There was a very interesting film on PBS called “God on Trial”. I hope someone has seen it and might like to comment on it for further discussion.
I found it to be a powerful and evocative expression of what it means to be human in a mad world, where God’s designs are beyond comprehension and where evil is found so atrocious that God appears indifferent, non-existant, or nothing short of downright “bad.”
Apparently it was made for BBC Two last year and aired nationally in the US on November 9th. Sadly, for copyright reasons the PBS website no longer has it available for online viewing.
Here is what the PBS website had to say about the film:
Why is there so much suffering in the world and what kind of God would allow it to happen? Universal questions about faith and philosophy are at the heart of God on Trial, which was inspired by the legend that a group of concentration camp prisoners conducted a mock trial against the Almighty God. From all walks of life, a physicist, a glove maker, rabbis, a law professor and at least one criminal weigh the evidence and offer thoughtful arguments taken from history, science, theology and personal experience. Featuring Antony Sher (Primo), Rupert Graves (The Forsyte Saga, Take a Girl Like You), Dominic Cooper (Sense and Sensibility, The Duchess), Stephen Dillane (Anna Karenina, John Adams) and Stellan Skarsgård (Mamma Mia!), God on Trial explores unfathomable loss and unshakable faith.
Wow. Watched it last night and it was very well done. I loved the various perspectives argued and the context of the storyline they used to present them.
Which argument resonated most with you?
I particularly appreciated the last one: He is NOT a good God, he was just OUR God, and now he has entered into a new covenant with someone else. I don’t think I’d ever heard that one presented like that before.
I appreciated the history of the Chosen People and God summarized in the testimony. It did seem evident that the catastrophic events endured by the People were the result of them having broken their end of the agreement first.
It was interesting that the New Covenant gets mentioned but with the impression that it was given to Hitler, but could it not be that the New Covenant was made with the Christians and Hitler was but another hand in Israel’s consequence much as Pharoah and Nebechanezzer?
We believe, however, that God did enter into a New Covenant with all Christians, yet he honors the Old Covenant still, do we not? It isn’t a matter of one replacing the other but that they are both in effect today, right?
Each voice of the prisoners spoke to me, personally. Each argument resonated strongly, and moved me to sympathize with the prisoners, as a group.
Given my recent experience in life, I can’t help but not be indifferent to the prisoner’s argument that stated that God is not good. Though I found that one of the statements made by the character wasn’t necessarily true, the rest of his argument, I consider most provoking.
One Jewish prisoner in the film said: To debate the Law is kind of a prayer. This statement also resonates boldly, for me. To my relief.
Perhaps what resonates exceptionally strongest for me is the cry of the prisoner who said: “What is the use of reason in a world run by madness?”
Overall it seems that the prisoners were groping for some meaning behind their suffering. Without knowledge of Christ they seemed to be adrift - unable to grasp at some Truth that made sense. In the end their sheer faith in God carried them to the end without a real understanding of their situation.
From 2:33 minutes to 3:54 it’s Psalm 90:1-11
Since it’s a british film it appears the text is from the New International Version of scripture. If you read along here listening to that audio clip you can follow 1-11, but then 12-17 don’t seem to match what the characters are seeing.
But after that I can’t find a match.
Then at 4:24 the tourists pick up at 90:11 but what follows there isn’t what followed at 3:55 so I don’t know what the writers did there.
I did, and thought it was exceptionally well done, and true to the experience of those involved (judging by the testimony of over 1000 survivors I read or listened to in my graduate research). The image of the son and father clashing repeatedly over the son’s religious indifference, his failure to meet expectations, and how their personal conflict became a backdrop for the wider issue of a just God, was beautifully portrayed, especially as the father bargained with the guards to trade himself and save his son at the last minute. The metaphors and argumenst resonated with such a Christian message at times I actually feared Jewish audiences might be offended by the overt nature of those aspects. The last scene of the trial, with the summing up as an indictment of God, and the conclusion, “Now, we pray” was as stunning as anything I have ever seen in a drama on this theme. The drama left me as all such presentations on this event leave me, with rejoicing at the existence of every Jew alive in the world today as a witness of God’s covenant and promise.
At one point one of the prisoners states that the Holocaust is the precursor to something even bigger.
And another prisoner says that in this place - the concentration camp - the Nazis wish to make you look fearful, filthy and godless. He then says that "God is your God - even if doesn’t exist - keep him - let there be something they cannot take away from you from us."
These thoughts can be easily applied to the conditions we live in today. There is filth, fearfulness and godlessness. There is madness.
“What is the use of reason in world run by madness?”
Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place? Job 38:12
In a world overun by madness - man’s reason serves no purpose.
All parts are from Psalm 90, and the choice of words is mostly Catholic. For instance, 90:15 they render “let our joy be as long as the time that you afflicted us, the years when we experienced disaster.” which I have only found on catholic.org/bible/book.php?bible_chapter=90&id=23
The New International Version renders this as "Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble. "
There is indeed a line I can’t find in any psalm: “terrified by your indignation”.
The scriptwriter was Catholic, but he had the technical advise of two rabbis and apparently tried his best to voice Jewish views through his Jewish characters. Vicarious sacrifice is actually a Jewish tradition too, the main difference being that while Christianity sees it being performed by Christ, Jews see it being performed by themselves as a whole. I can see though how a Christian would easily see Rabbi Akiba’s understanding that God entered in a new covenant with somebody else as an affirmation of Christianity, but in context he wasn’t putting that as a most endearing thing. He’s affirming that the original covenant was not good, just as this new one was not good. The axis of his point isn’t who is on God’s side, but that God is wrong, that God is guilty, that God is not good, but is merely on the side of whoever is at some point in covenant with him. He contends though that the Jews should stand up to God, and “teach our God the justice that was in our hearts”. So he is definitely not suggesting that Jews should convert to whatever new faith is in this new covenant that in his view was favoring the Nazis, and much less declaring God non existent. His point is standing up to God, not turning his back on God. I wonder if there is any actual instance of a rabbi espousing this point. It’s a very interesting point. I’ve seen echoes of it in Jack Miles’ God a Biografy, but Miles is, like Boyce (the screenwriter) a Catholic.