One of the inmates at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz was a priest named Maximilian Kolbe. After a prisoner was thought to have escaped, the guards selected ten men to die in a starvation bunker in order to teach the remaining prisoners a lesson. The guards began to drag away a man named Franciszek, who dug his heels into the mud on the ground as he cried out, “My poor wife! My poor children!” At that moment, Fr. Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”
The guards allowed Fr. Kolbe to take Franciszek’s place, and over the next two weeks he comforted the other men who had been sentenced to die. Whenever the guards looked into his cell, Fr. Kolbe was either standing or kneeling in prayer. After all the other prisoners had died, the guards did not wait for Fr. Kolbe to starve to death. They instead injected his left arm with carbolic acid and later cremated his remains.
Was this an example of evil that proves God does not exist?
The fact that what the Nazis did was objectively wrong proves there is a universal standard for morality that comes from a universal source of goodness, or God. Morality can’t just be a survival mechanism that humans developed through the process of evolution, because some people feel compelled to do things that don’t help our survival, like giving their life for a stranger. If we are all made in God’s image, however, then that explains our desire to fight and even die for the dignity of someone else. In fact, Franciszek survived his time at Auschwitz and spent the rest of his life publicly speaking about Fr. Kolbe’s heroism.
What gave Fr. Kolbe the strength to face such tremendous evil and suffering? As a priest,
he devoted his life to imitating Jesus Christ, and Jesus was willing to do anything to save humanity from its sins, including dying a painful and humiliating death on a cross. Because Jesus is the divine Son of God, he was able to offer an infinite, perfect sacrifice of love that made up for the sins of the whole world. For those who believe in Jesus, this sacrifice means death is
not the end of life, but rather the beginning of a new life with God in Heaven. As he prepared for his execution, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fr. Kolbe thought of this verse from the Bible: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).
This excerpt is printed with permission from Chapter 5, “Why We Believe God Conquers Evil” of the newly published book Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope and Love, by Trent Horn (Catholic Answers Press, 2017).
TRENT HORN is a convert to Catholicism and staff apologist for Catholic Answers, specializing in teaching Catholics to graciously and persuasively engage those who disagree with them. He is featured weekly on a radio program where he talks with atheists, pro-choice advocates and other non-Catholic callers. He travels worldwide speaking about the Catholic faith, and has authored several books.
God is infinitely good and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures: and above all to the question of moral evil. Where does evil come from? “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution,” said St. Augustine, and his own painful quest would only be resolved by his conversion to the living God. For “the mystery of lawlessness” is clarified only in the light of the “mystery of our religion.” The revelation of divine love in Christ manifested at the same time the extent of evil and the superabundance of grace. We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #385