In the past, speaking about the then-very-popular Jordan Peterson, I said:
“One highly significant aspect of Peterson’s program is that the goal of the morality he speaks of is oriented towards earthly survival – not just of individual, or perhaps, even one’s group, but ultimately encompassing humanity more broadly. In sum, everything about our morality – absolutely everything – must come to be seen through this controlling lens.
Some might be thinking: “Isn’t this what Christianity is all about though? Being good to gain God’s favor in this world, surviving vs. ones’ enemies, and to be able to survive His final judgment?” Actually, no. In fact, this is a total perversion of Christianity, which ultimately works in the world for one’s neighbor’s sake from a place of peace with God. In Him, we have survived our sin, our first and second deaths, and the oppression of the demonic, and hence have nothing to fear — even in a fallen world racked by suffering.”
While I am not the biggest fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was certainly right to say: “Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.” And yet, at the same time, I also wrote an article I titled as provocatively as I could: “How Darwin Helps Us See the Truth: Life is About Helping Our Neighbor Survive”… and you can check that piece out to see what approach I was taking there.
Well, matters of survival were on my mind again the other morning as I reflected on Piotr J. Malysz’s recent Lutheran Forum article (Fall 2019) entitled: “On Death, Dying, and Dying Well”.
In my view, here is one of the most moving parts of his article, where he speaks about the actions of the “renowned Polish-Jewish educator and children’s fiction author Janusz Korczak” during World War II:
“At the wars outbreak, Korczak was an orphanage director in Warsaw. When the orphanage was forced to relocate into the ghetto, Korczak had the entry door permanently locked and all the downstairs windows bricked up. Moreover, as deportations to gas chambers were turning from rumor to reality, Korczak (in [Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt] Bauman’s words) ‘reputedly opposed the idea of closing the orphanage and sending children out to seek individually a chance of escape which some might (just might) find. He might have reckoned that the chance was not worth taking: once out of their shelter, the children would learn fear, abasement and hatred. They would lose the most precious of values—their dignity. On several occasions, we should add, the Polish resistance offered Korczak sanctuary outside of the ghetto’s walls, but he repeatedly refused to abandon the 200-or-so children in his charge. Eventually, in early August 1942, the German soldiers came to collect the orphans and the orphanage’s personnel. Korczak led the children to the deportation square, the children dressed in their best clothes, each carrying a satchel and a favorite book or toy. Here Korczak is reputed, again, to have refused to leave the children when an SS officer in charge of the Treblinka transports—and it turned out, Korczak’s admirer—offered him an escape. He would stay with the children to the end (8).
There is evidently a 1990 Polish movie about this man and this incident, which ended up being quite controversial and not very popular. As I read this article though, I also thought of the seemingly more well-known film Of Gods and Men.
Clearly, I think that Janusz Korczak was a very caring and brave man and is worthy of our deepest respect and admiration. And yet, when I think of his goodness vis a vis our Lord’s, I remember that we are not told that anyone, on earth or heaven, offered Him a way out…
Truly, his Enemy’s forces were wholly unmoved by true love and still are so unmoved, determined to stop at nothing but the obliteration of the Prince of Peace and His people.
And here is where I must confess that I would have respected this man even more had he been able to do something even greater. For example, what if he had also had the foresight, wherewithal, and connections to evacuate all of the children from Poland and get them to an even safer space? Or—even better—what if he had secretly worked with the opposing military to somehow enable a heroic rescue mission—and in the process completely incapacitated those who sought to do harm to the children? (perhaps with also sparing the one who offered Korczak escape, like Rahab the prostitute did to the Israeli spies!).
I guess in order to pull something like that off you need to be God or something.
And so the article, along with my previous articles about death and survival, really prompts further reflection.
We should know that to cry out to God for our own sakes – that we might spiritually survive – is something that would have been unthinkable in Paradise.
All, after all, was meant to be so much more! As I put it in a recent sermon:
In the beginning, God provided for everything that our first parents needed. They were told that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, and this would have also included the mysterious Tree of Life…
This was Paradise! Set to live forever with God in the very good creation that He had made, they lacked nothing. Without suffering, pain, and thorns, they really did “have it all”.
No true enjoyment or satisfaction would have been denied them, for all their desires were in line with all that God had made.
Everything was fit to purpose, “in the groove,” and it would have been, to say the least, a glorious time of feasting, fellowship, naming and playing with the animals, dancing, singing and shouting, loving and baby-making, all in sheer innocence, pure pleasure, and great joy.
When we hear the Apostle Paul say of heaven that “no eye has seen and no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him,” it is no stretch to say that we should also think something similar about Eden as well!
In Eden, surviving—either in the presence of our neighbors or in the presence of God—would have never been a reason to depend on God! To look to Him for help! To grasp Him and cling to Him! To run to His arms that He might carry us!
“Survival” would not have been our concern at all. We would not have needed to call upon Him for salvation…
Nevertheless, we are in the shadow of Genesis 3.
So, the fear of the Lord…
- the recognition that we cannot survive His wrath…
- that death is ours’ and our loved ones’ ultimate desert…
- that it may be the last enemy to be destroyed but it’s also our wage…
- that we only live when we begin to hate our lives…
…is the beginning of knowledge…
The world, as Malysz puts it “struggles with life for the sake of life…” We, on the other hand, cry out to Him for our life and the lives of those we love – that we may survive and immortally BE – and BE GLORIFIED – with Him..
This calling out to Him for this then…
- though it is not sum and substance of the Christian life
- though it would have not been “good” were it not for the fall
- though it was not originally intended from the beginning
…is, of course, no sin, but the very will of God.
Note: I changed a sentence above to clarify what I wanted to say in the post.