One day, our neighbor in our first Berlin apartment told me her mother refused to go out into gardens for fear of encountering a rake. You heard me right, not a snake, a rake! She avoided rakes—and not because she feared stepping on one accidentally and being whacked on the head by its handle as one sees in funny movies. The reason is a lot grislier than you can imagine.
When she was a youngster, this woman’s assigned job was to clean up after the bombings of German cities during WWII. The boys were usually in charge of stacking the bodies. The girls had an easier task. Her specific assignment was to rake up the smaller body parts such as hands and feet that had been blown off their owners during the bomb attacks.
Now you are starting to understand—she was scarred for life. She will never be able to look upon a rake innocently again.
I am often asked how I think it was possible for Germany to fall so low. There is only one quite simplistic explanation: the nature of sin. Sin operates in similar ways to a phobia. Nazi Germany is an example of this—though there are many examples from different cultures one could choose.
Sin is not something we control—it takes control of us.
First, sin is something we are born with and born into. Consequently, an individual’s propensity toward sin creates systems that are inevitably stained by sin. This is the case in every culture. Take a look at what happened in Nazi Germany, because everyone agrees that what happened there was really evil, and examine what such a system does to people. It makes people both victims and victimizers. German youth were lied to, deceived, controlled, and brainwashed—a combination that made them into the most committed supporters of Hitler.
Right before Berlin was liberated, these young “heroes” became suicide bombers in a last attempt to protect their Führer. Some of them were tried in Nuremberg, but many of them were released because Hitler had taken advantage of their youth. Did that make them in any way less responsible? Being part of a sinful system does not exonerate us from personal responsibility, even if we were victimized by it.
Sin darkens the mind with lies.
How does sin work? It deceives our minds. Like a phobia, sin is delusional. We believe lies and build up alternative realities that then justify all kinds of evils. In Germany, it was the belief propagated by Adolf Hitler, that Jews were an inferior, impure race and the cause of all Germany’s troubles. This lie became bona fide truth to most Germans and guided their actions. A “good” German was one who denounced his Jewish neighbors, was willing to pull the trigger, and would do all of Hitler’s dirty work.
Sin enslaves with fear and weakens the will to do good.
Like with a phobia, sin enslaves us with fear. Stepping outside of the delusional alternative reality was a scary thing for most Germans. They preferred to stay deluded rather than suffer the consequences of the truth. Some saw it for what it was but paid dearly for speaking truth.
One 16-year-old young man named Helmuth Huebener1 listened to truth from outside of the delusional system on the BBC radio. The truth captured his mind so that he decided he needed to make it known. He printed thousands of leaflets and distributed them in his neighborhood. The Gestapo tortured him for six months trying to find the adult behind the crime. There was none. He was beheaded at age 17. This courageous boy lived in the truth; for most, sin weakened the will to do good and gave a twisted sense of empowerment to do evil.
Sin muddies our hearts.
For many Germans, the result of being involved in such a fallen system was not only the searing pain of losing loved ones, there was also the indelible stain on their hearts: the realization that they had not just been innocent bystanders as they thought. The wounds to the German conscience and psyche run deep. The collective soul of the entire nation had thrashed around in their communal excrement of mass murder, and now they limp around with hearts both wounded and soiled. Sin hurts us and stains us.
Sin scars us forever until someone else’s scars cover ours.
Like my friend’s mother, involvement in the Nazi system left people scarred forever, whether they were active parts of it or just cogs in the machine who were too afraid to budge and jam the system.
The good news of the gospel is that there is forgiveness and freedom from the guilt and the power of sin found in the death of Jesus Christ. His scars, still visible on his resurrection body, have the power to cover up the most horrendous scars inflicted on us by our own sin or the sin of others toward us. Jesus took our punishment, as if he were responsible for the world’s most horrendous crimes. Jesus enlightens our minds with truth so we can see sin for what it is. Jesus frees us from the bondage of fear and enables us to step out in faith and do good. Jesus cleanses our hearts from the guilt and the stain of sin—as if we had never sinned at all—and gives us His good record of righteousness as if it were ours to boast about!
The good news of the gospel is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provide forgiveness and freedom from the guilt and the power of sin. His scars, still visible on His resurrection body, have the power to cover up the most horrendous scars inflicted on us by our own sin or the sin of others toward us.
- Jesus took our punishment, as if He were responsible for the world’s most horrendous crimes.
- Jesus enlightens our minds with truth so we can see sin for what it is.
- Jesus frees us from the bondage of fear and enables us to step out in faith and do good.
- Jesus cleanses our hearts from the guilt and the stain of sin, as if we had never sinned at all; He gives us His good record of righteousness as if it were ours to boast about.
There need not be a rake hanging over our heads!
I pray for the soul of my adopted nation and that each individual may experience the freeing, forgiving love of God that is able to deal with the most unfathomable sin and guilt.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12–14 ESV).
1. Helmuth Hubener, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmuth_H%C3%BCbener
Questions to consider: How do you actively battle sin in your life? Is there a “rake hanging over” your head that you need to bring to Jesus?