The (Non-)Contradiction of Belief and Unbelief

Three rabbis in Auschwitz put God on trial, more-or-less declared him guilty, and then sat down to pray. That’s how Shoah survivor and Jewish intellectual Elie Wiesel frequently described the real-life event that inspired his great play The Trial of God. Theologian Robert McAfee Brown, in an introduction to newer editions of the play, colors in the details:

The trial lasted several nights. Witnesses were heard, evidence was gathered, conclusions were drawn, all of which issued finally in a unanimous verdict: the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, was found guilty of crimes against creation and humankind. And then, after what Wiesel describes as an “infinity of silence,” the Talmudic scholar looked at the sky and said “It’s time for evening prayers,” and the members of the tribunal recited Maariv, the evening service.

This scene, with its harmony of contradictions between belief and unbelief, has been my personal theological home base for the better part of a decade. The infamous philosophical problem of evil isn’t solved by any theological rationalization, nor is it explained away; to do so would be either intellectually dishonest or morally ignorant. At the same time, it’s just as lazy to dismiss God. Wiesel taught me that doubt and faith, though mutually contradictory, can be gently held together. 

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