The Slaughter-Bench of History

"The Slaughter-Bench of History," Commentary, July 1949. (A review of Faith and History by Reinhold Niebuhr and Meaning in History by Karl Lowitz.)


Judaism is tormented by the fact that the Messiah has not come, while the gas chambers have. Christianity is tormented by the fact that the Messiah did come, almost two thousand years ago, and what difference did it make? Hegel spoke of the “slaughter-bench of history” to which mankind was delivered as part of the “cunning of reason,” that is, as part of the larger scheme of historical providence; thus did he nobly synthesize, as only an academic sage could, radical suffering with radical optimism. But the majority of men are too undisciplined to submit to such a theodicy, and they persist in asking with Job: why, why? It is with the stubborn endurance of unredeemed history that these two books by Protestant theologians are concerned.

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