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The Hiroshima Miracle?

I’m deeply disturbed by the cover of the current issue of Adventist World. In fact, I’m often disturbed by Adventist news reports that follow a certain theme—horrible tragedy or disaster occurs and a terrible number of people die, but, thankfully, X number of Adventists survive (a caricature, of course). Too often, reporting will tell some parts of the larger story and then give us the “important” news, the state of Adventists or Adventism.

Is this problematic? Yes. It makes it appear that we only care about Adventist people.

The cover of the current issue of Adventist World has a background depicting the cloud created by the atomic bomb of 1945 and a headline that reads “The Hiroshima Miracle.” The story is about what happened to a number of Adventists who experienced the bombing. It’s a good story.

But, a miracle?

What miracle occurred that terrible day? Of course we should rejoice for the Adventists who survived and those who acted courageously. But is our collective human memory so distorted that we would suggest that God chose to exercise a miracle for a few and forget to save the 90,000 to 140,00 individuals who died during the bomb and in the aftermath? 

There are a number of problems here. One problem is the understanding of God’s character, which brings to mind David Hume’s analysis of the problem of evil articulated in his book Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

The problem that most concerns me is the function of memory. Memory serves an important role for all humans, individually and collectively. Yet we are not privileged voyeurs of history, such that we can interpret events like Auschwitz or Hiroshima with enough confidence to explain what actually happened there (a miracle, for instance). Only God really knows. Rather, the memory of these deplorable events should deepen our questions.  Elie Wiesel was once asked, “And why do you pray to God when you know that no one can understand his answers?” Wiesel answered, “So that I might have the power to ask the right questions.” (1)

Theologian Johann Baptist Metz reminds us that humans don’t have a God’s-eye view of Auschwitz (or Hiroshima). The historical project of Christianity, one in which human beings attempt to become subjects of their own histories and theologians strive to talk about a single historical narrative, a story that tries to merge the history of salvation and world history, is important insofar as those who theorize history and attempt to understand or systematize events can potentially relieve our individual and collective consciences of guilt associated with suffering and events of crisis, such as Auschwitz or Hiroshima. We should always ask questions about injustice and suffering, but it is wrong to explain the suffering away or, worse, relieve ourselves of the responsibility to act against it.

Auschwitz and Hiroshima are not just concepts or ideas. At the heart of things, they were events. Deplorable events. There is only the event of Auschwitz that interrupts ideas, leaving humans with the memory of it. These memories interrupt human thought and challenge overarching theories and our sense of history. These memories don’t make sense. These memories should cause questioning.

My caution is to resist declaring a miracle for the few if it causes us to dismiss everyone else. My problem with the current cover of Adventist World and the headline, in particular, is that they were dismissive.

Wiesel’s counsel can help us remember to ask for the “power to ask the right questions.” Perhaps we should start with the following. What do we do now? How do we act? Who is my neighbor? How do we live as Christians in such a world?

Trisha Famisaran is currently completing a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University. She is the director of the Women’s Resource Center and adjunct professor of religion and philosophy at La Sierra University.

  1. Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy (New York: Noonday Press, 1988), 15.
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