God And Hitler: Who Was In Charge?Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 2, 1994
Selected highlights from this sermon
Hitler’s rise to power defies understanding. While he attributed it to fate or providence, we would credit the demonic realm for his ascension. But what about God, did He have any control over the rise of Hitler?
Yes, God’s providence and sovereignty extends to the affairs of men. No person can rule unless God has permitted it. But we can rest in God’s wisdom, for history will not continue at random. Our God’s purposes will prevail.
“Today it seems to me providential that fate would have chosen Braunau am Inn (that is on the Inn River) as my birthplace.” That’s the opening line of Hitler’s famous book, Mein Kampf, which means, my struggle.
Don’t you find it interesting, as I do, that this man, who perhaps was the most notorious dictator who ever lived, attributed virtually everything in his life to fate or providence? Speaking to people in Vienna he said that it was fate that decreed that he would capture Austria. And he says, “I believe it was God’s will to send a youth to the reich (that is the rule or the kingdom) to raise him to be the leader of the nation, to lead his homeland into the reich. He says, “There is a higher ordering. I felt the call of Providence.” To the people in Munich, he said, “We knew that we were carrying out the will of providence. We were being guided by higher powers.”
Recently as I’ve been reading Mein Kampf, I’ve been underlining all the references to fate and to providence and I discovered that there’s a reference to it on almost every other page. In fact, when you stop to think of Hitler’s call into politics, it is interesting indeed. The final confirmation came on November 10, 1918. He was in a hospital suffering because of some mustard gas that had come to his eyes, and while he was there a pastor came to say that Germany had lost World War I, and that a republic would now be formed. And Hitler went into deep despair that all this effort had been for naught. And it was at that time he says, “I became one with the universe, in a mystical union with the universe.” Also he said he felt the pressure of destiny. And now get this. He said, “I was summoned by Providence, to do the will of Providence and go into politics.”
You know, it’s interesting that Hitler in his writings and in his diaries referred to the fact that his life was a series of miracles, and a series of miracles it was. What I’d like to do is to do something that I normally don’t do in a message, and that is to give you just a little bit of history so that we might understand why it is that he believed so strongly his life was determined by fate.
For example, regarding his birth, did you know that by all accounts Adolf Hitler should have grown up being called Adolf Schicklgruber. The story behind it is a little complicated, but I think I can summarize it very briefly. His [Adolf’s] father, Alois, was actually Alois Schicklgruber for the first 39 years of his life. He was an illegitimate child and even though his mother [eventually] married, the man whom she married never did legitimatize the union. And because of that he never did recognize this boy as his, and so he grew up with that name.
Well, as fate would have it, that man wandered around for 30 years, having left the family. He comes back at the age of 84, recognizes the paternity of this boy who is now 39 years old, and changes his name to Alois Hitler who, of course, turned out to be the father of Adolf Hitler. Why is that interesting or necessary? Well, historians have debated whether or not it would have even been possible for Hitler to achieve the dizzy heights in Germany that he that he did with a name like Schicklgruber. Do you really think that those crowds would have said, “Heil Schicklgruber,” which in German is a comical name? I doubt it very much.
Hitler was actually the third child of the third marriage of Alois. And the first two children of that union died. Adolf, of course, was the third child, spared by providence. And then another child died. In all, only two out of the five lived.
Have you ever thought of how different history would have been if Hitler had died in his infancy with his brothers and sisters? Have you ever thought of the change that that would have wrought in Europe without a Hitler to come to power? No wonder Hitler looked at the change of name and even his birth as a mark of providence.
But now let’s fast forward the video camera and go to World War I. He volunteered in the German army, and because he was Austrian, he needed special permission to do so. In the very first battle there were 3,500 men in his regiment. Of those all were killed except 600. He, of course, was among the 600. He became a messenger during the war, and always volunteered for some very difficult communication runs. Sometimes, in fact, he would run through a hail of bullets, and shells would be exploding around him.
I know that he was decorated for bravery, but actually it turns out that he was trying to tempt fate. He was trying to prove already then his indestructibility, the fact that he believed that he was called to play a great role in the world, and to confirm that he wanted to show that no matter what he did, he would always live. His life would be spared by providence or by fate.
One time in World War I, he was sitting there in a mess hall eating with soldiers, and something came over him that made him realize that he should leave. And he picked up his plate and he went to eat alone. Moments later a bomb fell and all those at the table with whom he had been eating were killed. Is it any wonder that he wrote in his diary that he was actually controlled by higher powers, by fate?
Let’s think of 1923 during that putsch in Munich (putsch means uprising) when he tried to capture the Bavarian government. When I was leading a tour to the sites of the Reformation, when we were in Munich, we took what I call the Hitler walk. And we went to the plaza where this happened and I gave a brief lecture on Hitler there. He was marching along with his Brownshirts, and they came to a certain place. The police confronted them. Sixteen Nazis were put to death. Hitler was taken off in a car, and for two days, because he was so discredited (It had been so poorly planned. It was such an embarrassment. Even his friends were embarrassed), he sat in a villa with a revolver trying to get up enough nerve to commit suicide. But the woman who was the wife of a friend of his talked him out of it, and so Hitler did not commit suicide.
What is of interest to me is how he viewed these tremendous failure years later. He saw it as a very important twist of providence or fate. He said, “But fate meant well with us. It did not permit an action to succeed which, if it had succeeded, would have been the end because,” he says, “the movement was too immature.” In other words, he said, “It’s a good thing we didn’t win then because we would not have won the big prize.”
If you know anything about Hitler’s ascendancy to dictatorship in Europe or in Germany, you know that the twists of fate involved are absolutely incredible. You read it and you simply say, “I cannot believe this.” After all, Germany, since 1918, had a republic. They had written a constitution. They had opted for democracy. And it is true that democracy was not working, but that was the direction under which Hitler went, and through elections, eventually having an important, important place, and then being nominated to the role of chancellor, and then getting the Reichstag to agree that he should be the supreme ruler and that he should do away with constitutional privileges. It is mind-boggling. How else can you explain it except that it is providence or fate?
One more example comes to us from 1944, and all of the attempts that were made on his life. One time a bomb was placed in a plane by one of his generals. The bomb actually went off, that is to say, the hammer went off. It was inspected later and they could not understand why it did not detonate.
There was a man by the name of Gersdorff who wanted to commit suicide. He was one of Hitler’s generals, and he was willing to lay down his life to get Der Führer out of the way. Hitler was coming to Berlin, and so he was supposed to give a brief speech, and then inspect some materials that had been gotten from the Russians (some trophies) for 30 minutes. And so the man had two bombs on him. It took 15 minutes for the bombs to detonate after they were lit. He wanted to light them after the speech so that he could be close to Hitler during this inspection, only to discover that the news was that Hitler would only be staying for five minutes, so the bombs were never lit, and Hitler lived.
But the most famous time is Stauffenberg...Many of you know the story. He finally is promoted to colonel, and he takes his briefcase and puts it under the table six feet from Hitler. He leaves to make a telephone call, or so he said. He goes away a couple of hundred yards. He sees an explosion that rips the building apart, bodies flying all over. He sends word to Berlin that Hitler is dead. In fact, I saw the telegram that arrived in Berlin, saying that Hitler was dead. It is in a museum that I’m going to be telling you about in a couple of messages. And there it is, “Der Führer is tot.” He’s dead!
Well, Hitler wasn’t dead. Some of you know that a colonel by the name of Brandtcame along and hit his leg against that briefcase, and to get it out of the way, moved it to the far end of the table, and the heavy oak table saved Hitler’s life.
That night, speaking to the German nation he said, “It is obvious that nothing is going to happen to me. Undoubtedly it is my fate to continue on my way and bring my task to completion. Everything will be brought to a good end. Providence has decreed it.”
Well, I think that’s enough of that, isn’t it? I think I’ve scared up enough rabbits. It’s time for me now to back up and start shooting some of them. Wouldn’t you agree?
In the next few moments what we’re going to do is to look at all of this from the lens of Scripture and try to figure it out. I need to tell you that I don’t want you to judge this message until it is over. I will be saying some things that may be difficult for you to accept. There may be some misunderstanding in your mind as you are going through, and what I have to present is a whole piece of cloth, so no matter what reaction you have through this message or during it, save your final reaction to the end when we hope to tie it together, and make some sense out of Adolf Hitler, Nazism, and Germany. Stay with me because we’re going to be navigating through some very deep waters this morning, and I want all of us to end on the same side of the lake.
What is providence? You’ll notice that in your bulletin today we did print out some of the material, or I should say at least an outline for you to follow, and I give there a definition of providence. It cannot be improved upon. [Louis] Berkoff defines it as that continual exercise of divine energy whereby the creator preserves all of His creation, operates in all that comes to pass, and directs all things to their appointed end, the providential government of God in the universe.
How do we sort out all of the factors that we have talked about? How do we understand fate and providence in relationship to Adolf Hitler?
What I’d like to do today is to give you five pillars that will build the foundation upon which we can understand providence; five pillars that will guide us; five pillars upon which you can build a light house to guide us to help us to navigate through the waters of divine providence and Hitler’s Germany.
Number one, God rules in the affairs of men. Take your Bibles, if you would please, and turn to Daniel, chapter 4. The whole book of Daniel is a commentary on God’s leadership and rule in the affairs of men. You’ll notice in chapter 4, verse 17, Daniel says, “This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers, and the decision is a command of the holy ones (Now get this, and it could not be clearer.) in order that the living may know that the most high is ruler over the realms of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men.” God rules and bestows on it (on the kingdoms of the world) whomever He wishes.
In the same chapter near the end Nebuchadnezzar has been straightened out in his theology. He has lived like an animal, and finally he is sane again, and he understands. Middle of verse 34 he says, “I blessed the most high and praised and honored him who lives forever. His dominion is an everlasting dominion. His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and no one can ward off his hand or say to him, ‘What has thou done?’” God rules!
How do you like this text? Psalm 75, verses 6 and 7: “Promotion cometh neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south, but God is judge. He sets up one and He takes down another.”
One day Jesus was standing before Pilate, and Pilate was so exasperated with Him because Christ wasn’t answering his question. And Pilate finally looked in the eyes of Jesus and said, “Do you not know that I have power to put you to death?” And Jesus turned to him very calmly and said, “You can have no power at all against me unless it were given to you from above.” No power at all unless it were given to you from above. God rules.
The people in Rome were experiencing all kinds of turmoil under Nero, and the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, chapter 13, “There is no authority except from God.” Those who rule, rule under God’s authority. There is no rule apart from God. Behind the events of life, behind the headlines that you read in the newspapers with the dictators of the world, as well as the good rulers of the world, God rules. God rules! He does not have a hands-off policy. He rules. That’s number one.
Number two, God delegates authority. God delegates authority to angels, to demons, and to men. He delegates authority.
How shall we understand Hitler’s voices? How shall we understand his references to fate or to what he sometimes called providence? How do we understand the fact that he was in communication with the powers? Was he in communication with God? Well, obviously the answer is no. That’s very clear. First of all, he predicted that his reich, the rule that he would begin would last a thousand years, and it only lasted 12 years and six months for one thing. But for another, Hitler was a thoroughly demonized being. As we shall show in the message next week, he was taken through the deepest levels of occult transformation until a friend said of him that his body is but the shell for the spirit that inhabited him. If anyone was directly inhabited by Satan himself, it was Adolf Hitler.
So we know what Hitler’s relationship was with Satan. Hitler made a series of choices that the devil took great advantage of. But what about the relationship of Hitler and Satan and God. Who is it that granted them the authority? Who is it that created them? Who is it that delegated authority to his creation except God?
I’m going to say something that is difficult to accept, but I want you to hang on, and remember, don’t judge this message until we get to the end. So now that we are up in the air and we’re flying, I will bring you down on a gentle landing.
But think of it. The Holocaust could not have happened unless God gave permission for it to happen. It could not have happened except God gave permission. He signed off on it. He initialed the memo. If you are struggling with that, just hang on for a few moments. But it can be no other way. No man can rule except it be given to him of God. And Pilate instigated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and said, “Yes, go ahead and crucify Him,” and Jesus said that could never have happened “unless it were granted to you by God.”
Now that your Bibles are open, turn to Revelation chapter 13 for just a moment. This is an awesome passage because the Bible teaches another Hitler is coming. And this Hitler will not be worse than the other one in terms of being more evil, but he will be more cruel because the technology that he will have is technology that Hitler did not have way back in the thirties and the forties. This is Antichrist. I don’t have time to read all eight verses that I would like to, but I’m going to pick it up right in the middle of the verse. “And his mouth was like the mouth of a lion.” This is in the middle of verse two of the 13th chapter of Revelation. “And the dragon (that is, Satan) gave him (that is the beast, namely Antichrist) his power and his throne and great authority.” The dragon, the devil, is giving to Antichrist his power and his authority.
Notice it says (verse 4), “And they worshipped the dragon (that is Satan) because he gave his authority to the beast. And they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?’” Notice verse 5. “And there was given to him a mouth, speaking blasphemous words, and authority to act for 42 months.”
“Was given to him!” Four of five times in these verses it keeps saying it was given to him.
Verse 7 is breathtaking. “And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him (this is breathtaking in its scope) and all who dwell upon the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the lamb who has been slain.” Wow!
Think of the awesome authority that Antichrist is going to be given. There’s a part of me that reads that and it recoils. I say, “Oh God, how can this be?” The only part that gives me hope is that it was given, and when it is taken away, Antichrist will fall and be humiliated and spend eternity in hell. That’s the only thing that gives me comfort. But here’s my point. It is the dragon who gives to Antichrist such awesome authority that all the tribes of the earth and everyone will worship him, and he will control them all with the most meticulous control system one could ever imagine, as we will discuss in another message.
But who is it that gives the dragon his authority? Where did it come from? “Thou couldst have had no power at all against me unless it were given to thee from above.” God!
God! So ultimately, even though Antichrist is in the devil’s hands, one must recognize that even the devil is under the ultimate authority of God. And God prescribes the limits of his power, and prescribes the limits and the areas of his work, and says, “This far, and no further.” That’s why the Bible can predict it’s going to last exactly 42 months because these things are not left up to chance. God rules. God rules. So let us be very clear in what we are saying. God rules in the affairs of men, number one. And secondly, God delegates authority to angels, to demons, and to men.
And now number three. God holds Satan and men and angels responsible (follow this carefully) for the evil that He lets them do. He holds them responsible for the evil that He lets them do. Einstein, who many people believe to be the most brilliant man who ever lived, and that may be true, and he certainly will be among the most brilliant, believed in God, but he did not believe in a personal God. And the reason that Einstein did not believe in a personal God is the dilemma that he faced that we are talking about this morning. It is this. Einstein said, “If God is the creator, if He is the preserver, if He is a personal God and the sustainer of the universe, when He hands out rewards and punishment, in effect, He is handing out rewards and punishment for Himself because (follow this carefully) as Creator He would be an accomplice in the evil.”
Now, we aren’t as brilliant as Einstein, but all of us have struggled with that, have we not? Is not this the dilemma that keeps us awake at night if we are thinking clearly? How can God be sovereign and rule and still hold men accountable? Well, you know what the Bible teaches? It teaches that God holds men and angels accountable because they have wills. They are not just simply puppets. They do have wills. And though He rules, they have enough independence that He can hold them into account for what they do. If there is anything clear in Scripture, it is the responsibility of Satan and man. It is the responsibility that God puts upon them.
Now notice my message this morning and its title. It does not say “Hitler or God who was in charge.” That would have raised a false dichotomy. It says, “Hitler and God who was in charge.” God’s role was doing the delegating. Hitler’s role was doing the destroying. But God says, “You, Hitler, and all the Nazis and all…” (actually we’re speaking not only historically here, we’re speaking for all of mankind) “You will be called into account for what you do. Your independence is sufficient for judgment.” And so, thirdly, God holds Satan and men responsible for the evil that He lets them do.
Number four, history will end according to God’s plan. It will end according to God’s plan. I read a moment ago the Scripture that says here in the book of Revelation that Antichrist is going to arise. You have Napoleon, you have Hitler, you have Antichrist who is going to come out of Europe, and he will arise, but it will end the way God predicts it to end. Forty-two months and then destruction, and you have all of those events that will take place, and a vivid description later on in the book of Revelation regarding eternity and hell and judgment. It will end the way God wants it to end.
Ephesians chapter 1, verse 11 says: “To the end that all the purposes of God might be accomplished for he works all things after the counsel of his own will.” Let me quote that again. “He works all things after the counsel of his own will.”
Let me say at this point that there are three different ways that you can react to divine providence. And I’ve met people who have reacted in all three different ways, sometimes the same person having reacted in all three ways. First of all, there can be atheism. You can say to yourself, “The God that you are talking about today can’t exist. There can be no god who could look down upon the Holocaust without intervening if you knew the suffering.” And I have met people who have gone through the Holocaust. We’re talking about something that is a part of living history, and sometimes in despair they say, “There can be no God.” That’s one possible reaction. It is an understandable reaction but it is a very hopeless and wrong reaction.
I have a Jewish friend with whom I have discussed these things, and we are good friends. We’re neighbors actually, and he does not believe in a personal God. And I asked him whether or not this gave him some disquiet of spirit to recognize that people like Hitler and other Nazis would never have to give an account to God for what they did. He agreed that that was troubling, and well might that be troubling. There is something within us that cries up and says, “Where is justice?” The desire for justice is so great, but if you are an atheist you have to believe that the desire that you had in your breast will be unanswered because there is no tomorrow. Atheism is very unsatisfying to the providence of God.
There’s a second response, and that is anger. Anger! Whenever people say to you things like, “Your God must be the devil,” treat it with great sensitivity because there are a lot of hurting people in the world today who have experienced, perhaps not Nazi Germany, but the atrocities in their own life, or here in the city of Chicago with its crime and with its random, from our standpoint, totally random violence, and all of the things that take place. Let us always remember that there are people hurting in the world. Some of you have been viciously abused, and so it’s easy to become angry and to say, “Yes, I believe that God exists but I don’t want to have a thing to do with Him. If He exists, He is the devil.”
That is a very, very understandable response, but very fruitless and very wrong. Fruitless because actually you are hurting yourself. God can take your anger. Believe me. And actually you are doing yourself harm because you are closing yourself off from another side of God’s character, His mercy and His grace whereby He can save you and deliver you. And you know that there is nobody who has ever taken on God who has won. Nobody! God lets them win for a little time to display their foolishness, but in the end they lose. It is not possible to shoot down an aircraft carrier with a pea shooter. Don’t bother taking on God. That’s another response. Atheism and anger!
The other response can be awe. Awe! Absolutely overwhelmed to say, “God, if you’re the kind of God that can allow the Holocaust, if you’re the kind of God who looked down from heaven and saw the suffering and did not intervene, oh God, what kind of a God You must be. I want to make sure that I flee to You for forgiveness, because someday after death I will stand in Your presence, and I do not want to meet You unprepared.” The Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God unprepared.
I just can’t believe the naiveté of theology liberals. They amuse me. Here are people who believe... You know in the Old Testament God was a god of judgment. God was a god who seemed to be angry with sinners. In the New Testament Jesus presents a different god. Some liberals have said there are two gods. There’s the God of the Old Testament. There’s the God of the New. Others have said, “Well, it represents an evolution in our understanding of God,” and so they say, “God, you know, would never have a hell prepared for those who do not respond to His Son. That is unthinkable.” And I’m just saying to myself, “Even if you don’t believe the Bible, open your eyes and look at the Holocaust. Look at the fact that God was willing to allow those atrocities in all of the different countries of the world, the anguish, the children that are being wounded and hurt, and starvation.” It is impossible for us to even grasp for a moment all the hurt on this planet.
Does not that make you stand in awe of God and say, “I had better prepare to meet Him after death?” And the Bible says that Jesus Christ died that He might shield us from the wrath of God, having absorbed in His own person, having received it in Himself, that He might say to all of us who are sinners (and we all are), “You are forgiven and you stand before Me as absolutely righteous.”
And here’s what I want to say today, folks. No matter what your response is, whether it is atheism, whether it is anger, of whether it is awe, the purposes of God will be accomplished. You and I may protest what God does, but it is of no value. The best thing we can do is to get on His team. There’s no use opposing the awesome, unbelievable God of history. His purposes will be accomplished. He works all things after the counsel of His own will.
Number five, we can rest. We can rest with confidence in the wisdom of God’s ways. We can rest. Now, I’m talking about believers. I’m talking about those who have made their peace with God through Jesus Christ. We cannot only know God, but we can be assured that everything that comes to us has passed Him. It does not come without approval.
Is there somebody out to get you at the business where you work, somebody who would like to undercut you, somebody who wants to undermine what you were doing to humiliate you? Is there somebody like that, and you have become angry, and you have become perhaps even violent because you think how unfair this world is. My dear friend, I want you to know that that person would have no power at all against you were it not given to them from above. God is watching. God is orchestrating. God is limiting. God is there!
Some of you, perhaps because of ill health or some tragedy that has come to you, realize your mortality, and you realize that you are in a situation where there appears to be no hope. I want you to know today that, as someone who has believed in God’s precious Son, that those things do not happen to you except that God has said yes to them. Not yes in the sense that He delights in them, but yes in the sense that He permits them that He might, through those circumstances, teach us things that we could never possibly learn, and we become acquainted with the hidden purposes of God when we ourselves are confronted with the mystery, the great mystery of Providence, and it is the mystery of Providence.
Have you ever noticed how often in the examples that I gave you, when Hitler referred to Providence he called it fate, because, you see, those who believe, who follow Satan, or follow themselves, all that they have really is to cast themselves upon fate? Fate means that I cannot control the circumstances. Fate means that I simply cast myself upon events that are limited in their ability to work themselves out for my good, and therefore I become helpless. Fate means that the outcome is uncertain because we’re in touch with somebody and events that cannot keep their promises. How different that is, how very different that is from divine Providence.
Providence means that we believe in a God whose promises will be fulfilled. We believe in a God who is trustworthy. We believe that there is a divine end, and that history is not merely random. History is moving toward a goal. If you say, “What is that goal?” we don’t have time to go into that this morning. A number of years ago I preached a series of messages entitled, “What Is God Up To?” where we tried to explore God’s ultimate intentions and purposes. But we can’t do that exhaustively. We have glimmers. God shows us what He is up to, to a certain extent, but at the end of the day we must rest our heads on the assurance that God knows best. His justice and His mercy will be displayed, and we bow in humility before a God who is a God of greatness, a God of glory, a God of mercy, and a God of mystery.
Hitler believed in fate. We believe in faith. Actually when he used the word fate, he should have used the word doom. He should have said, “I am doomed to lead.” We, my friend, today are destined to inherit heaven forever. What a difference between faith in the devil, a being who is limited, and a faith in the great mighty God who rules the nations, about whom the text of Scripture says, “All the nations of the earth are but dust on the balance, like waters in a bucket. Who has counted the stars? Who has numbered them, and yet He calls the host of them all by name, and He keeps them there.” And the number of our hair is known to Him, and it is in His hands that we can lovingly entrust ourselves.
You say, “Does this mean that we will not have tragedies?” Yes, we might. Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father, and Pilate said, “Go ahead and crucify Him.” But there could be nothing against Him unless it were given to Him from above. Those of you who are bearing heavy burdens today, why not cast them on a qualified God and leave them with Him? No matter what He takes us through, He will walk with us through it, and in this series of messages I’ll give you examples of people who believed God even in the midst of Nazi Germany.
“Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and His ways past finding out? For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor? Who hath borrowed from him that from him it may be borrowed again? For of him, and through him, and to him are all things, all glory and honor, and all dominion both now and forever, Amen.”