Vienna has two zoos. One is located at Schonnbrön, the former palaces of Austria’s emperors. The other happens to be located in a flak tower built by the Nazi’s during WWII. When the war ended, the government could not figure out what to do with the towers (there were 6 built throughout the city of Vienna). They could not demolish the towers through explosives, because it would damage the surrounding houses. Neither could they tear them down slowly, since it would take way too long and would be way too expensive.
So the towers were abandoned and left to sit as monstrous concrete reminders of an all-too-painful past. Except one.
This past weekend, I had the fortune of visiting the Haus des Meeres Zoo and Aquarium, located in the reclaimed flak tower. Nine floors of various sea creatures, birds, monkeys, and reptiles fill the once terrible tower. No matter how many bizarre creatures I saw in the zoo, I could not escape the eerie feeling that I was walking around a building whose previous owners had been the Nazis.
And yet, somehow I could escape the feeling. I happened to visit on a Saturday, the one day where all the children in Vienna and their moms showed up at the zoo. Every floor contained kids running around, gasping in awe at the same bizarre creatures I was seeing. Laughter filled the various levels, and children froze in fear more at the sight of a spider or crocodile than they did at the dark past of the tower. The symbolism was not lost on me. What a beautiful picture of humanity reclaiming part of its past!
As I left the zoo, I thought of the other five flak towers standing in disuse, monuments to the past. How could a building representing such an evil regime now be a such a fun place? Was I actually allowed to have fun in that building? Another question surfaced in my head, a question that has been THE question of 2017 for me. Even though one flak tower was reclaimed, five more still stand as reminders of the capacity of humanity toward evil. What do we make of those towers? How could a good and all-loving God let such evil happen in the first place, such evil like the Shoah (Holocaust)?
Every Christian needs to take this question seriously, because people everywhere, whether Christian or non-Christian are struggling with the same question. I have found there are no pat answers to such a question. Be wary of anyone who tells you they have the problem of evil figured out.
Now, knowing I just told you to be wary of anyone who has the problem of evil figured out, let me cautiously offer you an “answer/response” of sorts. I have found this answer to be emotionally and intellectually satisfying, at least satisfying for now, as it relates to my personal struggle with the question.
People often get frustrated at God because to them, he is a God who lets evil happen without apparent reason. They say, “God, how could you let this happen to me? How could you let my parents die? How could you let that bombing happen? How could you let 6 million of your chosen people be brutally exterminated?” They say, in essence, “God, how could you stand idly by while this terrible thing happened to me or to these people?”
There is a play that captures the heart of these questions as people attempt to understand how the Shoah happened. I heard about the play on a podcast and unfortunately I can no longer remember the title or author, but I do remember the general notion of the play.
In the aftermath of WWII, people are looking to find who caused such an atrocity as the Shoah and they start with the janitor-like-figure in a chain of command. The janitor claims he was just doing what he was told and that the people needed to talk to his boss. Well, the janitor’s boss uses the same excuse, and up and up it goes along the chain of command until the people begin to realize who is at the top. God. They conclude, then, that God must be put to death.
The Christian message, however, claims something radical in relation to the accusations of the people. The Christian message claims that God himself stepped down, far ahead of humanity’s cries for the death of God. He came into this world full of evil, death, pain, and suffering, and experienced one of the most unjust trials any individual could experience and died a filthy and undeserved death, mistreated, misunderstood, and totally abandoned by all people. The Christian God does not sit on the sideline while humanity wades through grief and evil. If God truly created all things, both good and evil, then he is also a God who has himself experienced the consequences of good and evil, and that gives me a deeper sense of peace about evil, knowing that my God knows the pain and anguish of evil and the feeling of utter abandonment.
I hope that helps. I know it has certainly helped me.
Sometimes I feel very frustrated in this struggle, attempting to understand how a good God could let evil happen in this world. Many of you who are reading this may know what I mean. There is a sense of constant internal strife as I flip flop back in forth, attempting to find out why evil things happen. Truthfully speaking, I do not know if the full answer about the problem of evil will ever be found, but I do know this: I am a good person of God if I struggle with these things, if I struggle with God himself. Let me finish by explaining what I mean.
The father of the nation of Israel was formerly named Jacob, until he wrestled with God one night, clinging to God, saying, “I will not let go until you bless me.” I feel that way too often, it seems, in my Christian walk. But God chose to call his people the Israelites. The literal translation for God’s chosen people? “Those who struggle with God.” I am being a good Israelite when I struggle with God and his mysterious character. There is hope as you struggle to understand why God would let such evil happen in his world. Do not feel as if you are a lesser person for not knowing the answer, or for not liking what God has done. Remember: God’s chosen people are those who struggle with him.
So continue on in your struggle, knowing that ultimately, it’s not about me or you. It’s about the God who can bless us. Cling and say with me, “I will not let go until you bless me.” God, it’s about you and your blessing. I want that, and I hope you, dear reader, want that as well.
As always, let me know your thoughts! Or even if you just actually read it all the way through! I’d love some e-mail pen pals while I’m abroad!
Here’s the full picture of the Zoo: