‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ –Numbers 14:18
I have always been interested in history and have read quite a lot on World War II. For some reason other another, perhaps because the war happened years before my birth, I had never given much thought about any one who would be related to the Nazi leaders being alive today. That was until the other day when on netflix, I stumbled across a documentary entitled “Hitler’s Children.” The documentary focuses on five descendants of some of Hitler’s closest accomplices. This film is emotionally gripping in so many ways. As I watched it I could not help but be moved as these people struggled with the desire to love their parents or grandparents as is natural for anyone and the hatred of all that these same parents, grandparents, and uncles had done. One such lady,Monika Hertwig, tells about when a viewing of “Schindler’s List” she came to the complete realization of the monstrosity of her father, Amon Goeth. She had a panic attack while in the theater and felt like she was going to die if it got any worse.
While watching the film, I could not help but think about several themes from the Bible. God’s Word has a way of dealing with the intense needs of our world. There are two themes in particular that I want to pull out from the Bible that kept flooding into my mind as I watched this documentary
1. The first theme I thought of was how we are all under the shame of our ancestors and share in this guilt. In the beginning, when our first ancestors began a cosmic rebellion to their Creator’s authority and sovereignty by disobeying His command, they began a projection of guilt and sin that carries on to this day. They believed a lie and this lie gave root and bore fruit in all the sin and shame that fills our world. We are all born in this sin. Psalm 51:5 states that we all come into the world as sinners: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” The horrors of the Nazi atrocities did not just begin in the 20th century but they were born all those years earlier in the garden when Adam and Eve decided that they knew better than God what was right and what was wrong. The sins of our father Adam then are replayed and repaid through out all generations. Alas that anyone would claim not fair that they should share in this guilt, Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned.” It is not as if you or I had been the one in the garden we would have done in any better. We would have then done the same thing. We are guilty. God is just, Numbers 14:18. I think this is part of the reason we recoil so much at the Nazis. We watch as a whole nation of people are sucked into an evil philosophy and wonder how they could have allowed themselves to become that way. The truth is that if not for the grace and restraining power of God, our hearts in our natural state are capable of doing unspeakable horror.
2. Watching this documentary, I also could not help but be reminded that while we are effected by the sin of others and we do have real guilt in our sin, the good news is God has made a way to remove that shame and guilt. We are not our parents. We do not have to bare the shame of Adam. We do not have to continue the path of destruction that came before us. One particular scene in film that moved me was when the grandson of Rudolf Hoess traveled to the concentration camp where his grandfather had been commander. While there you could see the pain on this grandson’s face and the shame he carried. He was invited to speak to some young Jewish teenagers who were also taking a tour through the camp. They were curious why he was there and some were bothered by his presence. It was an elderly man, a Jewish survivor of the camp, who changed the entire scene. He walked up to the grandson of the man who had tortured him and shook his hand. This holocaust survivor looked him in the face and said to him, “You didn’t do it. It was not you who did this.” There was a certain relief that filled this descendent of the Nazi. You could see in the weight lifted right off of him. This scene from the documentary while emotional is a small picture of something more grand.
“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” – Ezekial 18:19-20
What Ezekiel wrote in the above passage gives a sense of relief. The guilt of our ancestors does not have to carry on with us. The children do not have to remain in punishment for the sins of their fathers. If only they will live in righteousness. But that is the problem isn’t it. The above passage only gives hope to those who live in righteousness. But we know this, that we are not righteous. It brings us no hope. However there was one who did live righteously. His name is Jesus. He lived without sin. He did not deserve death but instead should never have suffered. However, for our sake, Jesus was made to be the unrighteous. Jesus took upon himself the same shame, guilt, and sin that pervades our world. He took it upon himself so that we may be forgiven. “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22
Jesus did that for us and he calls us to repent of our sins and to put our complete trust in Him. He did it out of love for the unlovable. One day for those who have been saved, who repent and put their faith in Christ, we will stand in front of the Father and when we think of the sin and shame that we deserve He will say to us,”You did not do it.” He will say that because the sin we committed was placed on Jesus and in its place we carry the righteousness of Christ. The cycle of guilt and shame has been broken. The guilt of the fathers and sins of the sons of those saved by Christ are no more.
As I finished the film, I prayed for these five people that they may find the beauty of the gospel.
” For my father and my mother have forsaken me,but the Lord will take me in.” – Psalm 27:10