Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Trial of God

I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, so I'm glad I'm finally taking the time to work on it.  The Trial of God by Elie Wiesel is an amazing piece of literature, one fully worth discussion.  Yet although my delay is partly due to the fact that I don't write on this as much as I'd like, there have also been a few other factors.  First of all, The Trial of God is a play, and I find that critically examining plays as literature can be more difficult than novels and short stories because the crucial element of performance is missing.  (I did write about a play once before, analyzing Brian Friel's Translations).  Secondly, the subject material is a bit sensitive and perhaps even controversial.  However, neither of these reasons are legitimate reasons at all, for they may in fact make this an even better source of discussion.

If you are familiar with Elie Wiesel, you probably know him as the author of Night.  Holocaust-survivor and Nobel Laureate, Wiesel is pretty well known in literary circles.  Part of a trilogy, Night is a remarkable book that I would also place in the Classic Literature canon, and I may come back to it later.  (I did!)  However, because The Trial of God is not as familiar, I'd like to bring some attention to it.  As the title suggests, a small group of tortured Jews put God on trial.  But in this case, the story is set in 1649 rather than the 1940s.  As Wiesel simply summarizes it: "In the first act the decision is made to hold a trial.  In the second act there is a problem; nobody wants to play the role of God's attorney.  In the third act we have the trial itself."

The Trial of God deals with many of the themes in Night and other Holocaust literature.  Primarily, where was God in suffering?  Why did he remain silent in horrific tragedy?  How can there be a good and just God in light of so many suffering people?  Understandably, many Jews who experienced this lost their faith or became angry with God.  One of the main characters in the play, Berish, demands that they put God on trial.  He is extremely angry with God and yet also afraid of him.  He has found that he ironically thinks of God far more through his anger after tragedy than before he witnessed human destruction.  He's fed up with feeling compelled to serve God and wants answers.  As he puts it: "Listen, either He is responsible or He is not.  If He is, let's judge Him; if He is not, let Him stop judging us."  When Berish aggressively prosecutes God's defender, he is able to unleash all of his frustration and anger.  Yet at the end of the novel, he firmly holds that he has not rejected his faith.

This entire play offers a fascinating look at one's interaction with God.  The trial itself is not meant to be heretical or sacrilegious; it's an exploration of God's relationship with humanity.  It should never be far from our minds that Wiesel experienced a much more horrific hell in Auschwitz than most of us could begin to imagine.  Thus, he does not approach the subject of suffering lightly or ignorantly.  He offers no solution or easy platitude; in fact, he throws in an extremely disconcerting twist at the end of the play.  Nevertheless, the struggle and emotion in this process is raw and compelling.  Regardless of religious beliefs, I think that many people could benefit from reading/watching this play.  There are no answers, but there are certainly a lot of questions worth pursuing.

1 comment:

IngridLola said...

Wow, this sounds really interesting. I've read Night but none of Wiesel's other stuff.