The Briefing 04-22-15

The Briefing 04-22-15

The Briefing


April 22, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Wednesday, April 22, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) ‘Accountant of Auschwitz’ asks forgiveness, reminder of magnitude of crime

Every once in a while in world history – every once in a while in our own times – something happens that simply makes a moral point that cannot be evaded, and that’s what happened in a German courtroom yesterday when a man by the name of Oskar Gröning, at age 93, stood before a court and admitted his complicity in the Holocaust; in particular he admitted that the charges against him were true, that he was the infamous accountant of Auschwitz. As Alison Smale reported yesterday for the New York Times,

“Seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, a 93-year-old former SS member at the Nazi death camp shuffled into a German court … to answer charges of complicity in the murders of 300,000 mostly Hungarian Jews in two months during the summer of 1944.”

Now before we go on any further, let’s just look at that one paragraph. That paragraph tells us that this is one man charged with complicity, with being an accessory to murder, not in one murder but in 300,000 murders. It also tells us that at the Auschwitz death camp during a two-month period in 1944 at least 300,000 Jews, mostly Hungarian Jews, were exterminated in the Nazi death camp. Just consider the juxtaposition of morality and math – in this case the numbers point to a profound, if unimaginable, moral responsibility. How in the world can we consider the morality of one murder? How do we set that over against the morality of complicity in 300,000 murders? How do we set that over against the complicity that is now true, we know, of Oskar Gröning and so many others, in the death camps that killed between six and 12 million people during the Holocaust in the midst of World War II?

The mathematics and the morality simply defy our imagination. The Christian worldview is the only worldview that can take an adequate understanding of evil and roots human evil in something we know as sin, not merely a human misbehavior, and roots the problem of human sinfulness, not just in the actions of a human being but in the matter of the heart, the intention and desires of the heart – what the book of common prayer calls the devices of our heart – these too are a part of the complicity of every single human being in the reality of human sinfulness. And that human sinfulness now stares at us in a way that cannot be evaded.

The shock that came in that Tuesday courtroom in Lüneburg, Germany is that Oskar Gröning stood before the court and did not deny his complicity. As Gröning told the court,

“It is beyond question that I am morally complicit. This moral guilt I acknowledge here, before the victims, with regret and humility.”

He then spoke to Judge Franz Kompisch saying,

“As concerns guilt before the law, you must decide.”

As the French Press Agency reported that he had said,

“For me there’s no question that I share moral guilt, I ask for forgiveness,”

Now according to the report in the French Press Agency, Mr. Gröning had actually asked for forgiveness – that raises a host of questions. Again he had said to the court, “you have to decide on my legal culpability,” or the New York Times reported he said, “You have to decide where I stand when it comes to the law.” But when it comes to moral guilt Oskar Gröning became one of the very first accused in terms of direct complicity with Auschwitz and the Nazi war crimes to stand before a court and say explicitly I am guilty of the charges against me.

So just consider the spectacle that took place Lüneburg, Germany when a 93-year-old man, that is a man in the 10th decade of life, a man who had been relatively young 70 years ago when these crimes took place, a man stand before a court room that was filled with witnesses – including some of the survivors of Auschwitz and other death camps – and just imagine that man saying, ‘I am guilty, I am morally complicit, I did what is alleged against me, the crimes of which I am charged, and I ask for forgiveness.’ That is one of the most vexing questions of the 20th century: how is forgiveness possible set over against the magnitude of crimes like this? But this is where Christians have to think very, very carefully. How in the world, biblically speaking, do we consider the question of the magnitude of crime? That is a very difficult question. Biblical theology does not allow us an easy formula to understanding the magnitude of crime.

We do understand the Bible’s clear teaching that every single one of us is infinitely guilty of an infinite assault upon the glory of God in terms of our own sinfulness. That’s abundantly clear from Scripture. In Romans chapter 1 Paul says that there will be no one who will have any excuse; no one is going to be able to stand before the court of divine justice and say ‘I am not guilty of the crimes alleged against me.’ Now on that Day of Judgment will there be some who will be found guilty of crimes of a particular magnitude? We have to believe that that will be so. But it will not be a matter of heaven or hell; it will be a matter of the execution of divine justice.

And that gets to another very important issue of the Christian worldview. We do not believe that any single human being is innocent. Furthermore, we believe that every single human being is infinitely guilty. That’s one of the most important insights of the Christian understanding of sin. But we also believe that true justice, seen over against the crimes that mark human history, will be found only in the judgment of God and will be found fully in the judgment of God. And that means that there will be an accounting for every single human sin, for every lie that any human being has told another, for every act of disobedience of a child over against parents, for every act of murder and violence – and that means, according to the sermon on the Mount, that Jesus will judge us on the intentions of our heart not merely on the actions where we may be found guilty by human court.

But we are awaiting that justice that can only come, and in that judgment there will be no escaping the sure and certain judgment of God. And the just penalty over against every human sinner is going to be death and the only escape from death and hell and everlasting punishment is going to be the fact that one has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the ground and foundation of that atonement is nothing other and no one other than Jesus Christ himself and his perfect obedience and his substitutionary atonement.

This story coming from Germany, shocking and revealing as it is, points to the inadequacy of any human worldview. How does any secular worldview come to terms with the question of the mathematics and morality of a sin of this magnitude? How does any human court actually try to achieve anything like justice when it comes to the Holocaust, when it comes down Auschwitz, when it comes to the actual charges against this man – charges to which he has now pleaded guilty of complicity in the killing of 300,000 persons? According to the news reports the maximum sentence that can be brought against him is a sentence of 15 years in prison. It is imaginable that that is an appropriate sentence for a crime of this magnitude – humanly speaking. Because the difference between the divine court of justice and the human court of justice is that the very best to human court can do is what we would call proximate justice or approximate justice. All the human court can do is try to do the very best that human beings can do to assign moral responsibility and to come up with some kind of fitting punishment.

That’s one of the issues that is now vexing a set of jurors in Boston, Massachusetts dealing with the penalty phase of the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who has been found guilty of over 30 counts, 17 of which can carry the death penalty. But that’s Boston, Massachusetts, with the death of three people and the injury of many more. What do you do against the magnitude of the deaths of 300,000 people in just two months and millions of people over the course of the Holocaust? How do you deal with the crimes of the 20th century at the hands of Stalin and the Chinese communists and Hitler and his regime and Pol Pot in Cambodia and so many others? There is no human accounting, and yet human courts have to do their very best. And it was a moment of very rare, even precious, moral clarity when Oskar Gröning, at age 93, stood before a German court on Tuesday and said ‘I am guilty.’ It is also very revealing that he asked for forgiveness.

And this is where Christians have to think again in a way that is distinctively biblical and distinctively Christian. What would it mean for a man to look at a courtroom in the 10th decade of his life, when that courtroom includes some who are the survivors of Auschwitz, and ask for forgiveness? What kind of forgiveness can actually be granted, and what will be the meaning of that forgiveness? We understand that Oskar Gröning was right to admit his complicity in these crimes, he was right to ask for forgiveness. What is then the right response?

It is interesting that at this point from the period of the end of the Second World War to the present, Jewish opinion is divided over whether or not forgiveness – that is human forgiveness – should be granted. On this the Christian worldview is not divided. We are told that we are obligated, by the command of Christ and by the power of the gospel, to forgive those who sin against us. That raises a host of other issues; can we forgive someone who has sinned against others? Are even the survivors of Auschwitz present in that courtroom morally qualified to forgive on behalf of those who died in the death camps? That’s one of those questions that we will never be able to answer in any way that is satisfactory as human beings.

That’s where Christians have to say, when it comes to forgiveness the ultimate issue is the forgiveness that can come only by the atonement achieved by Jesus Christ; the forgiveness that comes to those who confess their sins and repent of those sins and trust in Christ as Savior. And it comes only because of the power the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus Christians are obligated to forgive not because Christians as human beings have in themselves the capacity to forgive, but because those who are united with Christ and are under the obligation of the gospel are commanded to forgive sins of any and all magnitude against us simply because we have been forgiven our sins, which are an infinite insult to the glory of God.

Oskar Gröning was known as the Accountant of Auschwitz, that’s because the responsibilities he had in the death camp was to account for the money taken from those Jews who were brought into the camp and were later exterminated. He sorted the money and he was the bookkeeper for the money, and there are those who would say this is a low level of complicity. That’s what for decades Oskar Gröning had said of himself, now as he appeared in the court room and had to face down some of those who survived the death camp he appears to have step back from claiming that he had nothing but a minor role. When he said,

“It is beyond question that I am morally complicit. This moral guilt I acknowledge here, before the victims, with regret and humility.”

When he said that he requested forgiveness and then said,

“As concerns guilt before the law, you must decide.”

He was speaking the obvious in that last phrase; it is now up to a German court to decide where Oskar Gröning stands before the law. But as Christians know, that is not the most important question. The most important question is this: where will Oskar Gröning stand before the court of God’s justice? Before that court the only verdict will be guilty. Every single human being, a sinner guilty of every crime alleged against us. And the only hope will be Christ, but in Christ we have – as the New Testament tells us – a sure and certain hope.

2) Chimps granted day in court, exposing dangerous worldview confusion over dignity of humans

Shifting now to New York State and to the issue, at least the presenting issue, of animal rights, there’s a story that few people might connect with that story that come from Germany, and yet I will argue from a Christian worldview the connection is very, very important. The article broke by Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post yesterday and I read,

“On Monday, a New York judge appeared to grant two chimpanzees a writ of habeas corpus. In other words, the chimps have the right to a day in court — under a law that only applies to people.”

This isn’t, according to Feltman, coming from nowhere. The non-human rights project known as NHRP has been trying to get chimps the rights of personhood for years. They represent the animals in court, arguing that their living situations as pets or performers should be considered as unlawful as the inhumane detention of a human. Previous cases, she says,

“…in the United States have failed to produce such a result, but in December an Argentinian orangutan won her case…and was moved from a zoo to a sanctuary.”

Now I’m just reading to you from the Washington Post report, again it is by reporter Rachel Feltman, she writes,

“The U.S. case isn’t quite at that point yet: The judge never ruled that the two chimps, who live in a Stony Brook University lab, need to be released. The decision really only means that the chimps have the right to fight their detention in court.”

Now, let me just state the obvious, these chimps are not going to argue their case in court. These chimps didn’t file any legal documents, these chimps have not hired attorneys, and these chimps are represented by attorneys who have decided to represent a firm that claims to represent the chimps.

This article demonstrates the great chasm between the Christian and secular worldviews today when Rachel Feltman goes on to quote one of the representatives of the group, the Non-Human Rights Project, as saying,

“This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals. We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again.”

Well, in that case, Natalie Prosin, the executive director of this animal rights group, may be right, she may be wrong, time will tell. But it is telling that we have a very significant turn in the legal culture and a very significant turn in terms of our worldview and the cultures developing understanding of morality and human nature in this article. Now once again we point to the obvious, neither chimps nor orangutans have hired attorneys and they are certainly not making their cases in court.

This leads to one of the great issues of worldview confusion in our day. One of the constant temptations, in terms of humanity, especially after the enlightenment, after the rise of the modern age and secular worldviews, is to try to come up with some way to blur the distinction between Homo sapiens (that is human beings) and other creatures. In particular here you will note that this organization is trying to argue for bodily liberty – that’s their term for chimpanzees – and let me get back to their language, “and other cognitively complex animals.”

Now just note that designation. How in the world would we define a cognitively complex animal? Evidently, according to this group, to be a human being is to be marked by cognitive complexity and evidently to be an orangutan or a chimpanzee is to be marked by cognitive complexity. So what’s the distinction between a human being and another cognitively complex animal? Well according to this group when it comes to fundamental human rights, when it comes to even something they define as bodily liberty, that will be the right, presumably, not to be a laboratory or in a cage, there is no distinction.

So what is the link between the first story and this story? It is this: in our modern secular age it has become increasingly difficult for anyone operating from a secular worldview to come up with any adequate means of distinguishing between human beings and other creatures; in particular, other “cognitively complex creatures.” How in the world did we get here? We got here because having abandoned a biblical worldview, a worldview that ground every single human being and only human beings as being creatures made in God’s image, with the modern secular worldview that says we’re merely on a continuum of life. We are merely on a continuum, to use the language of this organization, and if it is just a continuum how do we privilege human beings as being merely more cognitively complex when measured over against other supposedly cognitively complex beings?

And by the way, we do not deny that there are mammals that are similarly cognitively complex. Evidently we are told even whales and porpoises are able to have some cognitive complexity to the point of intelligence even to the point of some kind of language and communication. But what we see here is that the modern secular worldview is trying to say we can ground human dignity in some definition that comes by a criterion we can establish that makes human beings different, different in some way, different to some extent, from other creatures.

But that fails. It fails utterly. And just notice how it fails in this particular article because it fails on its face in that neither the orangutans nor the chimpanzees are going to be making arguments in court. They’re not going to be hiring attorneys; they’re not going to be making their own case. It is actually a moral fiction, as we see in this article that appeared again in yesterday’s edition of the Washington Post, that these champs or the orangutan will have their day in court. No, someone will have their day in court on behalf of these animals.

It’s a very different moral equation and the confusion here is going to be deeply subversive to human dignity, because the Christian worldview would tell us that we have a moral obligation to all of creation and any person who would honor the biblical worldview would know that we have some obligation to every creature God has made to his glory. But we also understand that we have a unique obligation not just to some human beings, but to every single human being because every single human being, and only human beings according to the biblical worldview, are made in the image of God. And therefore the biblical worldview makes very clear that there is an absolute distinction between human beings and all of the rest of creation; and in particular all the rest of the creatures. That’s a point that is made already in Genesis chapter 1; it’s a point that is affirmed in Genesis 2. It is so fundamental to the biblical worldview that it even continues to the entire storyline of Scripture.

So again we ask, what is the link between these two stories? It is the fatal, the horrifyingly dangerous confusion, about grounding human nature. Grounding human dignity in anything other than the biblical worldview because the horror is this: once we abandon the biblical worldview, human beings are merely animals, are merely a part of the natural order, are somehow distinct from all the rest of creation simply because we may be more cognitively complex, more linguistically able, more communitarian, more relational. But it’s all on a spectrum and at some point that spectrum will be negotiated away.

That’s exactly what happened in the Holocaust. Human dignity was negotiated away when people were defined as being lebensunwertes Leben, to use German, life unworthy of life. We have seen that in the horrors of racism, we have seen that in the horrible institution of slavery, we have seen that even written into law and the only correction, the only corrective possible, is the worldview that comes directly from the Scripture, the worldview to which we as Christians are not only accountable but the worldview for which we are infinitely grateful, a worldview that tells us the human beings are special, not because were smarter, not because we have greater linguistic ability, not because we can manage fire and cook our food as some modern people are trying to argue, but because every single human being and only human beings are made in the image of God. The issue is not ourselves, but our creator; our dignity is not rooted within, it is rooted in him.

And confusion over this issue, admittedly at this point with very different effects, is seen in a courtroom in Germany, but also in a courtroom in New York State. The danger is quite frankly that many Christians may look at this new story in the Washington Post and think of it is quirky or cute, it isn’t. It is downright dangerous. We’re being sent a signal in this story, a signal once again of the vast evacuation of the Christian worldview in our age. The headline in the Washington Post actually says it all, Chimps given human rights by US court for the first time. To be told that chimpanzees are given human rights is not in the long-term going to prove to the advantage of the chimpanzees, over the long run it will prove to the depreciation and to the endangerment of every single human life.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to Remember we’re taking questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) ‘Accountant of Auschwitz’ asks forgiveness, reminder of magnitude of crime

Trial of Former Auschwitz Guard, 93, Opens in Germany, New York Times (Alison Smale)

Ex-Nazi ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ asks for ‘forgiveness’, Agence France-Presse (Coralie Febvre)

2) Chimps granted day in court, exposing dangerous worldview confusion over dignity of humans

Chimps given human rights by U.S. court for the first time, Washington Post (Rachel Feltman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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