Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The War Within

Fritz Haber is probably one of the most important scientists of the twentieth century you've never heard of. He was a Jewish chemist who lived in Germany and started to make his mark just prior to World War I. Before the war, in the midst of a looming food shortage in Germany, Haber discovered a way to separate nitrogen out of the air, which produced an ammonia drip. This ammonia could be put into fertilizer. Fritz Haber is the one of the main reasons that the world today can support almost seven billion people through fertilizer. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work in 1918.

If this is all you know about Fritz Haber's life you might think, “This was a good man because he made a tremendous difference in the world.” But there's more to Fritz Haber's life. He was also a very loyal German who signed up to fight in World War I. As the war progressed, he developed an ammonia gas that could kill enemy soldiers.

In 1915 at Ypres, Belgium, Haber turned on his gas machine, and a great green cloud emerged. The soldiers on the other side could see it coming across no-man's land. As it approached, every living thing in its path dried up and died. Then it hit the Allied soldiers on the frontlines, and it killed every last soldier. The lingering gas even hurt innocent civilians. Haber thought this was a grand success. The German officials agreed.

So Haber went back home to visit his wife, Clara, and when she was told about the destructive force of his new invention, she expressed outrage at his gas machine. The very thing that he had used to save lives was now an instrument of death. Clara confronted him, but he did not want to listen to her. So in the middle of the night, she took his service revolver, walked out into their garden, and shot herself in the heart. The next morning Haber put on his uniform and went back to the frontlines to unleash more of his deadly gas.

After the war. Haber tried to help Germany pay the tremendous war reparations by devising a process to distill gold from seawater. But when Hitler rose to power, he decreed that all the Jews who worked for Haber had to be fired. Haber resigned in protest and left Germany, but no one would receive him. He died alone and bitter of sudden heart attack in 1934. In the cruelest of ironies, his work was developed by the Nazis to create the Zyklon gas which used to murder millions in the Holocaust—including his relatives. Albert Einstein concluded, “Haber's life was the tragedy of the German Jew—the tragedy of unrequited love.”[1]

Is the world better or worse because Fritz Haber lived? How do we categorize Haber’s legacy and influence since he caused life and death to millions. Was he more Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? I think it’s safe to say he was both. Yet, you and I are no different from a moral standpoint than Fritz Haber. We, like every human on the planet, have the capacity for evil or good. The fallen nature doesn’t every totally disappear, even after we’ve converted to Christ and received the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul understood the civil war that rages inside each believer. He wrote in Romans 7:14-17, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Every Christian has two natures. Frist, there is the old Adamic nature that we all receive at birth. We all come into this world depraved and fallen as David said in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” However, when we are born again (John 3:3), God creates in us a new nature that does not desire sin (1 John 3:9). These two natures—the flesh and the Spirit—are incompatible and irreconcilable. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17).  

This explains why the Christian life is not for push-overs. Everyday our feet hit the floor our sinful flesh raises up and declares war against the Spirit of God dwelling within us. The battle is fought on all fronts—the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Imagine a tug-of-war contest going on inside your heart everyday—on one-side is the world, the flesh and the Devil, meanwhile the Spirit of God is on the other. Each side competes for your allegiance.

C.S. Lewis wrote of this struggle, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good . . . Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down . . . We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”[2]

As difficult as this battle is we can experience victory. We must hate, starve and outsmart the flesh. Years ago a simple poem expressed a winning strategy: Two passions beat within my chest, the one is foul, the other blessed. The one I love, the other I hate; the one I feed will dominate. Regular worship, Bible study, prayer and fellowship with God’s people fuel spiritual growth. If you want to win the war within then don’t give the flesh a beachhead to launch an invasion. -DM   

[1] Chris Bowlby, “Fritz Haber: Jewish Chemist Whose Work Led to Zyklon B” BBC News, 11 April 2011
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 1952), 142. 

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