THE WHY AND HOW
CHAPTER 4 - WHY PREACH THE GOSPEL?
A LESSON FROM THE HOLOCAUST
DOES SUFFERING, WITHOUT TRUTH, LEAD TO REPENTANCE?
This chapter summarizes WHY the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning still need to be preached to the public BEFORE the tribulation and the work of the two witnesses described in Revelation chapter 11. Part of the answer comes from lessons that can be learned from the Holocaust, the death and suffering of millions of Jews before and during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. The Holocaust can serve as a model of what the tribulation will be like. There are lessons in the history of how the Jews reacted to the Holocaust that indicate reasons why the gospel and the warning still need to be preached, reasons many Church of God members may not have considered before.
In the course of recent years, in conversation with church members, I have heard some people say that the work of preaching the gospel and a warning message may be over, and that even though most people in the United States and the world have not heard the message, a large enough sample of people have heard it so that God knows that the nations will not repent. In this view, it is not necessary or important that we reach everybody before the tribulation occurs. Many feel that the Church should only concentrate on feeding the flock and getting the bride ready.
I have thought about this issue. I have heard it taught in the Church for years that the great tribulation that is to come upon Israel is correction in love from God to bring Israel to repentance. Israel will repent in the tribulation and become humble and teachable so that Christ and the saints can work with the Israelites in the millennium and they can be converted and become a model nation that will serve as an example of God's way of life for all other nations to follow.
The tribulation prepares Israel for the return of Christ. It is commonly thought, at least I have thought this, that intense trial and suffering brings one closer to God. This is illustrated by the saying, "There is no atheist in a foxhole". But is this true? Will the intense suffering of the tribulation cause Americans, Britons, Jews, and other Israelites to repent, to seek God, to be more humble, to be more teachable?
I began to think. What effect would the tribulation have on our peoples if they don't hear the true gospel and the warning? Would suffering alone bring about a repentant attitude? Would people know they are being punished for their sins? Would they know what they need to repent of? What effect would the tribulation, without the true gospel, have on the average American's attitude toward God? And what would be their mental condition and attitude by the time Christ returns? Would they be teachable and humble towards God? Or would they be resentful and bitter?
Does national calamity and suffering alone, without a true message about the meaning of that suffering, produce or encourage a condition of repentance?
In thinking about these things, I thought about the death and suffering experienced by the Jews and others in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The Holocaust is probably the closest recent historical event that can picture for us what the tribulation might be like. The Bible describes the tribulation as the greatest time of trouble ever, so the Holocaust can hardly be worse. We may be able to learn something about how the human mind reacts to this kind of suffering. Does it tend to produce a repentant, humble, teachable mind?
How did the Jews react mentally to the suffering they endured? They, like the majority of Americans today, never heard any prophetic warning message that gave them an explanation of what they were about to go through. Did suffering by itself, without a message of repentance, produce a humble, teachable, repentant attitude in the Jews that went through the camps and came out alive? Were they closer to God afterwards, more willing to obey and be corrected? Or were they embittered, confused, and cynical?
Hundreds of books have been written about the Holocaust. I thought it would be worthwhile to read some of them and research how the concentration camp experience affected the Jews mentally, and in particular, how it affected their attitude towards God. If in fact the Holocaust did not draw the Jews closer to God or cause them to become humble, teachable, and repentant because they did not associate the experience with a just and fair punishment from God, then this demonstrates the importance of preaching the gospel as a witness and giving the warning of the great tribulation to come. It would show that we need to tell our peoples what they are doing wrong that they need to repent of and that there is a punishment coming from God if they don't repent. It would show that they need to know the purpose of the tribulation before it begins so they can understand it when they go through it.
I am not implying that what happened to the Jews was a punishment for their sins. I am only using them as an example of how the human mind reacts to this type of calamity without explanation as to its purpose and meaning.
What I found in this study was that, rather than producing a humble, repentant, teachable attitude on the part of most survivors, the suffering of the Holocaust often produced confusion, questioning of God's goodness, anger, bitter resentment towards God, suicide both during and after the Holocaust, and a variety of mental problems. It generally did not cause the Jews to repent, but caused many to actually lose faith in God. Why? Because they didnít think they were doing anything seriously wrong. They didnít see it as a punishment. They thought God was unfair to allow it.
This chapter summarizes what I found in the books I read about the Holocaust and how it affected those who went through it.
This chapter also tries to answer the question, why must the gospel be preached as a witness to all nations before the end comes. Jesus said that it would. What is the purpose of it in these last days? Is it only to make new members of the Church? Is the only purpose of the gospel at this time to feed and nourish those God has called? Or, is the purpose of preaching the gospel to all nations, "as a witness", to make them more guilty before God so that God will have more reason to punish them? Or could there be another reason?
What I am suggesting in this chapter is that suffering, without instruction, will not bring repentance, humility, or draw a person closer to the true God. I am also suggesting that an important reason for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world is that they will need to hear this message to prepare them for the tribulation so they will understand its purpose and what they need to do to repent and will have hope for the future. If Israel does not hear our message, the suffering of the tribulation, by itself, will not make them repentant and teachable and will not prepare them to be converted in the millennium.
I also suggest that it is important for Israel to hear the warning message and the true gospel before the tribulation begins so they have time to repent and escape and so that they will know that God was fair to warn them while there was still time to do something about it. This will make it easier for those who go through the tribulation to accept responsibility for their actions and the consequences without blaming God.
The Effect of the Holocaust
The effect of the Holocaust on the minds and attitudes of the people who went through it varied, just as the personality types, attitudes, and backgrounds vary among any population. Before the Holocaust, some Jews in Europe were very religious and had faith in God, and some were atheists. Many who went through the Holocaust lost their faith in God in the concentration camps because they could not believe in a God who would allow such a thing to happen to so many innocent people. In some cases, faith grew stronger. There were a variety of reactions, but one thing that is missing is any general sense that the Jews were being punished for their sins and needed to repent. That doesn't mean no one reacted that way, but it seems to have been rare. What was very common however was the reaction that God can't exist or was unjust in abandoning the Jews to their fate. People knew they weren't morally perfect. But they couldn't believe that they were guilty of anything that warranted such extreme punishment. They couldn't understand how God could allow little children to be tortured and murdered. I have read an account of the Jews watching as small children were thrown alive into the flames of the furnaces that cremated the bodies because it was easier and quicker than sending them first to the gas chambers to be killed.
Holocaust survivors came out of the camps with a variety of mental problems. Many committed suicide in the camps. Many committed suicide years later after release, even after establishing outwardly successful lives, even to this time.
What follows are some accounts of people that have gone through the Holocaust and some lessons we can learn about how the experience affected or failed to affect the victims' faith, repentance, morality, and attitude towards God. As you read these accounts, ask yourself if these quotes describe a people that would be good material for Godís model nation at the beginning of the millennium.
1. The Holocaust generally did not draw people as a whole closer to God.
"I entered the prisons and the concentration camps as an agnostic and, on April 15, 1945, freed by the British in Bergen-Belsen, I left the Inferno as an agnostic. At no time could I discover within me the possibility for belief, not even when I lay bound in solitary confinement, knowing that my file was stamped 'Troop Demoralization,' and for that reason constantly expecting to be hauled off for execution." (1)
"These lessons seem to be confirmed by studying the religious attitudes of holocaust survivors. They are unwilling to judge God, and, hence, they accept various theodicies available through the tradition. They also believe that actions are more important than faith, and so they continue to be active in Jewish causes and even to be religiously observant. However, they never fully recover their belief; they serve God, but not in love." (24)
"Studies seem to show that the percentage of Jews who believed in God upon entering the camps was quite similar to the percentage of believers who survived the Shoah [holocaust]. But we are told also that many individuals were changed. Some nonbelievers gained faith; some believers lost theirs. Perhaps a third category should be established: those who came to despise God, acknowledging his existence in a negative way." (25)
"In this camp there are some very devout Jews who pray all day long, which does not prevent some among them from contracting typhus and disappearing in short order. Some will survive and will thank God for having saved them. And I see with my own eyes that religion has no importance, that the only things that count are the desire to survive and perhaps luck. Among the people I see survive there are some who pray and others who curse God. I tell myself that God has nothing to do with what goes on in Bergen-Belsen. I tell myself that he does not exist. And if he exists, if he allows what is being done to us at Bergen-Belsen, then I don't want to have anything to do with him. I don't want to hear any mention of his name. Never, during the whole of my life, shall I give two hoots about religion. I shall not even be against it; I shall simply not care about it. Nothing said to me on the subject will cause me to change my mind." (53)
2. Those who suffered in the Holocaust usually did not interpret their suffering as punishment from a just God for their sins. There were exceptions, but even those who believed the Holocaust was punishment usually believed that God may be punishing the Jewish race for something, but they didn't feel they personally had done anything that merited punishment. However, I noted that occasionally someone believed they were personally being punished, but that was rare.
"I had another teacher who taught me to sing....He taught me a song U'mipnai Chata'enu, it is because of our sins that we had been exiled. I sang it then. I sing it now, and I resent it. No, it is not because of our sins. There were no sins, not that many. I refuse to believe that there could have been so many sins to provoke such a punishment. If there was such a punishment, it is because someone else had sinned, not we, not the people of Israel." [Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, in a radio address 4/8/73] (16)
"Not for a single moment shall we entertain the idea that what happened to European Jewry was divine punishment for any sins committed by them. It was injustice absolute. It was injustice countenanced by God." (22)
"But if God who was, is, and will ever be, is it possible that at Auschwitz he rejected Israel, he turned away from Israel as a punishment for its sins? To believe this would be a desecration of the Divine Name. No matter what the sins of European Jewry might have been, they were human failings. If the holocaust was a punishment, it was a thousandfold inhuman." (23)
"During the interviews, the most frequently used word by survivors was 'innocent.' Why did I have to suffer? Why did they have to die? These questions superseded particular circumstances which engulfed individual survivors during the Holocaust. There was no solace to be found in rationalizing one's fate as punishment for a crime or sin committed." (32)
"In their assessment of the victims, Holocaust survivors repeatedly invoke the adjective 'innocent.' So many innocent people. The innocent children. Wasn't God supposed to protect the innocent and strike down the guilty?" (40)
"While survivors have been repelled by any offered causality between the transgressions of the Jewish people and the Holocaust as a manifestation of the wrath of God, some rabbis, many of them Chasidic, have proposed such a link....The umipenei hata'einu ('because of our sins we were punished') premise has been the prophetic to explaining calamities befalling the Jews for thousands of years. Did God use the Nazis as He used Assyria of old, as 'the rod of his anger' (Isaiah 10:5)? The Piazesner Rebbe, whose son, daughter-in-law, and mother were killed in a German bombing of Warsaw, attributed their deaths to his own sins." (41)
3. The Holocaust did not cause people to repent and did not improve people's morality, ethical conduct, or way of thinking.
"It goes without saying, I believe, that in Auschwitz we did not become better, more human, more humane, and more mature ethically. You do not observe dehumanized man committing his deeds and misdeeds without having all of your notions of inherent human dignity placed in doubt. We emerged from the camp stripped, robbed, emptied out, disoriented -- and it was a long time before we were able to learn the ordinary language of freedom." (2)
"Ella Lingens-Reiner, an Austrian prisoner, reports in her recollections of Auschwitz that she met another Jewish doctor there, Ena Weiss, who defined her philosophy of life this way: 'How do I keep alive in Auschwitz? My principle is -- myself first, second, and third. Then nothing. Then myself again -- and then all the others' " (3)
"Terrible as the food was, prisoners would go to any length to get it, including stealing it from their comrades." (4)
"Pregnancy could prove fatal. Some women were in the early stages of pregnancy when they arrived. Some managed to become pregnant in the camps despite the segregation of the sexes. They were in danger because as soon as a child was safely delivered, baby and mother were sent straight to the gas chambers. So, in order to save the mothers, inmate doctors killed their babies and told the Germans the infants had been born dead. 'We pinched and closed the little tike's nostrils and when it opened its mouth to breathe, we gave it a dose of a lethal product,' wrote Lengyel. 'And so, the Germans succeeded in making murderers of even us.' " (5)
"Lengyel wrote about a Roman Catholic nun who was forced to stand, nude, while SS guards stomped on her rosary beads and performed obscene dances while wearing her habit. The nun kept her faith through all manner of torture and abuse." (9)
"Many women traded sexual favors for food or clothing. It was the only way they could stay alive." (10)
"Hate was perhaps a stronger emotion than love in the death camps. As they watched their families and friends murdered, many prisoners used hatred for the Germans to fuel the spark of life that burned within them." (11)
"Life in the camps was a day-to-day battle for survival, and the normal rules of right or wrong did not apply....Sometimes the only way to stay alive was at the expense of other prisoners. In Auschwitz, the head of a Kommando killed his own brother when he fell and was unable to get up rather than let the Germans think he was soft. Some prisoners became informers for the Germans in hopes of getting a little extra food, but this was risky: If they were discovered, they were hanged in the middle of the night by their fellow prisoners and, when morning came, would be considered just another suicide." (12)
"Stealing was literally a way of life in the death camps. People simply could not live on the food they were given. They had to steal food or steal goods to trade for food in order to live. Stealing, whether from the Germans or one another, was called 'organizing' in Auschwitz slang." (13)
"The death camp system made thieves of everyone....'Women who had been mothers of honest families, who formerly would not have taken a hairpin, became utterly hardened thieves and never suffered the slightest feeling of remorse,' wrote Lengyel. 'Perhaps the Germans wanted to infect us with their own Nazi morals. In most cases, they succeeded.' " (14)
"The full range of emotions -- hate, love, anger, courage, lust, envy -- was present in the death camps. Emotions seemed to be magnified, however, by the pressure under which the prisoners lived. Generally, people behaved as they had before, only more so. The religious person's faith grew stronger. The person who tended to bully others became brutal." (15)
"It [the German concentration camp] was a world unto itself, a state within a state, a society without law. Men were flung into it to fight for their naked lives, for mere survival. They fought with all the virtues and vices at their command -- and usually there was more vice than virtue. Was the SS alone the enemy? Far from it. Inmate fought fellow inmate with the same tenacity, if not even more bitterly! Traditional behavior patterns were utterly disrupted, moral values strained to the bursting point. The human tragedy ran its full gamut. The despair of those compelled to recognize to what extent certain SS practices were emulated in the ranks of the victims, was only deepened after liberation, when they saw a credulous world invest injustice and brutality with an aura of heroism." (17)
"Homosexual practices were actually very widespread in the camps." (18)
"Every prisoner was dependent on his fellow prisoners, utterly at their mercy. The predominant impulses that governed their lives were selfishness and common sense, sharpened by many feelings of aversion. There were, however, outstanding examples of solidarity to the death, of the unfaltering assumption of responsibility for the whole group down to the last....But such demonstrations of the ultimate spirit of fellowship were isolated acts, sacrifices made in the face of inescapable death. When the fight was not to the death but for daily survival, the opposite applied. Everyone who has been through a concentration camp knows the saying: 'The prisoner's worst enemy is the prisoner!' It is not that his was literally true, but that the constant and direct impact of unrestrained selfishness made it appear so." (19)
"In one car [railroad car shipping Jews to concentration camps] there were horrifying cases of mass insanity in which the prisoners killed each other with excessive brutality." (30)
"Incidents of cannibalism were not unheard of." (31)
"We were only interested in survival. I don't remember in camp thinking about moral issues, or any other issues for that matter." (33)
"I have to give the Germans credit for turning a normal person into a kind of monster I am. They put us through such terror....terror doesn't even describe it...that after a few days in Auschwitz, there were no tears. That sensitive child became a monster...The Germans removed any of that tenderness." (34)
"And many survivors are bitter. 'If you could lick my heart, it would poison you,' Itzhak Zuckerman, a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, has remarked. 'I am bitter,' Hershel Kaplan, the seventy-nine-year-old sole surviving member of his family from Vilna, confessed." (35)
"Ida Koch, who from fourteen to sixteen years of age was incarcerated for various periods of time in Auschwitz, Dachau, and Maldorf, told me, 'I became one hundred....The first thing they teach you is how to lie and how to cheat and how to steal. But I was young....I was able to catch on to everything very quickly.' " (37)
"To tell the truth I was not much of a Jew in Europe. More than this, I'm ashamed to admit I wasn't a very nice person either. During the time I spent in the camps I was even worse. I behaved like an animal, but I also must point out that is why I was able to survive." (46) (56)
"One after the other we lose our reflexes as social beings, and before long we lose our elementary human dignity, with its educated, its civilized aspect. Aggressiveness reigns. The beast takes over. In Bergen-Belsen, the human dimensions waste away....I learn to defy prohibitions. I learn not to tell the truth. I learn to hide and not get caught. In Bergen-Belsen, all social rules are at an end. I learn that the one thing that counts is survival, survival and nothing else. Thefts occur every day, and every day there are fights -- terrible, violent, bestial. It's the cave man who has wakened in each of us; it's the law of the strongest and of the most cunning that we have to obey. The weak, whether they be weak with themselves or towards others, stand no chance." (54)
"You learn to be pretty callous towards the suffering of others." (55)
4. Many who had faith in God before the Holocaust lost their faith in the concentration camps. They either came to believe that God did not exist, or they no longer believed God was good.
"Those of us who were not there [in the concentration camps] must, before anything else, heed the responses of those who were, for theirs alone are the authentic ones. Many who were there lost their faith....there were others, too, in the thousands, in the tens of thousands, who were there and did not lose their faith....The disbelief was not intellectual but faith crushed, shattered, pulverized;" (20)
"For numerous Jews the Jewish fate in the ghettos and the death camps led to a crisis of religious faith. 'Where was God all the time? How could He countenance the infliction of such suffering and degradation on helpless millions, among them untold numbers of innocent children?' The faith of many a Jew in the God of his fathers was choked in the smoke of the crematoria. And today, in the third decade after the last chimney was blown up in the German death factories, the questioning has not subsided." (21)
"What took place in the minds of the death camp prisoners, even as their bodies suffered? They had been ordinary people leading ordinary lives. Suddenly, they had been thrust into an extraordinary situation, one in which few of the old rules seemed to apply. They had done nothing wrong. Why was this happening to them? Some lost hope, some preyed on their comrades, some became heroes, some lost their faith, some lost their minds." (6)
"The death camps tested people's religious faith to the limit. Some prisoners found comfort that heaven awaited them after the living hell they were enduring....Many Jews looked for God to rescue them as their Old Testament ancestors had been rescued.... In some cases, prisoners not only kept their faith alive, but were also able to hold limited religious services....Some people in the death camps became religious in response to their surroundings....As the months passed and the slaughter mounted, however, many Jews began to lose their faith. 'Where is God?' they demanded....Others continued to believe in God, but thought that God had abandoned them. Elie Wiesel, on hearing someone begin the Kaddish in Auschwitz, 'felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?' To believe in a God who was either unwilling or unable to stop the slaughter was a greater burden for men like Wiesel than to stop believing altogether. When Yom Kipper came, Wiesel refused to fast as prescribed. He wrote that 'there was no longer any reason why I should fast. I no longer accepted God's silence. As I swallowed my bowl of soup, I saw in the gesture an act of rebellion and protest against Him. And I nibbled my crust of bread. In the depths of my heart, I felt a great void.' " (8)
"During this prayer, another picture came to my mind: the final liquidation, in June 1943, of the Jewish ghetto in Lvov. I was sitting with my two younger brothers on the 'sands,' a desolate area where Jews were rounded up outside the Janowska camp. We were among the last few thousand Jews out of 170,000 from before the war. The cradle of Chasidism. Behind us sat a childless couple whom I knew from the ghetto. They were in their forties and, being very well-to-do, were able to survive until this moment. He prayed daily, did not fail to put on his tefillin every morning, self-righteously pious and critical of anyone not sharing his devotion. There is a belief that the nonpious bring down God's wrath on all Jews, and thus God punishes everyone without exception. Up to this point, God had taken care of him and his wife. When we were all lined up to be taken to be shot he was the only one whom I heard screaming, 'There is no God.' God, whom he had implicitly trusted, had failed him. All the others stood quietly, awaiting their fate." (26)
"A former inmate of Auschwitz says that he became an atheist in five minutes. He was standing next to another man, and they were both gazing at the smoke billowing out of the crematoria chimneys. Finally the other man spoke up: 'Well, I suppose all this must have been God's will.' And the first man was instantly transformed into an atheist." (27)
"The most terrible aspect of Wiesel's book Night is its description of this loss of faith, not in God's existence, but in his goodness." (28)
"And, yet, whatever else this Holocaust has done to me as I have grown toward maturity, it has shattered for all time the easy acceptance of the Jewish religious thinking that is most particularly identified with thinking about God and the just ways in which this world, supposedly created in response to Divine desire, came to be. My family background is not Reform; generations of my German-Jewish family were Orthodox. My Grandfather, whom I never knew, may his ashes rest in peace, was a pious Jew whose place was in his little synagogue every Sabbath year-round. For my Father, may he rest in peace, as best as I can express it, his Orthodoxy died in the concentration camps of Europe, amidst the ashes of his family. For the first three decades of his life in this country, after having escaped from Germany at age 18, he could not even put on a skull-cap without renewing the pain of the former experience." (29)
"My father, he died spiritually before he died physically....He kept asking, 'Where is God? How is this possible?' I got frightened, I got scared, but I wasn't internally destroyed. So many adults lost their will to survive...." (36)
"I hate to say it. It's a big sin. To confront God? How dare I? But I can't help it...when I read the translation, the tears roll down my cheeks....My parents believed so much. On Yom Kippur, they asked for God's forgiveness, for His help....if you knew how they believed God would help them....My dog is better protected by me than God protected His people. When I arrived at Auschwitz, a mother was holding her baby and she was told to give the baby to her mother and she would survive. The grandmother tried to take the baby, but the mother wouldn't let go....And they argued and an SS man came over, took the baby, and threw it against the wall, and the baby's head smashed open in front of the mother. Was God watching this?" (38)
"There has always been a tradition of Jews putting our faith in the miraculous. He brought us out of Egypt. He parted the Red Sea. He saw us safely to the Promised Land. The God of the Holocaust survivor's prewar family was a God who intervened. He was an all-seeing, all-knowing God who punished individuals for their sins and rewarded individuals for their good deeds. He was the Parent who judged fairly, who loved His children, who promised His shield. And for countless Holocaust survivors, He was the Parent who abandoned them." (39)
"Approximately one-half of those survivors who were believers before the war remained believers throughout the Holocaust and until today." (42)
"Approximately three-fourths of the survivors who were nonbelievers before the Holocaust have retained that stance." (45)
"In the face of the evidence, many survivors lost their faith entirely. They felt abandoned by Him and chose to abandon Him in kind. Solomon Goldstein had been brought up as a deeply religious Jew. 'When you sit in the barracks of Auschwitz and you look on the burning chimneys....Now, let me ask You, God, Did all those people commit the same sins that they should have to die by fire?' " (44)
"How anyone can live through the concentration camps and still be an observant religious Jew is beyond me. I just do not understand it. The camps convinced me that all the good Jewish practices in the world are of no value. Man is not going to be changed and made good by them and God doesn't seem to care. This is what I learned in the camps." (47) (56)
"Survivors have never expressed their rage to their former tormentors, nor have they exacted their revenge upon them. However, they can and have expressed their feelings toward God by shouting His nonexistence to His face. And by denying God's existence, they punish Him. 'Nothing can excuse God for not having saved us,' many survivors insist. But the more they shout, the more the boundary between belief and nonbelief is blurred. Why shout if He is not there? So God provides a punching bag enabling the ventilation of so much hurt, so much anger. 'When the topic comes up in conversation of religion or God, I have difficulty with it,' explained Jerry Singer, who is a very active participant in his synagogue. 'I'm always the rebel by bringing up the Holocaust or bringing up the murder of children. I witnessed a Hungarian bayonet through an infant and mother in one thrust. I saw deeply religious people praying and being killed anyway. I'm talking about good people, innocent people...children.' " (48)
"For those Jews living after the Holocaust, it became more difficult to speak of God as good, loving, merciful, or powerful." (49)
"According to Weisel, Night is the only book in which he writes about the Holocaust directly....In the following sections, Wiesel first experiences the incongruity between the teachings of Jewish tradition and the experience of Auschwitz. As Night unfolds, Wiesel describes how his faith was painfully consumed by the flames that sent the bodies of the innocent and the young skyward. Wiesel writes of his move from religious rebellion to defiance and from defiance to an encounter with the void -- the void of God's absence from history and from the author's personal life, the emptiness where His presence once had been." (50)
"At Birkenau on Christmas Day Jewish women who had been starved were brought from the barracks. Trucks drove up to the block where they were assembled, and women were piled into them. The victims knew they were going to the gas chamber and tried to escape and were massacred. According to an account of this incident, when the lorry motors started, a terrible noise arose -- the death cry of thousands of young women. As they tried to break out, a rabbi's son cried out 'God, show [them] your power - this is against you.' When nothing happened, the boy cried out: 'There is no God.' " (51)
"Yet there are signs that Jewish society has become increasingly secularized in the last forty years. Indeed, the destruction of six million Jews in the Holocaust has caused many Jews to abandon their belief in God; others have substituted the state of Israel as the major focus of their lives." (52)
5. With little hope for the future, some lost the will to live.
"My father, he died spiritually before he died physically....He kept asking, 'Where is God? How is this possible?' I got frightened, I got scared, but I wasn't internally destroyed. So many adults lost their will to survive...." (36)
"Suicide was an everyday occurrence as people reached the limits of their endurance." (7)
There were exceptions to the above observations. Here is an example of one who prayed to God and made resolutions to change how he lived:
"The following concentration camp inmate, a non-believer before the war, also sensed God's presence in his survival. 'You must remember what I went through and what I saw: monstrous things with my own eyes in the camps and out, infants being dashed to death and other young people being starved. And yet I escaped and lived. I had to interpret that fact for myself. Others say, How could you be religious and keep the commandments after what God did to you and all the Jews and how He let the Nazis murder us like flies? I can only speak for myself and try to understand what happened to me personally. Time and again I survived the appel, the selection. I'd pray to God and He would hear me. And I made vows that if I would survive this selection I'd eat only kosher after I was set free. And when the next came I'd say if I will survive this selection I will keep the Sabbath 100 percent. And if I'd fool them into thinking me healthy and strong when I was weak and nearly dropping, and should have been selected for death, I'd vow to do more, be a still better, more observant Jew. I never went back on my word. And in this way I became a religious Jew, keeping the commandments and living a Jewish life.' " (43) (57)
MY COMMENTS AND CONCLUSION
It should be apparent from the reactions of the Holocaust survivors that trials and suffering do not automatically produce good results. Suffering can be destructive, not edifying, to a person's character and attitude if he is not able to understand the reason for it.
If the people who go through the tribulation never hear the true gospel or a warning that they will be punished for their sins, and what those sins are, they won't know why God is allowing them to suffer. Imagine the reaction of a devout Catholic who never heard the true gospel. He or she can say, "I don't understand it. I have always been close to God. I am a good Christian and a good Catholic. I've gone to mass every Sunday and Christmas and Easter. I say the rosary and I have holy pictures and crucifixes in my home. I pray to Mary to intercede for me. Why is God punishing me? Doesn't He care that I am good?" Such people are faced with a choice of continuing to practice their existing religious beliefs, or giving up on God altogether. But they won't be able to repent and change and begin to practice the way of life that the Bible teaches because they don't think they are doing anything wrong.
This is why we need to tell our nations what their sins are and that God is going to punish them for their ultimate good, so when the tribulation comes, they will understand the purpose of it. They will know what they need to repent of. They will know there is a purpose to their suffering. And they will know that God gave them a fair warning ahead of time. And finally, they will have hope for the future, without which they may lose the will to live.
Although the Church under Mr. Armstrong's leadership has reached millions with the radio and television broadcast and the Plain Truth magazine, the percentage of Israelites who have heard and remember the message is very small. Probably less than one person in twenty in the United States has heard our message with enough power to remember that they were warned about a coming punishment if they don't repent and what they need to repent of. And most of those who have heard it, heard it when Mr. Armstrong was alive. There is a whole younger generation today that wasn't born or wasn't old enough to hear and understand the message when Mr. Armstrong was preaching it with power, and every year that goes by more and more of the older generation are dying out and more and more younger people are coming into adulthood. These people need to hear the truth.
Just as an example to illustrate the point, how many Americans thought of the possibility that God was punishing the United States when He allowed the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center buildings? Rather, they focus on the perception that those who died were "innocent victims". And even if some people, because it was a time of trial, turned to religion more than they did before, they turned to false religion, because that is the only religion they know. This is a small example of how most people would react in the tribulation. They will think of themselves as victims and wonder why God is allowing it. Unless they hear our message.
I have heard that opinion polls show that the American nation considers itself to be religious and righteous. Many Catholics and Protestants think they are going to go to heaven when they die. They have been trained to think that sin is a violation of their conscience, and as long as they are not doing anything against their conscience, they think they are all right with God. But although the ability to have a conscience comes from God, every person's conscience is "educated" by their environment and their choices, and when that education and environment is wrong, the conscience will be wrong. But people don't know this. There are things people are doing wrong, such as working on the Sabbath, that they don't know are wrong, and there are things they are doing that they think will please God, such as celebrating Christmas and Easter, using pictures and statues of Jesus Christ, etc. that are actually wrong. That's why they won't understand their guilt without a message of truth.
We could speculate that someone who is an obvious sinner and hasn't thought much about God, and knows he has been living a sinful and selfish life, might find it easier to repent than a devout Catholic or Protestant who believes he is Christian and thinks he has nothing to repent of. But what will that person think when he sees the same suffering happen to the devout traditional "Christian" as happens to those like himself who seem sinful? To such a man, traditional Christianity seems righteous. Won't he conclude that the same thing happens to the righteous as to the wicked, so what is the use of changing? Many Jews who did not believe in God before the Holocaust were confirmed in their non-belief during the Holocaust because they saw so many religious and "innocent" Jews die and suffer the same as they, so they concluded that belief in God and morality was useless.
Preaching the gospel as a witness and warning the nations that make up the tribes of Israel about the coming great tribulation is a vital part of preparing Israel to be a model nation in the beginning of the millennium. They must repent and become teachable during the tribulation if Christ is going to convert them and teach them God's law so they can serve as an example for all the nations on the earth. They need to know what they need to repent of and how they need to change. They need to know that God was fair to give them a full warning before the tribulation started, while there was still time for them to change and escape the punishment. They need to know that there is a purpose in their suffering and that God has not forgotten them. They need to have heard the good news of the return of Christ to rescue them and bring peace to the earth so that they will have hope for the future and a will to live.
God must grant repentance. But a message of repentance is part of that process. I think one way God will grant repentance to Israel is to empower the Church to preach the gospel to the public before the tribulation, then open their minds during the tribulation to realize that they should have heeded it.
There is a passage in Deuteronomy that indicates that at the end time, just before the return of Christ, when Israel is in captivity, the Israelites will know that God has punished them for their sins. Deuteronomy 30:1-7 says, "Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Also the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you." Note that verse 6 says that God will circumcise their hearts, which indicates that this must refer to the end-time return from captivity. But notice especially verse 1, where it says "...when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you...". Israel will REMEMBER the blessings and curses while they are in captivity. This indicates that it is God's will that they hear our message so they will be able to remember it. Also, notice the sequence. FIRST they return to God and obey Him "according to all that I command you today" (verse 2), THEN God brings them back from captivity (verse 3). That indicates Israel must repent and turn to God DURING the tribulation, before God rescues them, and that they begin to obey God according to God's law. For this to happen, Israel must hear God's truth before Christ returns and rescues them.
Besides the warning, the good news of the Kingdom of God will be needed by our peoples as they go through the tribulation or many more of them may die because, without something to look forward to, they won't have the will to live. Our people need to hear the good news of the gospel so they have hope for the future. Otherwise, they can easily conclude that there will be no end to their suffering. Once they are in the tribulation, they may think there will be no end to it, that death will be their only release. Without the hope of the return of Christ, they may not have the will to live, and without a will to live, perhaps none would survive, which would suit Satan's purposes. They will need a reason to live, something to look forward to.
Without hope, the mind cannot function properly. Suffering in a state of futility will not produce repentance. In order to repent Israel will need to trust God, and to trust God they will need to be able to have hope in God, to have an expectation that if they turn to God and obey Him there will be a positive solution to their problems.Matthew 24:14 says, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come". One minister has said that this is not a commission or command, but only a prophecy. Technically, he may be correct. In this particular verse, Christ is not commanding his disciples to preach the gospel to all nations as a witness. It is phrased as a statement of fact and a prophecy by Jesus that this will happen. However, we find examples where Jesus did this or that thing so that Scripture might be fulfilled (Matthew 26:54, John 19:28, John 13:18). Jesus looked to Scripture, including prophecy, to know the Father's will, and then He took steps to make it come to pass, setting an example for us. Matthew 24:14 shows the Church that it is the Father's will that the gospel be preached as a witness to all nations, and as we follow the example of Christ, we will do what we are able to do to help that scripture be fulfilled. In that sense, it is correct to view Matthew 24:14 as a goal for the Church.
The Two Witnesses and God's Fairness
The Church has taught that the two witnesses are granted power at the beginning of the tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13). They will do a work of preaching the truth of God, and perhaps all of Israel will be able to hear it once the two witnesses are given power and begin their work. But by that time the tribulation has begun and it will be too late to escape. How will that demonstrate God's fairness?
If a person only hears the truth after it is too late to escape the punishment, that person may easily think that he would have responded and changed if he had heard the message earlier. He would tend to blame God for not warning him sooner instead of accepting responsibility for his own actions. This will make his own repentance more difficult. If he doesn't hear the warning before the tribulation begins, he may say, "If I heard the warning earlier, I would have heeded, but God never gave me a chance". That may not be true, but human nature is deceptive. It is always trying to shift the blame for our mistakes on others. But if the Church gets the warning message out before the tribulation, everyone who hears it can say later, "I should have listened", and that would be a first step towards accepting responsibility and becoming repentant. It will simply be easier for a person to recognize his own fault and repent if he knows he was warned ahead of time and chose to ignore the warning. By preaching the gospel we can remove his excuse that God never gave him a chance. That is good for the man and glorifies God.
In order for Israel to repent and have faith in God, they must learn to trust God. But to trust God they must believe in God's fairness and goodness. How much harder will that be if they do not see evidence of God's fairness to warn them and give them a chance to repent before the punishment comes and it is too late? To the degree that faith is confirmed by evidence, Israel should see evidence of God's mercy and fairness. They must know that God warned them while there was time to repent. Otherwise, it will be harder for them to have faith in God even later, after He rescues them. For Israel to trust God in the millennium, they have to remember a pattern of behavior on God's part, that God was fair with them and did give them a chance to know the truth and escape the punishment by obeying God. The Church can provide that evidence by preaching the gospel to the world before the tribulation begins.
God sets an example in the Bible of giving abundant warnings of consequences of sin while there is still time to change. The Bible is full of warnings from Genesis through Revelation. God not only commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, He also warned him of the consequences. God warned Cain before he killed Able that "sin lies at the door." God required Jonah to warn Nineveh while there was time for the Ninevites to repent and escape the punishment, which they did. The last few verses of the Bible are a warning to those that would add words to or take away words from "the book of this prophecy." The giving of warnings and the restraining of punishment until the warning is given is an aspect of God's mercy. There is a principle that God does not expect us to act on knowledge we do not have, and therefore God instructs us of His requirements before He holds us accountable for them. For God to hold Israel fully accountable, Israel must have a full opportunity to hear and obey the truth. Jesus says that he who knows God's will and commits things worthy of stripes will receive many stripes, so if the tribulation would be classified as "many stripes", then Israel must have the opportunity to hear the truth and know God's will. See Genesis 2:16-17, Genesis 4:6-7, book of Jonah, Revelation 22:18-19, Luke 12:47-48.
The Bible seems to show that God is very zealous for His name and reputation. Since the tribulation is to be the greatest time of trouble of all time, would not God want to prepare Israel and the world with the greatest warning of all time? Would He not abundantly demonstrate His fairness by making sure everyone is warned while there is time to repent before the tribulation begins? If this is to occur before the tribulation, then it must happen before the two witnesses are given miraculous power. This means it must be the work of the Church.
Once Israelites are taken captive by their enemies, it is likely that their captors under the rulership and influence of the beast power and the false prophet will try to do whatever they can to prevent Israel from hearing the message of the two witnesses. I am sure that the false prophet will have his own message for the captives to hear. Perhaps he will teach them that they need to become good Catholics.
God is about to let the mankind receive a witness of just how evil human nature can get. But that is not enough. Holocaust survivors lost their faith in man and society and themselves, both because they saw the evil in their German captors and the evil and weakness in themselves and their fellow prisoners. That can be a positive first step before repentance, but when this happens, there is a void that needs to be filled - one needs to have faith in God to replace faith lost in the human race. But a person cannot have faith in God if he thinks of God as unjust, uncaring, or non-existent. Yet that is how many Israelites will feel if they go through the tribulation without first hearing our message.
It is said that first impressions are important. There are many places in the Old Testament in the prophecies about end-time punishments to come where God says, "Then you will know that I am the Lord." Though many Israelites think they worship God, it is really their false concept of God that they worship. They do not know the true God of the Bible. They will begin to know the real God when He begins to deal with them. What will be their first impression? Will they begin to know God as a God that is fair and is right to punish them, or will their first impression of God be that he withheld a warning because He wanted to punish them?
For people to not be warned will open the door for Satan to put the thoughts in their heads that God is unfair, that they would have repented had they been warned, that God didn't want them to repent because He wanted to punish them, and that is why He never warned them. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Satan and his demons do all they can to stop the gospel from going out. They may know that the preaching of the gospel to the world is a vital prerequisite for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth and the removal of Satan from his throne.
God also often says in the prophecies that "then they will know that a prophet has been among them." Why is that important to God? Does it glorify the man delivering the prophecy? Or is the purpose to glorify God, to show that God was fair to send a prophet or prophets to deliver a warning message prior to the disaster so that the people would have a chance to escape? I think the purpose is to demonstrate God's fairness, and this shows how God is concerned about His name and reputation. In Ezekiel 2:1-7, God says, "...whether they hear or whether they refuse -- for they are a rebellious house -- yet they will know that a prophet has been among them." Note that God does not say that a FEW among them will know but that THEY will know. This implies that a majority will be reached with a warning message, not just a few. "Whether they hear or whether they refuse" implies they will hear this message while there is time to hear and escape, not after it is too late. This means before the two witnesses.
While in the tribulation, and after it, many may question if it was necessary. They may ask, could not God have taught us the truth without all this suffering? Israel and the world must learn through experience that the tribulation really was necessary, that there was no other way to wake Israel up. But to learn that, they must know and remember that the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning was delivered powerfully to Israel, yet they did not respond. The work of the Church in preaching the gospel to Israel before the tribulation will provide the proof that the intense suffering of the tribulation was necessary to turn Israel to God.
I have heard some use Matthew 10:23 ("When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.") to support the idea that we will not reach everyone with the gospel before the end. However, the immediate context of this passage in Matthew 10:16-23 does not support this interpretation. The context indicates that this refers to fleeing from persecution, not preaching the gospel. To illustrate the point, the verse does not say, "When you finish preaching the gospel in this city, go to another...". The context is being protected from persecution and having a place to flee to. This verse does not necessarily mean that we wonít reach everyone with the gospel, especially with modern technology such as broadcasting, mass publishing, and the Internet, which goes to all cities anyway. I am not saying that the Church will definitely reach every person in Israel with the gospel and the Ezekiel warning before the tribulation begins, but that possibility cannot be excluded by using Matthew 10:23.
If God is to be glorified by giving Israel a demonstration of His fairness, then Israel must be given the warning by the Church before the two witnesses are given power at the beginning of the tribulation, not afterwards when it is too late to escape. Each person needs to be able to make his or her own decision and have an opportunity to escape by choosing to believe and obey God. For this to happen, the Church must give the warning now, not the two witnesses during the tribulation.
I have stressed in this chapter the importance of the warning message for the sake of those who do not know they are sinning. But even among those who know they are breaking God's law, some may repent if they are warned of the consequences. Isn't that the purpose of a warning? When God warns, He does not just tell people what they are doing wrong. He tells them in advance what the punishment will be to give them the strongest motivation to obey. Even in the Church, do not ministers in their sermons warn members of the consequences of sin? So the warning is for every person whether he knows he is sinning or not.
I do not mean to imply by all this that the calling and teaching of new members is not one of the purposes of preaching the gospel to the world. As the Church preaches the gospel to the public, God may indeed call many new members into the Church. Or, He may only call a few at this time. That is God's decision. God knows exactly how He is working with each individual, what each individual needs, and God knows the condition of the Church. That He is likely to continue to call new people may be indicated by Haggai 1:2-9. In this passage, God rebukes the people for saying that now is not the time to build the temple, and God admonishes them in verse 8 to "Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified". If the temple can represent the Church of God today, and if mountains represent nations, then by telling the people to bring wood from the mountains into the temple, God may be saying that it is still time to bring new members into the Church. Since Haggai was written after the captivity of Judah, this may symbolically represent the Church of God at this time after the apostasy and subsequent scattering of the Church. This may actually help to strengthen the Church at this time. New members often have an enthusiasm and zeal we refer to as "first love", and that enthusiasm for the truth of God can be contagious. God can control who He calls into the Church at this time and can bring in people who have particular strengths and assets that will help revitalize the Church. New members can enrich the Church just as children can enrich a marriage.
Even if there are problems in the Church and we are not all setting a good example, God may choose to bring in certain new members who will have the zeal and commitment to be example setters instead of example followers, and then let them be a core that will be the right example for new people after that. Mr. Armstrong may be an example of how God can work with a person before bringing him into the Church, then use that person to help the Church.
But my point is, whether God calls many new members or only a few into the Church at this time, bringing in new members is not the only reason for preaching the gospel and the warning to the public. Even if God brings in no new members, we need to reach Israel with the message before the tribulation for the sake of Israel's repentance and conversion as end-time events unfold and the millennial reign of Christ begins. And we need to do it for the sake of God's glory and honor, to demonstrate His fairness towards those He is about to punish.
If we know that our message will help Israel and the world, then the Church needs to preach the gospel to the world from a motivation of love. This is a way of learning by doing, of putting love into practice. It is something every member can participate in through fervent prayers and financial sacrifices.
We should learn to have the same love and compassion for people in the world, the unconverted, as God does. Our motive in sacrificing at this time for the unconverted world should be the same as God's motive in sacrificing His Son. He was slain from the foundation of the world, while we were still sinners, because of the hope that we would become converted. Likewise, we preach the gospel to sinners for the same reason, to make it possible for them to be converted, if not now, then at the beginning of the millennium after they have repented in the tribulation. The motive and purpose is the same, to enable people's conversion, and if it is a strong enough motive for Christ to die hundreds of years before His death would bear fruit in our conversion, surely we can be motivated to sacrifice to support the preaching of the gospel to the unconverted when it will bear fruit within a few decades at the most.
We in the Church have been entrusted with God's truth, and it is important that we share it with Israel when they need to hear it. God in the Bible speaks warnings to Israel, and He wants those warnings delivered. We have a responsibility to use that knowledge we have been entrusted with, not for ourselves only, but also to share that knowledge with others who will need it, so they can be made ready for the events to come. Christ said, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8), showing that the gift is reciprocal. God specifically commands us to warn those headed for disaster in Proverbs 24:11-12 "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?"
I think there is a danger for the Church if we do not share what we know with the public. The danger is, we can lose the knowledge and discernment of spiritual matters that God has given us. There is the principle of reciprocity involved. God will treat us as we treat others. God has sacrificed, and others have sacrificed, so that we might have the knowledge we have so we can prepare ourselves for what is coming. I think God expects us treat others the same way, to sacrifice to share that knowledge with others that have not received it yet so they also have a chance to prepare themselves. But if we don't, is it not possible that God may take from the Church the spiritual knowledge and discernment he has given us? Isn't this another application of the principle, what we sow we will reap? We need to sacrifice for others as those before us have sacrificed for us.
Some say that Church members can share the truth just by our example with our friends, neighbors, family, and people we work with. In other words, we are a witness and a light to the world by our example of living God's way of life. Because we live God's way of life, some people who know us will be motivated to ask us questions and by answering their questions we can introduce them to God's truth. I agree that this is important, but by itself it is not sufficient to warn all Israel before the tribulation begins. We simply do not come into contact personally and individually with enough people. Each individual church member may have a hundred or more acquaintances, but only a few of those know us well enough to ask us about our religion. More than this will be needed to get the job done. Most of us came into the Church because we heard Mr. Armstrong on radio or television. Broadcasting and publishing, whether by radio, TV, print, or the Internet, is still the most effective way to reach the greatest number of people.
Why the Gospel Must Still Be Preached to the World
At the beginning of this chapter I raised the question, why is it important to God that the gospel be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations before the end comes (Matthew 24:14). I believe the answer to this is that the preaching of the gospel to the world just before the tribulation and the Day of the Lord, along with the Ezekiel warning, is needed for God's plan for mankind. It prepares Israel and the world for the events the people will have to go through, and it is an integral part of God's plan for the ending of this age and the beginning of the millennium. Israel will need the gospel to be able to endure the tribulation and be repentant and teachable at the end of it. The preaching of the gospel to the world by the Church is a vital part of God's plan for reproducing Himself.
The purpose of preaching the gospel as a witness to all nations, just before the end of the age, is not just to call new members into the Church, nor to condemn the world and make the nations more guilty so that God can punish them more, but to help Israel and the world know that God is fair and to help them accept responsibility leading to repentance.
This time in the history of the world and the Church is unique in that, for the first time since the Church was founded almost two thousand years ago, the Church has the opportunity to preach to the generation that will live into the millennium and be the first generation ruled by the Kingdom of God. Most people who will make up the first generation of Israel in the millennium are probably alive today. The Church of God never had this opportunity before. If Christ indeed returns soon, then the first adult generation of the millennium is alive now. Their re-education has actually started through the message of the Church. Even though they do not believe it now, they can remember that they heard it, even in the millennium. They can teach their children that God was fair to warn them before the tribulation began.
In a sense, the work of preaching the gospel to the world that the Church can do now is actually a part of the re-educating of mankind in the millennium. It is the first stage in Israel's re-education. As we get closer to the end of this age, all who hear our message in Israel can be thought of as prospective members of God's Church, though they don't know it yet. We can be doing the preliminary work of the millennium now.
When people hear the gospel message now, most will not believe it, but they can remember it when the tribulation comes. When things happen as we told them it would, that will give us credibility and show them that our message was really from God. They won't remember every detail, but they can remember the basic points of our message. They can remember that we told them what they need to repent of, and they can remember whether or not they heeded the warning. They can also remember that after the tribulation and the Day of the Lord, Christ will return and bring peace and happiness to the earth.
Some may say that it doesn't matter if Israel understands the purpose of the tribulation because Christ will teach them when He returns. But what would be the mental condition of people who have gone through three and one-half years thinking God has abandoned them for no good reason? They will be conditioned to think that God doesn't exist, or doesn't care, or is unjust, or they may be indoctrinated with the false teachings of the false prophet. Mr. Armstrong has said that it is ten times harder to unlearn false concepts than to learn new ones. How much would they have to unlearn, and how many years would it take?
Our warning to Israel now has a direct connection to their repentance in the tribulation, and their repentance has a direct connection to their teachability and responsiveness to Christ and to the saints when the millennium starts. They will be the example nation on the earth, the first to experience the blessings of God's way of life, and they will have a head start on the rest of the world. It is our warning to them and their repentance before Christ returns that gives them that head start. Our work of warning can make the difference between starting the nation of Israel with several million mind-shattered, personality-destroyed, totally broken and hopeless people who have no concept of what they have done wrong, what they should believe, and why this has happened to them, who would have to be taught from scratch and led to repentance, or several million Israelites who understand the basics of God's truth, have repented, have fervently looked forward to Christ's return, and are now teachable and ready to obey Christ.
Have you ever gone through a trial and you understood the reason and purpose of the trial? You understood the lesson God wanted you to learn, and you understood the purpose of the trial while you were going through it? Now, have you also ever gone through a trial in which you did not understand the reason for it -- you didn't have a clue? You felt confused, maybe betrayed. You didn't know if you were being punished for something, and if so, what. You didn't know what God was trying to teach you. Maybe you were very confused because the trial didn't seem to make sense. Maybe you felt abandoned by God for no apparent reason and perhaps even had doubts about whether or not God cared about you. All physical things being equal, which type of trial is harder, the one you understand or the one you don't understand?
Some trials we understand and some we don't. Of all people, we in the Church should know from experience that the trial we don't understand is harder to bear than the one we understand. Several hundreds of millions of people are about to go through the most intense trial the world has ever seen. Our message will not alleviate the physical suffering of the tribulation, but it can provide an understanding and hope that will alleviate much of the mental suffering. When we go through a trial, don't we ask God to help us understand it? We have an opportunity now, by preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, to help our Israelite people understand their trial when it comes, and love should motivate us to help them just as we want God to help us in our trials.
Mr. Armstrong has taught the Church that there are two ways of life: the give way and the get way. The Church teaches its members the give way of life. Preaching the gospel to the world is one way of putting the give way of life into practice. We learn that way of life not just by hearing but by doing. Supporting the organized preaching of the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, through fervent prayers as well as through tithes and offerings, is part of the training of the members in God's way of life, as Mr. Armstrong taught.
There may be two ways members of the Church can help Israelites understand the tribulation when they go through it. One way is to support the organized work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public now before the tribulation begins. Another way is to go through the tribulation with our fellow Israelites. During the tribulation and the captivity, some members of the Church can help to explain to their fellow captives the meaning of the tribulation in more detail than most Israelites will remember from the Church's message, and can answer their questions, then prove their sincerity by being martyred. Perhaps God will use the combination of both of these methods to help Israel understand their trial and come to repentance.
God tells us in Ezekiel that the blood of the people is on the watchman's head if he doesn't give the warning. It may be that God will see to it that most members of the Church participate in teaching our people the meaning of the tribulation one way or another. It may be that those who do not have enough love for their fellow Israelites to support the work of warning them may have to go through the tribulation with them.
I believe that God will use the Church of God to preach the gospel to the whole world, especially Israel, and to give the greatest, most powerful warning God could give to precede the greatest time of trouble that will ever occur. This will give honor to God's name by demonstrating His fairness. I believe this will occur before the two witnesses receive miraculous power at the beginning of the tribulation so that each person in Israel knows they had the opportunity to escape, and this will help them take responsibility for their choice instead of blaming God. This will make their repentance easier and will be an important step in their conversion and the setting up of Israel as a model nation to serve as an example in the millennium of God's way of life.It is not just the Church that needs to be prepared. The world must be prepared. The Church has a responsibility to get Israel and the world ready for the punishments to come by giving them a witness of the truth. Just as the Church must be made ready for the return of Christ, so Israel and the world must be made ready for the tribulation and the Day of the Lord. It is another aspect of the two-fold commission to the Church. The Church helps the bride make herself ready by feeding the flock, and at the same time helps Israel and the world to be ready by preaching the gospel to the public.
Famine of the Word
Some refer to the scripture that there will be a famine of the word of God to explain why the gospel is not going out to the world with power at this time. Amos 8:11-12 says, " 'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord God, 'that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, But shall not find it.' " Some say that these verses apply to today, and that because we are in a famine of the word we should not be trying to preach the gospel to the world at this time.
I think this view is wrong and it ignores several facts. The gospel is being preached to the world by the Church of God today. Even though it is not going out with the power it had in the later years of Mr. Armstrong's life, it is reaching more people now than it did in the early years of the work God did through Mr. Armstrong starting in 1934. Mr. Armstrong's literature and tapes are available on the Internet for those who want to look, and there is more than one Church of God organization that broadcasts on TV or radio and publishes magazines. Though these organizations do not have the power and the audience that Mr. Armstrong had, and their work may be less than perfect, the gospel is going out to the world. This is evidenced by the fact that new members are coming into the Church of God and being baptized, and though the number is small, it is significant nevertheless.
Look at Amos 8:11 again, and notice that at the time of the famine of the word, people will be seeking God's word from sea to sea, and will not find it. This indicates a desire on the part of the public to hear the truth being preached, but not being able to find it. That cannot apply to today. There are few in the public that have a desire to hear the true gospel, and if any do desire it (because they previously heard it preached by Mr. Armstrong or others who are no longer doing it), they can find websites, magazines, broadcasts, even old church literature from Mr. Armstrong, relatively easily. They do not have to search from "sea to sea" and not find it.
Actually, this verse is a confirmation that the gospel will be preached to the public with power before the end comes, else how could people know enough about it to have a desire to hear more? You have to know something exists before you will search for it "from sea to sea". Most people today have never even heard the truth at all.
All the opportunities for preaching the gospel to the world exist today that existed when Mr. Armstrong was alive. The United States is still a free country. Money is still available, and radio or TV broadcast time can still be purchased. Magazines and books and booklets can still be written and published. In addition, we have the Internet as a vehicle for publishing the truth, which did not exist when Mr. Armstrong was alive. There are still many Church members and ministers who know what the truth is and are able to preach or to support the preaching of that truth. All that is needed is our willingness to do so. And the gospel is being preached now to the world by those who have that willingness.
When God gave Amos the prophecy that there would come a famine of the word of God, I don't think it was God's intent that we apply this prophecy by stopping the work of preaching to the world. I think God would want us to keep working as long as we are able. We should not stop working.
Jesus said in John 9:4 "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work." Jesus said that a time is coming when no one would be able to "work", and He set an example of doing God's work before that time comes. We are still able to work, so that time has not arrived yet. We need to finish the work while we still have the freedom to do so.
Finishing the Work
I think it is not enough that we be doing the work of preaching the gospel to the world. I think we need to set a goal to FINISH the Work. There is a difference.
Some who have used Matthew 10:23 to teach that we would be doing God's work of preaching the gospel right to the end have also used scriptures such as Luke 12:42-46 and Matthew 24:45-47 to show that we should always be "so doing" God's work right up to the time when Christ returns. I believe it is correct to say that we will be doing God's work right to the end, and this "so doing" of God's work can apply to preaching the gospel to the world as we are able and also feeding the flock. But I also think there is a sense in which we need to have a zeal to really FINISH the work of preaching the gospel and the warning to Israel and the world. That does not mean we quit doing it after we reach a certain point, but I think we need to have a goal in mind and a sense of what finishing God's work means. If we reach that goal, we can continue to preach the gospel to reinforce the message right up to the end, but I think we should have some sense or vision of what has to be done and to have a zeal to really complete it.
John 4:34 says, "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.' " Notice, Jesus did not say that His food was just to be DOING God's work, but to FINISH it.
When you know you have to accomplish certain things in order to finish a job, this gives a sense of urgency beyond what is required just to be "working".
To illustrate with an analogy, suppose I am working as a computer programmer and my boss assigns me a program to code, and a week later he asks me, "How is it coming?" I say, "I'm working on it." The next week he asks me, "How is it coming?" and I say, "I'm working on it." At some point, the boss is going to want to know, "When are you going to finish it?" He wants to know when it will be completed. Until I finish coding it, compile it, test it and get the bugs out, put it in the hands of the people who will use it, show them how to use it, and they are actually using it, until then it does no one any good. Just telling my boss week after week, "I'm working on it," may imply to him that I am occupying time and space, but not producing results. He wants completion.
What does finishing the work of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel mean? Only God knows with certainty how many people we should reach, but it is not wrong for the Church to set a goal. Any individual or organization will accomplish more if they set concrete goals. Most businesses recognize this and set concrete goals for their organization and employees. Goal setting is an important aid to success. If the Church sets concrete goals for preaching to the world, that can keep us focused and motivate us towards greater and more intelligent effort. If we reach our goals, we can continue to preach the gospel to reach more people even more thoroughly, but the first objective would be to reach our goals.
What would be a goal to set for preaching to the public?
In light of the importance of getting the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning out to Israel before the tribulation begins, I would suggest that the Church of God set a goal to get the basics of the gospel and the warning of the tribulation out to one hundred percent of all adults and teenagers old enough to make their own decisions in all those nations that will go through the tribulation, with enough impact so that they will remember what they have heard, and to finish this BEFORE the Church flees to a place of safety, the tribulation begins, and the work of the two witnesses begins. The message does not have to include all the details of all the doctrines of the Church, but should include enough basics so that those who hear will know they have been warned, and those who are willing to respond can obtain further information about the whole truth of God from books, booklets, and the Church's literature on the Web, and can obtain enough information to repent and escape the punishment.
Humanly speaking this may seem like an impossible task, but that is where faith in God comes in. All things are possible for God, and He can empower us to do His will. He can provide the resources we will need and can intervene to give us the publicity and whatever opportunities we need. But we have to be striving to do our part with whatever resources we have available today. God can do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves, but He may only do this after we have shown that we are doing as much as we possibly can with what we already have. God may withhold his strongest help until we are really trying as hard as we can. Judges 16:28-30 relates how Samson, after his eyes were put out and he was in the temple of the Philistines, prayed and asked God to give him strength, and then he pushed with all his might against the pillars of the temple, and it fell. God had to give Samson miraculous help to accomplish this, nevertheless Samson had to do his part by pushing as hard as he could, and THEN God caused the building to fall.
Setting a goal to reach everyone in Israel with the gospel and the warning can fill us with a sense of urgency and zeal to try as hard as we can to reach as many as we can.
I think we need more zeal in the Church of God for doing the work of preaching to the world. Income figures and conversations with Church members suggest to me that many members are content with a small work in this regard. I think most members in the Church do not see a real need for all Israel to hear the gospel and warning before the tribulation. I think most members understand that if the purpose of preaching the gospel is only to bring in new members, then a small work is sufficient because God can work out circumstances so that anyone He calls can be in the right place at the right time to hear the gospel. Understanding the need to warn all Israel and setting a goal to do so may help to increase our zeal. As we make greater sacrifices, God can give us more help.
My personal opinion is, if we do our part, God will indeed empower us to reach all of Israel before the tribulation begins. It is not an impossible task.
I know I am being repetitious, but I consider this to be such a vital point, and a summary of the whole purpose of this chapter, that I want to restate it one more time. My primary point is this. If a member of the general public hears the gospel and the Ezekiel warning from the Church and rejects it, as most do, it will be easier for that person to repent during the tribulation than someone who never hears the message until after the tribulation has begun and it is too late to escape. That is because the person who heard the message can accept responsibility for his action in rejecting the message and its consequences, while the person who never heard the message will say, "But I never had a chance because I didn't know." The primary purpose of preaching the gospel and the warning to the world at this time is not to make new members but to prepare the public for what they will go through to and make it easier for them to repent and understand God's fairness. The lesson of the Holocaust is that the suffering of the tribulation alone, without a message of repentance, will accomplish nothing toward bringing anyone to repentance. That is why the Church needs to preach the gospel to the world, not just to make new members. And if the Church is not ready in God's eyes to nurture new prospective members because of our problems and divisions, God can postpone bringing in new members, but the Church can still be preparing the public for what is to come.
Perhaps to some in the Church of God, the points I am making seem obvious. But I know from my conversations with church members that these things are not obvious to everyone, or even the majority. They are also not obvious to every leader of every part of the Church. And I do not recall hearing these things taught strongly in the Church in the past, in Worldwide when Mr. Armstrong was alive or in any other Church of God fellowship since the apostasy.
The more people we reach with the warning message and the gospel before the tribulation begins, and the more thoroughly we reach them, the easier it will be for them to believe in the fairness and goodness of God later when they go through the tribulation, and the easier it will be for them to trust God and accept their own responsibility for what they have done, which are prerequisites for repentance. The Church can make their repentance easier or more difficult by the choices we are making now. We can also glorify God's name and reputation by demonstrating His fairness and kindness to warn everyone before He punishes them.