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The trial of God and ours

Elie Wiesel's work The Trial of God is a play staged during the Jewish holiday of Purim and based on events that Wiesel witnessed while in Auschwitz. It accuses God of neglecting His chosen people. The trial takes place in the 17th century but the modern world is all present in the facts and accusations. It is a trial of faith. We ourselves are often players in such a trial when we turn an accusing finger towards the God we believe in, torn between our devotion to Him and our disappointment at His complete silence in what concerns us.

Today's Passion narrative from Luke runs parallel to the drama of present-day humanity, still at times provoking anger at God and impatience with His silence. How can we continue to believe in God in the face of suffering? But at the same time, how can we 'not' believe in God? Wiesel echoes this paradox in this story of doubting trust and trusting doubt. As he says: "I do not have any answers, but I have some very good questions". We all have some very good questions which continue to haunt us in our struggle with belief and non-belief.

Jesus shows the way because he is the way. He is the Son of God made man. And yet he feels abandoned by the Father just as many others throughout history to this very day feel abandoned and are disenchanted with believing in an all-powerful God who looks down on the world from above and, seemingly, stands on the side of the victors.

This rather logical Western way of arguing about God, trying to reconcile His omnipotence, love, and comprehensibility, was shipwrecked in the 20th century mainly in the wake of the holocaust and more recently thanks to liberation theology. It is an uphill struggle to understand God's love in the context of present-day crucified peoples.

What right have we, who participate in indifference and cynicism, to ask the question we so often hear: How could God permit all this suffering in the world? Already in the hymns of Isaiah in the Old Testament, God's participation in the suffering of His people showed how God is our mother, who cries over what we do to one another and what we do to our brothers and sisters, as well as to animals and to the environment. Isaiah speaks of the suffering servant, interpreted as the Messiah and applied to the mission of the chosen people.

In many senses, the poor are our teachers. We need to change our perspective and the very way we ask questions. We can feel disgust at the brutality with which Jesus was taken to the cross. Many of us objected to the way this was depicted by Mel Gibson. But it is the same disgust we should feel at the world in which we live, at its brutality and greed for more death, be it in the unborn whom we silence in the name of comfort, or in the hundreds of dead on the Iraqi roads whom we daily take as a matter of fact.

In today's passion narrative the sorrow of the world is changed into God's pain. Isaiah says: "I did not cover my face against insult and spittle". How long can we bear to be accomplices in our unjust system? We do not want to remove the sorrow of this world, and our pain, with the methods of this world, with sedatives.

Jesus invites us to follow him all the way up to Calvary where he will bind up our personal story into his own. It is not technology that makes life bearable, but rather a changed attitude towards suffering. Suffering is not only endured; it is appropriated. "If my suffering is in God, and if God suffers with me, how then can my suffering be misfortune?" asks Meister Eckhart.

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