust theology emphasizes the theodicy texts (Prophetic and Wisdom) of the Hebrew Scriptures: that God’s people have always sought the answer to these questions termed when “bad things happen to good people.” Job was a righteous man; God is all good; why did Job suffer? The prophets and wisdom writings teach us that God is indeed “all good” but that God created human beings with authentic power and choice –humans choose and act out evil deeds; suffering of innocents happens. The question is less, “Why?” but “What are we going to do about it?” This latter question is always asked (in a Judeo-Christian context) against the faith that God redeems evil –bringing good where God can, healing where God can.

Another trajectory for wrestling with the holocaust goes back to the Exodus and later, the Exile. “Where was God when the people were in the wilderness?”  God was with them in the Shekinah (God’s Spirit). God has always been right at the side of God’s people in exile, with them in suffering. The implication of this teaching for post-holocaust theology is clear: To the question, “Where was God in the holocaust?” The answer is, of course, “Suffering by the side of God’s people; present with those in need –not on the side of the murderers.”[1]

Christians embrace this theology in the doctrine of Jesus as the fully God/fully human decisive and definitive revelation of God’s self. For Christians God was also on the side of the suffering, even knowing suffering in God’s own self through the cross.

May our remembrance be faithful to God, our Jewish brothers and sisters, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.


[1] For a great exposition of the problem of suffering and God, see Rabbi Harold Kushner’s talk “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” You can find it on line –in the local libraries. The book is good too, but the video is better.

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