Thursday, November 12, 2009

the hidden God

“One night the teacher took Wiesel back to his own barracks, and there, with the young boy as the only witness, three great Jewish scholars—masters of Talmud, Halakhah, and Jewish jurisprudence—put God on trial, creating, in that eerie place, ‘a rabbinic court of law to indict the Almighty’” (Introduction vii).

On Tuesday I finished reading The Trial of God, by Elie Wiesel. It is his depiction of the event he witnessed years ago in the concentration camp. “For years Wiesel lived with the tension and dilemma of that memory, pondering how to communicate its despairing solemnity” (Introduction, vii). He finally chose to write it as a play. It is a remarkable work. I can’t really express what an incredible, vivid, and stunning work it is—different than any of his other works that I have read (Night, Dawn, Day). It is difficult and gripping.

I won’t give away the story line. I want you to read it. As thinking human beings (generally) and as responsible Christians (specifically) I think it is necessary for us to wrestle with the issues raised in this book. We all have questions about God—many of the “hard” and “messy” ones arise from experiences of suffering or come from witnessing the trauma that fills this world. If we are to live for and believe in the redemption of the world (and it’s contents), this matters.

Does God care about human suffering?
Does God Himself suffer?
What does it mean for humanity to bear the image of God?
How can mankind commit such terrible evil? How can God allow it?

You can’t say you’ve never asked them—or, at least, thought them. I don’t believe I’m the only one that wrestles with loose ends and disfigured categories. Look at the world around us. Cry out to the God who IS.

On Wednesday we had a worship chapel and I struggled to sing choruses that pushed for happy praise and the expression of neat, proper worship for God. Maybe this was because I had, fifteen minutes prior, walked out of my “Holocaust and the Crisis of Evil” class having just watched a documentary on the concentration camps. I have never watched such graphic, live footage. Dr. McDuffee challenged us to consider (a) how such atrocities can be committed by men (some that claim to know God) and (b) how this can happen in front of God—can we know anything of His response?

I’d just like to share a few quotes from the play that hit me hard.

“…I’ll yell for truth all by myself! I’ll howl words that have been howling inside me and through me! I’ll tear off all the masks of Him whose face is hidden! With or without an attorney present, Your Honor, the trial will take place!” (103).

“You are using images, let me add mine. When human beings kill one another, where is God to be found? You see Him among the killers. I find Him among the victims” (129).

“You would like to hear the victims? So would I. But they do not talk. They cannot come to the witness stand. They’re dead…I implore the court to consider their absence as the weightiest of proofs, as the heaviest of accusations. They are witnesses, Your Honor, invisible and silent witnesses, but still witnesses! Let their testimony enter your conscience and your memory! Let their premature, unjust deaths turn into an outcry so forceful that it will make the universe tremble with fear and remorse!” (129).

“You can force yourself to accept sadness, not joy” (145).

“Just? How can anyone proclaim Him just—now? With the end so near? Look at us, look at Hanna, search your own memory: between the Jews who suffer and die, and God who does not—how can you choose God?” (157).

Well, dear reader, do you feel the questions now?
Does God care about human suffering?
Does God Himself suffer?
What does it mean for humanity to bear the image of God?
How can mankind commit such terrible evil? How can God allow it?

Obviously (but not so obvious to many, it seems) these questions hold great implication for all people everywhere, all over the world, and in any time.

The Afterword for Wiesel’s book is by Matthew Fox and is artfully titled, “The Trial of God, The Trial of Us.” His articulation and integration of the contents of Wiesel’s book is very good. I’d like to share a few things that he writes…

“Because the Jewish Biblical tradition teaches that humanity is made ‘in the image and likeness of God,’ to put God on trial is to put humanity on trial, and to put humanity on trial is to put God on trial. ‘All our names for God come from our understanding of ourselves’ warns Meister Eckhart. To put God on trial is to put on trial our understanding of ourselves, our ways of living in the world, of denying, of accusing, of projecting, of hating, and of loving…” (163).

“This play may be less about putting God on trial than about putting our uses and abuses and projections of God on trial…Not only is a one-dimensional idea of God erased in the play, but so, too, is a one-dimensional notion of evil, and even Satan himself, eliminated” (171).

Finally, and I will leave you with this last quote because this is long and I fear I may have lost some of you already. But I hope not…

“This play does not only arouse our capacity for judging God and our notions of God and judging ourselves; it also goes deeper than judgment. It touches awe and wonder, freedom and guilt, creativity and compassion, humor and paradox. It leads us into the realms of the spirit more deeply than interminable rational debate about the divine nature could ever lead us. It leads us to the experience of spirit, not only to its critique. It takes us beyond words, to the holy sanctuary of sorrow. It disturbs as the spirit so often disturbs” (165).

This is an “issue” worth pursuit, study, prayer, hope, question, and humility. There is more I want to say and wish I could say but don’t really know how. I always feel like this subject is too big to bring up. But it must be brought up. I always feel inadequate to talk or write about it when the seams of my own heart are bursting with questions. There remain the loose ends and disfigured categories…and so we are left sitting in discomfort and wonder. I hope such a position will, ultimately, drive us to the feet of the hidden, elusive One.

(Wiesel, Elie. The Trial of God. New York: Schocken, 1979).

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