“God broke his covenant.”

In Frank Cottrell Boyce’s teleplay, Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz put “God On Trial.” The charge is that God has broken his covenant with his chosen people. Before a panel of three “judges,” witnesses are called to give testimony. Is God guilty?

Most of the prisoners understand God’s covenant — and his failure to keep the covenant — in simple terms: he promised to protect his chosen people but has failed to do so.

Some of the Jews defend God. “The covenant was conditional and we have sinned,” cries one. A witness is called, a father who has lost his infant sons to the Nazis. “How did my sons sin?” he asks.

Another prisoner claims that out of suffering comes greatness, that the holocaust is but the darkness before a brighter day. Did not the Jews learn to flourish because of Babylon? One judge is not impressed with this argument: “A court cannot acquit based on a future hope.”

Near the end of the play a rabbi stands. His testimony is grim: “God is our enemy,” he says simply. “That is what happened to the covenant. He has made a new covenant with someone else.”

What is the Jews’ suffering if not the suffering God meted out to the mothers in Egypt, whose innocent children were murdered by the angel of death? What is the Jews’ suffering if not the suffering of the Canaanites who were slaughtered by Joshua and his armies? What is the Jews’ suffering if not the suffering of Saul who was cursed by God for showing mercy to the Kenites?

“God is not good, ” he says. “He was simply on our side.”

[Watch here.]

Comments

  1. Ronan, Ever the Provocative Poster.

    Based on my short lifetime, I would answer you questions thusly:

    –Very few Jews in the western world suffer anymore.
    –In cases of suffering it is mostly due to anti-semitism mixed with a pinch of poor individual choices.

  2. Randall,
    Glad to be predictable. I do find the rabbi’s statement very interesting and largely true: by and large, we judge God’s goodness by its goodness to us. I hope people are able to watch the clip. As a theodicy it’s refreshing because it’s honest.

  3. I’m waiting for the day somebody bears testimony that God lives and is just because He gives us what we deserve.

  4. Great, Ronan. I’m looking forward to watching these. It looks like the teleplay is there in its entirety.

  5. Looks fantastic. I couldn’t help but think of this as a “reenactment” (of sorts) of the Book of Job, where Job essentially summons God to court. Depending on how you look at it, that doesn’t go so well for Job.

  6. I can’t remember where I read it, but the case was being made that most of the Jews killed in the holocaust were of a branch that had given up the “gathering”. They no longer would say “next year in Jerusalem” The author’s suggestion was that the holocaust happened so that they would again gather. I don’t know how factual that is, or even if my slant is the right slant to what I read……..

  7. Yes, this is the natural conclusion that follows from assuming that God is omnipotent and that he plans, engineers, and deploys every tiny thing in the world, the bad things as well as good, for his own pleasure. Many good people conclude that God doesn’t exist, rather than hold this sort of trial for him, and bring him to account for such a sequence of horrific crimes that no human criminal, no matter how depraved, could possibly match.

    Vanya Karamazov was in this camp. He kept newspaper clippings of the very worst horrors visited upon the most innocent of victims, and had to conclude that if God existed He was so evil as not to be worthy even of our company, to say nothing of our homage or worship. Rather than admit the possibility of such a God, he rejected all question that He exists. When you think about it that way, it’s a merciful conclusion Vanya chose.

    But there’s another narrative that makes more sense, that’s much closer to the truth. Before things were as they are now in the universe, we existed along with God in some idyllic state, and yet because we didn’t have the scope to be able to choose for ourselves, we weren’t really free. By eating the apple, which one may take either literally or symbolically, we showed with our actions that we wanted that freedom to learn and progress.

    So God fashioned for us a universe in which to live and have bodies and be free. Without natural laws that any may discover, a universe can’t support life that has any sort of moral freedom, so our universe has natural laws. By consequence of these natural laws, the universe is uniquely tailored to allow for moral agency. We can discover here that our actions have very real consequences, that we can be the cause of good things, of happiness and beauty and joy, and we can also be the cause of horrors. Even in worlds in which no living beings harm each other, there are still natural disasters in universes like ours that bring sorrow and pain to others, and we can also choose whether or not to share that pain, help our kindred spirits, or turn a blind eye to their suffering.

    For us to be truly free, we must become co-creators with God of our universe. We have to be able to build our own structures, societies, rules, systems, civilizations, and to choose better ones as our knowledge increases. We have to be able to choose our own paths day to day. We agreed to this setup, we willingly and gladly launched upon this quest, in the same way a child gladly heads off onto a playground even knowing that swing-sets and monkey bars might be dangerous and there might be bullies there.

    God calls to us every step of the way through the light of Christ, through spiritual promptings, and through his churches and prophets. He’s on our side, cheering us on, nudging us in the right direction, like a loving parent. But he doesn’t step in, he doesn’t abridge our freedom. He stays within the natural law, so that his promise that we’ll be truly free is not broken.

    If we understand life as a story that God promises us good things, no struggles, lots of happiness, peace, and prosperity so long we promise to be good, then we’re definitely going to be disappointed and upset when those sorrows hit. But that’s not God’s promise… it’s not even a story I’d want to be part of…. “Oh Lord, just keep me safe and I promise I’ll be good, just let the hurricane hit the Haitians or somebody else and not me, let it be someone far away whose children starve or die of dysentery, and not mine.” That’s an ugly, petty story. The true story is much better. It has depth and beauty and agony and struggle, as well as peace and bliss. It’s the story for which I shouted with joy my assent before I came here.

  8. That’s absolutely beautiful, Tatiana. I love the way you phrased that.

  9. holocaust survivor's grandchild says:

    I think the theory Earl read is one the biggest pieces of garbage I’ve ever heard.

  10. I second the sentiment of #9. Why even bring such positively despicable rubbish into a discussion like this?

  11. Earl, that is one of the most despicable ideas I have heard regarding the holocaust. As #9 stated, it is garbage and disturbing that you would even voice it as a credible possibility.

  12. Tatiana,

    From the point of view of the men in the camp, your explanation does not work, true though it may be. They had experienced an interventionist God in the past and had been promised protection from their enemies in the future. They simply could not understand why the God who had saved them from Egypt refused to save them now. They did not believe it was because of sin, for were the Israelites sinless? The conclusion drawn by the rabbi — that Adonai had switched sides — is logical if horrible. I agree that Karamazov’s conclusion is another option.

  13. Eric Russell says:

    Some of the Jews defend God. “The covenant was conditional and we have sinned,” cries one. A witness is called, a father who has lost his infant sons to the Nazis. “How did my sons sin?” he asks.

    Someone needs to ask Jeremiah how the children of Jerusalem sinned.

  14. comment 12 is on the money. something significantly different was going on in the days of the old testament covenant.

    despite claims to the contrary (made in holy writ) perhaps the problem is that god *has* in fact changed. an honest reading of the old testament compared to the religious discourse of contemporary religion (mormon or otherwise) seems to lead inevitably to that conclusion, or else a discounting of the old testament narrative (which mormons are quick to revert to, for better or worse). some (say, erich fromm) would argue that this problem manifests itself quite clearly over the course of the old testament alone.

    while i can appreciate the feeling that some mormons experience thinking of themselves as the heirs to The Covenant, it does seem to be a very different beast than that of ancient israel. is that a good change? less barbaric, less warring (?), fewer prophets calling down she-bears to devour taunting children (could this have helped kevin barney in the local mall?), and so on. but far less exciting in a certain sense, too.

    thanks for sharing that clip!

    (and a p.s. as i’m typing: is comment 13 for real? i mean, i’m as hipster as the next guy, but for some reason irony and the holocaust don’t quite work for me…)

  15. I can’t help but see parallels between this play and the Hebrew Bible narrative. The ancient Hebrews in captivity had pretty much the same discussion, “Why are we invaded by Assyria (Babylon, Persia)? Is it because we sinned? God chose someone else? God is simply unpredictable and unknowable?”

    Interestingly enough, the text Earl mentioned is something that came up in Ancient Israel too. Why would the new generation want to return to Jersualem after assimilating into ‘Babylonian’ culture?
    If that is one of the reasons the Masoretic texts was formed (to answer the reasons for captivity in Ancient Israel), it shouldn’t be too surprising that similar narratives begin to play out post-holocaust.

  16. I agree with Tatiana’s narrative, and it is consistent with the way I have come to view the world. I think it is even consistent with scriptural narrative, read as a whole.

    Yet there are teachings or themes in the Old Testament and perhaps more so in the Book of Mormon that as we keep the commandments we will “prosper.” I am not sure how to square that with reality.

    I do think though that as we keep the commandments, which after all are generally sensible rules emphasizing integrity, goodness, honesty, dependability and determination, we are generally better off emotionally, spiritually and temporally. I believe the commandments are commandments because following them generally yields good result.

    Thus, I believe that the teachings are true that as we keep those commandments we generaly and usually “prosper”, because that is usually the natural result of following the commandments’ principles, not because God is regularly intervening in the world to send us “prosperity” that would not ordinarily occur, nor is He regularly intevening to prevent adverse consequences that naturally flow from our choices or the choices of others.

  17. This teleplay is based on the book “The Trial of God” by Elie Wiesel. In Wiesel’s own theology he moved from the beliefs espoused in the book to a more “limited God” position. It took him a lifetime of struggle with God as a Holocaust survivor and believing Jew to reconcile the evil that God allowed. In his book “Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again” he finally concludes that God is helpless to assist us, but instead suffers with us. According to Wiesel, “God accompanies (us) weeping, smiling, whispering.” (See Robert McCafee Brown’s Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity).

    Wiesel’s faith journey is fascinating to explore as he struggles with a God that did not live up to the covenants made, and in the end, Wiesel made a choice. One of my favorite quotes of his, that i have to paraphrase, is his response when somebody asked how he still believed after his life expereince. His answer, was “I said I believed in God, I never said I liked him.”

    I feel as a member of a covenant based church, that Wiesel is a good example of remaining faithful while remaining authentic to self.

  18. Gilgamesh,
    Thanks for your comment. If God is “helpless to assist us,” what did Wiesel make of God’s direct assistance in times past. Myth?

  19. Token Average Member says:

    Many people still believe that God has provided them with direct help. Miracles still do happen. How to reconcile that with the holocaust? I have no idea.

  20. Right, THAT suggestion is worse than there being NO GOD…..
    Sorry if I took you out of your comfort zone…..
    Good Grief.

  21. Earl,
    In some sense, blaming the victims is very likely worse than arguing that it is all just random human stupidity and bile.

  22. OK, I’ve been trying to find the LDS source for what I read, I can’t find it, but it’s certainly not JUST an LDS thought. Here is a JEWISH SOURCE
    “Judaism has a term, “ester panim”, that means, “hiding the face of Hashem”. In fact, G-d can be silent and inactive, and can hide His face. This is one of His qualities. He gives people freedom. If a person can become a tsaddik, he can as well become a villain. We have choice, and we can go too far both in our being virtuous and being malicious. G-d is mighty, but His might involves also His non-intervention in the human history. When He does intervene, we speak about a miracle. A miracle did not happen during the years of Holocaust. Nevertheless G-d keeps his promises given to the Jewish people on the Mount Sinai. Is it not a miracle that we still exist while our coevals had long disappeared? Where are all of them – Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, and, in the XX century, fascist Germany and the Soviet Union? Where are all these empires and superpowers that tried to exterminate us? They do not exist, and we do! Too early for the Jews to lose their faith in G-d!
    However let us get back to the search of the reasons of the Holocaust. According to a viewpoint, the Holocaust turned to be a surgery of “cutting” the Jews off from Galut. As far back as in 1920s Rav Kuk told about the three Shofars, which Hashem blows calling the Jews to Exodus from Galut. The Big Shofar is the love to the Land of Israel. If the Jews do not hear it, G-d blows the Medium Shofar, which is the desire to revive the Jewish national life. If the Jews do not hear it either, G-d has no choice but to blow the Small Shofar, which is persecution and pogroms, that according to the metaphor given by prophets “drag the Jews by hair out of Galut”. In fact, before the World War II neither religious, nor assimilated Jews were eager to rebuild Israel; there were catastrophically few Zionists. The Jews loved their Galut in the same way as their ancestors loved their slavery in Egypt and did not want to leave.”

    http://www.iatp.md/doreinu/auschwitz.html

  23. I hope there is no LDS source. And even if it is a Jewish source, it doesn’t mean it isn’t despicable.

  24. The word despicable is funnny. Makes me think of looney tunes.

    This is pretty challenging stuff Ronan. Of course as believing latterday saints, we have to side with the hope that is in us. That God is a loving being and that his reasons and ways are beyond our understanding. Of course, that isn’t a satisfying answer, but some things to consider.

    1. The Rabbi is ultimately wrong in that God definitely had not switched sides, because there was no evidence of him intervening on the other side’s behalf. Their power was not granted them by God.

    2. There is the theodicy of Alma in the book of mormon to consider…

    3. There are Jews who survived who claimed miraculous intervention, aren’t there?

  25. Also, Earl, a central tenant of our LDS theology is to withhold judgement unless otherwise necasary and to judge with righteous judgment, which to my mind, means a very charitable judgment indeed. For which judgment we give, so shall we be judged. THe merciful receive mercy, etc etc.

    Ultimately, I think the approach of an occasionally intervening God who has mainly designed this life as a situation where we walk by Faith is something we must come to terms with.

    Also, since I am in Job on my way to finishing the Old Testament hopefully for the first time in my life, elt me say that there seems to be plenty of room in the covenant for plenty of terrible things to happen, and that I am extremely grateful I have the Book of Mormon annd modern prophets as a foundation piece for who God is and what he is like. I wouldn’t make it with only the Old Testament.

  26. Steve Graham says:

    On the surface of it, I would think that Mormons would of all people be the most able to identify and understand the Jews’ anger. For while the God of Israel saved the Jews numerous times in days past, yet when He reestablished His covenant with another people and they were in their direst straits, He apparently abandoned them to the loving kindness of the U.S. government. Why don’t we get more angry with Him? Were we not His people? Did He not covenant with us to protect us from our (and His) enemies? Why then did He permit the imprisonment and persecution of the Latter-day Saints by them?

    I believe there’s an answer, but I marvel that this subject is not more spoken of among Mormons.

  27. While I share the distaste that has been expressed regarding Earl’s comment, it does call to mind my least favorite passage in the Book of Mormon:

    2 NEPHI 10:3 Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.

    I dislike this passage for 2 reasons: it’s a hyperbolic falsehood, and it’s anti-Semitic. I’ve attempted other, more faithful explanations, but concluded they were all untenable.

  28. I both get and don’t get the response to Earl’s #6. Yes, that theory feels immediately despicable, but why not point out the fallacy of the theory instead of just saying that it is despicable? It’s being false is what makes it despicable.

    Randall, 27: add 2 Ne 5:25

    They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.

    and Hel 11:4

    rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent

    to your list.

  29. The Rabbi is ultimately wrong in that God definitely had not switched sides, because there was no evidence of him intervening on the other side’s behalf. Their power was not granted them by God.

    Good point. On my mission I met two veterans of the battle of Stalingrad. One was convinced by the awful scenes that played out there that there was no god. The other attributed his miraculous survival against all odds to divine intervention.

  30. This has been bugging me all night. Forget the idea of “punishment”. Would the State of Israel exist today if the holocaust hadn’t happened? And I’m not asking if there could have been another way. Does the State of Israel HAVE to exist to met End Time prophecies?

    If you want to put it in a Book of Mormon context, the author of the book 1491 estimates that the arrival of Columbus directly or indirectly caused hundreds of millions of deaths, far more than most would current thinking like to admit. The picture of the mostly vacant land with a few natives living in harmony with nature is well known. We as a people have always said that Columbus was “inspired”. Modern political correctness says he was as bad as Hitler with genocide. I submit that your reactions to either one of these is an indicator of just how much one has embraced “the world”.

  31. Eric Russell says:

    Steve G, we have D&C 121-123.

  32. God does not exist to save the body. He exists to save the soul. What happens to us in this life is of no concern, other than how we choose to respond for ourselves and those around us. He intervenes for our good or our evil; depending on what will prove our spirits either to faith or condemnation. What we suffer is far less important than who we are.

  33. “We as a people have always said that Columbus was “inspired”. Modern political correctness says he was as bad as Hitler with genocide. I submit that your reactions to either one of these is an indicator of just how much one has embraced “the world”.”

    I don’t understand. Would you care to explain this?

  34. Does the State of Israel HAVE to exist to met End Time prophecies?

    No.

    We as a people have always said that Columbus was “inspired”.

    An inspired navigator, perhaps. An inspired colonizer/participant in genocide, I don’t think so. Sadly, there are plenty of Mormons (as this year’s GD session on 1 Nephi 13 demonstrated) who disagree with me, but that’s an entirely different thread.

    Another important part of the equation missing in the discussion of whether or not God “switched sides” is that it’s not just the genocide of WWII we’re talking about. There was a (mythic?) time where God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His people included His leading them on campaigns of genocide, pillage, rape, and ethnic cleansing. Mix first hand experience of the holocaust with a literal belief in those stories, and it’s hard not to conclude what the rabbi did…

  35. re: god switching sides – part of the reason (given in the film) that they question whether god resulted from seeing these “gott mit uns” (god is with us) belt buckles on nazi soldiers.

    while one could certainly argue that claim was as far from the truth as possible, he cites several (violent) examples to jolt their memory, most notably his comparison of the nazi “selection” with david’s methods of killing moabite prisoners (7:17 onward in the clip). i have never been able to make sense of this kind of OT violence – have others out there? regardless, he makes a compelling (and disturbing) case for the nazi’s taking over that (violent) mantle.

    his questioning the justice of killing children is also powerful (e.g., the first-born in egypt, the child of david and bathsheba). to me, this violence against children is even more difficult to comprehend. again, this was not violence-by-agency or even MMM-styles; this was god reaching down to f.s.u.

  36. VeritasLiberat says:

    “and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.”

    I always interpreted this to mean, not that the Jews were any more wicked than any other people, but that no other nation could “kill their god” because none of the gods of the other nations are actually real. You can’t kill something that does not exist. The Jews were the only ones worshipping the real God (except for a handful of folks in the Americas, who didn’t have much impact beyond their immediate area anyway).

  37. In Deuteronomy God through Moses gives all the Children of Israel blessings and cursing’s. Good and Bad will happen to the promised children. It seems that the “Jews” have been experiencing a lot of bad during the last 2000 years. I’m convinced that the “Christians” will get their turn at these bad things in the near future as the world gets turned upside down.

  38. Ronan, I do see the problem for the prisoners that you pointed out. Their beliefs gave them a framework in which it was hard not to think God had turned against them.

    There’s a story in Night I’m sure you recall in which (if I’m remembering right) the whole camp was made to watch two men and a boy be hanged. The grown men’s weight was enough to snap their necks and kill them immediately, yet the boy was too light, so he slowly strangled minute by minute as the whole camp looked on. Elie Wiesel heard one of the watchers mutter “Where is God?” His answer seemed to be that God was up there in front of everyone strangling slowly in a string.

    As a Christian I felt a strong sense of the rightness of that answer. Innocent God is slowly tortured and killed again and again along with the least of his children. But then I realized Elie Wiesel was saying that God was actually dying, that He was being murdered by the Nazis. I realized he didn’t see suffering along with the boy a resurrected God who’d conquered death forever.

    I’m probably mangling the story, so I apologize for that. I love Elie because he has the courage to tell the truth, because he speaks truth to power, and because he sees and says that the biggest enemy we have as people is our own indifference to suffering.

  39. Tatiana,
    What does this theology do to the key-finding God of Mormonism?

  40. Great post Ronan. Thanks.

  41. Ronan, this looks like a good play, thanks for the tip. It doesn’t sound like it qualifies as a theodicy, but that may be the reason it is good.

  42. I’ve been thinking about this now since yesterday, and all I can say is that it has caused quite a deal of introspection. It has brought up in me a desire to share the Gospel more, because the hope and joy and love which Jesus Christ brings were needed in the hearts and minds of these men, and in the hearts and minds of the men who oppressed them.

    The Atonement isn’t merely the act of a mighty god to be just, it is the act of a loving father who sees his children struggling with their current state and seeking a way for them to get past that to a higher plain. Ultimately, when the characters in the play say “A court cannot acquit based on a future hope.” They leave no room for Love, or Charity, or Mercy, and most importantly, no room for faith.

    I feel empathy for the pains of these men, and for the men who made this film, and the pains of victims of the world everywhere, and I want to give me life to giving them the hope that is within me.

    Often our church service is broken down to the brute labor of life. Eat, Work, Sleep, and Just exist. But there is more. There is beauty. There is peace. There is Joy. The Gospel can and does bring all that.

    Thanks for this post Ronan, and the reminder to treasure and share the treasures the Gospel is to me.

  43. In any consideration of the destruction of the European Jews during the twentieth century, especially an informed consideration (i.e. accompanied by actually reading what survivors have written and the treatments by reputable scholars about the period), it is very difficult indeed not to agree with Eli Wiesel that the Jews were abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity. It’s just hard to look at it any other way.

  44. Ronan: “Tatiana, What does this theology do to the key-finding God of Mormonism?”

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand your question. By “this theology” do you mean my theology or the theology of the prisoners in the play? What does “key-finding” mean as applied to the God of Mormonism? It’s not a term that I’ve heard or can guess the meaning of. Am I missing something obvious?

    John F., certainly the European Jews were abandoned by humanity, and I feel strongly that we should do our utmost not to let anything of the sort happen again, but I also have faith that God didn’t break any of his covenants with them. Did He covenant to keep them safe from all physical harm if they kept the law of Moses? I’m not a scholar of these things, but I have great faith that he was there with them in the camps and also in the slums and villages during pograms. It’s often during the worst most desperate trials that we his children grow closer to God, as he’s sometimes the only one who does not abandon us.

  45. It’s not so much about whether God has “broken” his covenant with the Chosen People but rather whether God abandoned the European Jews, as the descendants of the Chosen People of the Old Covenant, during the time of their most excrutiating suffering. For many, God helps them find their lost car keys; for the European Jews, God seems not to have answered the prayers of mothers watching their children dashed to pieces before their eyes or of emaciated Jews simply praying for death.

  46. The “key-finding” god refers to the deity that helps us find lost keys but does not intervene to end the Holocaust.

  47. Short of mystery and metaphysics, there is no way that one can rationalize a God who is supposed to be powerful, may be, even almighty, and loving with the death of the innocent.

    Of course, one can always hope that there will be an afterlife that will reward the murdered children for their suffering.

    The problem with the afterlife approach is that it renders suffering less relevant. The hope for an afterlife may even motivate abuse as during the Holy Inquisition and witch trials. References to an afterlife and to God also can justify inaction in the face of injustice.


    Dietrich Bonhoeffer
    who was in the position to do something about Auschwitz answered something to the effect that Christians had to live as if there were no God.

    In other words, Christians had to murder Hitler rather than leaving his death to God.

  48. As Latter-day Saints we are blessed that the Book of Mormon touches somewhat on issues of theodicy, such as through the episode of Ammonihah in which Amulek watched his wives and children and the wives and children of other Christians, thrown into the fire because of his religious beliefs.

    Also, we are aware that our ancestors’ fervent beliefs in the Restored Gospel and acceptance of latter-day covenants did not spare them from rape, pillage, and forced migration under threat of extermination — and the many sufferings on the way into their exile that they endured, which included burying children,.

    Still, this does not change the fact that this is difficult material and the questions about the logic behind it challenge (or should challenge) the faith of the most devout.

  49. In other words, Hellmut, “Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you.” – or, “Act as if you were God.” Those are very interesting, very orthodox, Mormon statements.

  50. Jeffrey Holland gave a great talk on theodicy last night at the CES Fireside. It fits well with this topic.

  51. Gil: I thought the same thing.

  52. Okay, I understand now. Thanks for the explanation. To me key-finding is not the same thing as camp-destroying or regime-toppling or whatever would have been required for God to step in to stop the holocaust. I don’t want to sound like I understand everything, but the way I reconcile it in my own mind is that God will give information to those who ask for it and are ready to receive it, in the form of nudges or the still small voice. That information might be about anything at all that matters to the person. It doesn’t have to be something important on a grand scale. On the scale of the cosmos as a whole, it’s hard to know what counts as important, really, isn’t it? Keys or kingdoms, are they really that different against the backdrop of galaxies uncountable?

    So he might have answered prayers by giving someone inspiration of how they can convince the Nazi soldier to spare their daughter. Or he might touch the hearts of neighbors to help hide Jews from the soldiers when they come to get them. He might speak comfort to the hearts of the tormented. Or he might urge our consciences to call for our leaders to allow the immigration of people at risk. In fact, he’s likely doing all those things now as regards people in Darfur, innocent villagers in remote Pakistani mountains, and all the places of war and starvation today. I hope this doesn’t come across as presumptuous or dismissive. It’s hard to even speak of these things, they’re so heartrending. And are we heeding the promptings we’re getting now? I don’t know. But when I read Elie Wiesel’s speeches, I feel sure I don’t do enough. =(

    There are miracles done all the time, and yet they don’t abridge anyone’s agency, or change wholesale the nature of our societies or the conditions under which people live. It’s really clear that God is urging us all the time to right wrongs, to give of our substance to those in need, and to feel it ourselves whenever the least of his children are harmed. He urges us not to be indifferent to suffering. Then it’s up to us to actually ameliorate the suffering.

    So I guess when God tells me where to find my keys, which he won’t always do when I ask for it, but sometimes does, I guess he’s not neglecting to feed some starving child at the same time, he’s actually nudging all of us to do the feeding. We have a sacred trust not to fail him.

  53. As usual, my wife Margaret sent me a link urging me to read this. I’ve done so very quickly (so my apologies if I missed anything essential).

    Just a couple of quick comments: (1) I’m still feeling troubled by comment #3 (“I’m waiting for the day somebody bears testimony that God lives and is just because He gives us what we deserve”). I believe God lives; I know he is loving and just. But isn’t the whole point of atonement that he offers us MORE than we deserve? As Shakespeare had Hamlet put it: “Give every man according to his deserts, and who shall ‘scape whipping?” Or as he had Portia put it: “In the course of justice [i.e., mere justice, untempered by mercy], none of us should see salvation.”

    (2) I find many of the comments insightful and thought provoking (even the ones some call “despicable”). It’s pretty clear that none of us–including those with the most insightful or moving comments–fully understands this problem of suffering. In some respects, the problem appears to be an unfathomable mystery. Yet some of those who have commented reject out of hand certain explanations (such as that God might use suffering as a scourge or to help bring about some greater good) while not rejecting other explanations (that God is helpless, that God has abandoned some of his children, etc.).

    Since all of us are in a state of relatively abysmal ignorance, I think we might do well to be more cautious in deciding what is possible and what isn’t. I worry that we may cut ourselves off from deeper understanding by too easily dismissing anything we initially find offensive. As I read him, Ivan Karamazov had that very tendency: because he found the suffering of innocents so disturbing, he rejected God and God’s world rather than humble himself enough to at least consider that it all might somehow make sense, or at least be truly and fully redeemable. He chose despair over redemption because he couldn’t make sense of redemption.

    On the other hand, I also believe any potentially “despicable” explanation should certainly be prefaced by a humble acknowledgement of uncertainty and an affirmation of charity–we take no delight in the destruction of our fellow beings (D&C 109:43), and all we understand about God would indicate that he doesn’t either.

    I’ve had more to say on the problem of evil at http://faceofother.blogspot.com/2008/04/problem-of-evil.html.

  54. Bruce, you are so lucky to have a wife who sends you links to interesting posts she must know you won’t be able to resist. Aren’t you.

  55. Yes, profoundly lucky and blessed.

  56. I don’t know if this was in the play, but in Wiesel’s version, the indictment of God is not the end of the narrative. After judgment is pronounced and there is a long silence, the rabbi who had pronounced God guilty said, “Come, my friends, we have a minyan – it is time to pray Maariv (the evening prayer service).” And everyone gathered around, and they prayed.

  57. Tatiana,
    Your post was excellent and inspiring. God sent us to this earth to see how we would conduct ourselves, both when we have good conditions and when we have bad conditions. After WWII, a man (who name I have temporarily forgot) wrote a book about how some people in the Jewish work prisons complained while others sought to help others. He wrote that wherever God puts us, with good people or bad people, we should show that we are good people and help others. That was the message of Job in the OT and of Jesus and the Apostles in the NT.

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