August 3, 2019

Cliff's Edge--The Madness of the Unpaid Gas Bills

It was March 1938, the Anschluss; 99.75 percent of Austrians voted to have their country annexed into Nazi Germany. Despite the obviously rigged election (99.75 percent?), hordes of ecstatic Austrians lined the streets to greet their new führer, Adolph Hitler, when he toured the land of his nativity.

Not all were cheering, though. Just prior to the Anschluss, a wave of suicides engulfed Austria. In one week 1,700 people killed themselves. So many people were doing the same that to report on their deaths became regarded as subversion. However, the day after annexation the Neue Freie Presse ran the following obituaries: “On March 12, in the morning, Alma Biro, civil servant, age 40, slit her wrists with a razor and turned on the gas. At the same moment, the writer Karl Schlesinger, age 49, shot himself in the head. A housewife, Helene Kuhner, age 69, also committed suicide. That afternoon, Leopold Bien, civil servant, 36, leapt from a window. We are unaware of his motives for this act.”

Then Nazi racial laws started. Austria’s Jews were banned from restaurants; they were kicked out of many professions; Jewish children were expelled from schools. Jews were banned from parks, swimming pools, movie theatres. They were forbidden to own “Aryan pets,” from buying tobacco, and from purchasing lottery tickets. The list went on and on, all codified in law. In other words, this madness was legal.

Then they faced a new restriction: the natural gas pumped into their homes in Vienna had been turned off. Another mad Nazi law? No, this was madder. So many of the city’s Jews were gassing themselves to death that the gas company cut off the supply to them all. Was the company concerned about Jewish suicides? Of course not. It was concerned about the unpaid bills.

How does one make sense of this madness? Or any of the incessant and unrelenting madness of a world suffused with evil, suffering, sin, and death that never stop but with each new generation continue with the particular madness of that new generation?

Or maybe that’s the wrong question, because how can we make sense of madness when madness, by definition, isn’t sensible. It’s like asking Where is the justice in injustice, the sense in nonsense, the righteousness in unrighteousness? Part of what makes evil “evil” is that no logical and rational explanation exists for it.

Be glad, too. You want good logical reasons for the death of 22,000 or so Japanese in the 2011 tsunami? You want a logical and rational explanation for the loss of Ogata Yoshiko, Sagawa Saburou, Hisashi Sasaki, and Sato Itirou, just four of the thousands killed in the calamity? What, meanwhile, was the divine, even transcendent, logic that led Alma Biro, Karl Schlesinger, Helen Kuhner, and Leopold Bien to kill themselves on March 12, 1938—a logic that once “the hidden things of darkness” (1 Cor. 4:5, KJV) are revealed will make perfect sense to us?

A young father of three recently died of brain cancer. It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s not just. But what? I want it to be just, to be fair, to be right? What, possibly, could be just, fair, and right about a painful disease that put him in the grave at 34, then left his wife a widow with three children? What will we learn in the Millennium, or in heaven, or in the new earth that would make us look back and say, Wow, Jesus, letting that young father suffer and die and leave his bereaved family was just, right, and fair after all? Or, Yes, Jesus, now that we see the whole picture, those sudden deaths of 22,000 Japanese, including Ogata Yoshiko, Sagawa Saburou, Hisashi Sasaki, and Sato Itirou was just, fair, and right after all, too? Thank you, Lord!

I myself would go mad trying to make sense of this madness, so I gave up trying. I no longer ask, “What’s the sense of [fill in the blank]?” because no sense to [fill in the blank] exists. And when, at “the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony” (to quote Ivan Karamazov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov), I don’t expect any of this evil, suffering, and death to be revealed as anything but unjustified, irrational, unfair, and wrong.

Instead, at “the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony,” I will be shown the love of a God who, through Jesus Christ, has suffered more intensely than any of us from the unfair, unjust, and unrighteous madness of a world where sin, evil, and death seem hard-wired into every atom. What could be madder, more insane, more unfair, more unjust, and more unrighteous than the Creator coming to this earth, revealing the love of the Father, only to be nailed to a cross? And yet, amid that madness, unfairness, unjustness, and unrighteousness, God’s love has been revealed in ways that will eternally astonish the universe.

“The cross of Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity,” wrote Ellen White. “In Christ glorified they will behold Christ crucified. Never will it be forgotten that He whose power created and upheld the unnumbered worlds through the vast realms of space, the Beloved of God, the Majesty of heaven, He whom cherub and shining seraph delighted to adore—humbled Himself to uplift fallen man; that He bore the guilt and shame of sin, and the hiding of His Father’s face, till the woes of a lost world broke His heart and crushed out His life on Calvary’s cross. That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and adoration of the universe.”

From Abel’s murder, to Vienna Jews’ unpaid gas bills, and everything else, Christ on the cross—while never justifying these evils (because they are unjustifiable), and never making them good (because they are bad)—will, nevertheless, so reveal the goodness of God that despite all the madness of it all, “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12), and that knowledge will, yes, be enough.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.