Tragedy, Farce, and a Trial: A Literary Analysis of The Trial of God (Part 7)

Part 6

A similar contrast, embodying some elements of the farce, appears in The Trial of God. Throughout the play, the characters demand that a defendant come for God’s sake. However, none of the characters in the play are willing to participate in the role, all for various reasons. As Maria makes clear: “You are all funny. When you want to accuse, you are here, ready to judge and pass sentence. But when you are asked to defend, you turn around and start running.”1 None of the minstrels nor Maria are willing to defend God; they use their declared roles as judges and audience, respectively, to avoid having to defend the Creator of the universe. Who could, really, defend God? Job’s friends certainly tried, but they were not at all close and Job was declared right as a prosecutor. If that is the case, could Berish be right in his accusations of God being guilty for crimes against the Jews? The trial against God is a highly improbable and illogical situation, after all; one cannot expect God to suddenly arrive on command as if He were a servant.

In opposition to Berish, the Strepsiades of the play, Sam (who is Satan), the Pheidippides, comes as the defendant of God. His arguments consist of logical, rational reasons for God’s actions and inaction. In the same way that Aristophanes shows the absurdity of Socrates by characterizing his followers as bohemians justifying their laziness through argument, Wiesel shows his distaste for theological explication and systematic theology here. Yes, many of Sam’s arguments are rationally consistent and logical. Against Berish’s charge of God’s hostility, cruelty, and indifference due to his pain, Sam asks for facts – pain does not constitute evidence in a court of law.2 Berish next brings the pogrom of Shamgorod as evidence of God’s inaction; Sam responds that God, even if he does not act, does not murder the persons himself. Causally, humans killed the Jews in Shamgorod, not God; inaction does not constitute a crime. As Sam says “When human beings kill each other, where is God to be found? You see him among the killers; I find him among the victims.”3 These examples show a classic case of emotion versus reason, in that Berish places his implication against God based on his emotional trauma and distress, whereas Sam treats the fake trial like a real trial, not a bully pulpit. If Berish wants to convict God of anything, he needs to provide empirical proof, not experience.

However, Wiesel does not approve of Sam’s argumentation. Quite frankly, one can see that Wiesel sides with Berish on these issues. Death cannot be quantified simply by logic and reason; there is something sacred, ineffable, and irreplaceable about human life. Berish was not “spared”, as Sam dared to say – the glass does not become “half-full” in such emotional trauma. When your daughter is raped by angry Polish Christian, or your family is systematically murdered by violent oppressors, concepts like “omnipotence” or “God’s mercy” are simply words. As Berish says, “If He wanted me to be dust, why hasn’t He left me as dust? But I’m not dust. I’m standing up, I’m walking, thinking, wondering, shouting, I’m human!”4 Berish demands justice not just for himself and his situation, but for all the injustices done against God’s people; God’s inaction demands an answer from God Himself! From Wiesel’s perspective, after the Holocaust, logic and reason were turned into ash and dust – neither defines human existence nor human beings. Neither do they explain God in any way. Those human constructs of logic and rationality are a farce placed over reality to justify death, suffering, and pain.

Thus, Wiesel gives these characters a night of freedom from their burden of torment as Jews who may very well be killed, and Berish takes full opportunity on Purim to blaspheme and question the God of Israel. In this night of freedom, they will judge without prejudice, but they will judge with passion. Sam calls this a “worthless verdict”, but they are human beings, not implacable, unemotional judges. In the same way that Berish has a night to judge the God of the philosophers, so Strepsiades judges Socrates’ rationality and logic as a blight to society. Strepsiades does not begin with the knowledge of his folly, but in time he grows to learn that the logic of the Thinkery simply removes any accountability; Berish, on the other hand, finds God’s injustice after his personal experiences causes a disconnect between the God of Judaism and his traumatic events. One can also relate the reaction of the minstrels to Strepsiades’ son. In the end, the minstrels believe that Sam is a messenger from God who will save them from the pogrom, although his true nature is revealed when the townspeople of Shamgorod break into the inn; in the same way, Socrates’ madness cause the twisting of Strepsiades’ son away from the justice of the gods, wherein he goes to burn down the Thinkery and, at the very least, run those crazy nuts out of town. Farces, though often funny and hilarious, can provide a scathing commentary on their opponents, and Elie Wiesel has an obvious opponent in the form of easy, logical answers in relation to the divine as displayed here.

1Elie Wiesel, “The Trial of God,” 100.

2Elie Wiesel, “The Trial of God,” 125-126.

3Elie Wiesel, “The Trial of God,” 128-129.

4Elie Wiesel, “The Trial of God,” 134.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.