“I pray to God for the strength to ask Him the right questions.”
Evil is no respecter of persons. It is usually accompanied by senselessness and horror. As those who must exist in a world so broken by the consequence of sin, wisdom leads us to the only One who can guide us safely though the “valley of the shadow of death.”
We are our own worst enemy. We know that we don’t know everything, yet we refuse to accept that which we don’t understand. If it doesn’t square with our rational mind, we reject it as unrealistic and therefore irrelevant. The only question we allow ourselves to pray is “Why?” when we should be asking “What?”
God’s answer might require action or stillness, but it invariably calls us closer to His embrace.
Father, what is Your will for me now?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Art: The Last Judgement by John Martin, 1853
This and two other pictures, The Great Day of His Wrath and The Plains of Heaven compose a triptych, and are the last major works Martin produced before his death. They are generally considered among his most important achievements, possibly his masterpiece. The subjects are taken from The Book of Revelation. The Last Judgement illustrates the central event of the Book, and is composed from various passages in the narrative. On a throne in the heavens sits God in judgement, surrounded by the four and twenty elders. The four angels have sounded their trumpets after the opening of the Seventh Seal. Below on the right the forces of evil commanded by Satan are defeated; the armies of Gog and Magog tumble into the bottomless pit. To the left on Mount Zion are the good, already in the ‘plains of heaven’ and awaiting the call to appear before the throne. The principal figures were identified in an engraved key published in 1855 by Leggatt, Haward and Leggatt to accompany the picture. The damned include richly dressed women, notably Herodias’s daughter and the whore of Babylon, lawyers and churchmen who have sought only worldly wealth.
The saved, at God’s right hand, are anonymous figures of virtuous women and innocent children, true lovers, martyrs, philanthropists, and foreground, portraits of the famous. Among the good Martin has included a high percentage of artists and poets, as well as statesmen and philosophers. These include Thomas More, Wesley, Canute, Dante, Washington, Copernicus, Newton, Watt, Chaucer, Tasso, Corneille, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Rubens, and Wilkie. The great men are ranged in a timeless tableau; Martin reproduces their best known images. Included among the contemporary detail is a railway train plunging into an abyss, its carriages marked ‘London’, ‘Paris’, and so on. (Terry Riggs)
Literature and Liturgy: Elie Wiesel, Night and The Problem of Evil
A prolific writer, teacher, and philosopher, Elie Wiesel was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1986 for his efforts against violence, hatred, and oppression. He was a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, and his writings and lectures provided a sober, passionate testament to the destruction of European Jewry during World War II.
Eliezer Wiesel was born on Sept. 30, 1928, in Sighet, Romania. When he was 16 his family was deported to the Auschwitz death camp along with all the Jews of Sighet. His parents and sister were killed, but young Wiesel was forced into slave labor at Buchenwald, another German death camp. After the war Wiesel settled in France, where he studied at the Sorbonne and worked as a journalist. In 1956 he moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1963. From 1976 he taught at Boston University.
In his first book, Night, Wiesel recounts the horrors of his experiences at the hands of the Nazis.
Other works—including The Town Beyond the Wall, A Beggar in Jerusalem, and The Fifth Son—reflect the influence of Hasidic tradition, the Talmud, and French existentialism. Wiesel received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was named a commander in the French Legion of Honor.
George Pattison insists, the proper response to evil—even in a religious context—is outrage. The classic illustration of this is Ivan Karamazov’s challenge, from Dostoyevsky’s famous novel. Many modern theologians agree that ‘a theodicy is not worth reading if it does not allow the screams of our society to be heard’ (Surin, 1.2). Christian theology is often encouraged, therefore, to protest against any portrayal of God’s relation to evil other than that provided by the ‘voice within’ heard by Elie Wiesel in the death camp: that God was there too, hanging on this gallows (1.3); ‘any other answer would be blasphemy’ (Moltmann, 1.4). For Christians, this is potent imagery. In Christian theology Christ’s suffering must always be key to any attempt either to explain evil or to cope with it (1.5).1 For Jews, however, it is the ‘Shoah’ or ‘Holocaust’ of six million innocents by the Nazis that represents their main stumbling block—and catalyst—for theodicy (see 1.6 and Eckardt, 1.4).
Pursuing the Elusive God.
In A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis is awash in a sea of grief and pain in the wake of his wife’s death. He too probes deeply into dark questions of faith, asking “Meanwhile, where is God?” In previous times of happiness, Lewis claims that he found God present everywhere he turned. But in the midst of his present anguish, searching for God is like knocking on the door of a house and hearing the door being bolted in your face. What you are left with, he says, is silence, and the disturbing fear that maybe this is what God is like after all.
Poet Ann Weems lost her son Todd on the day of his twenty-first birthday; in her “Lament Psalm Eight,” she joins Job and the host of others who struggle with faith and loss when God is nowhere to be found. That same searching, longing for God in the face of hardship, finds voice in popular music too. At the end of the CD Pop, the rock band U2’s singer Bono pleads for God to do something in the midst of the suffering that threatens to undo faith and life, wondering if God is busy or Jesus’ hands are tied. Speaking the darkness of faith is a daring, and faithful, act.
A Case against God.
The character of Job’s struggle goes beyond simply lamenting the injustice and loss that he and others have experienced. Hardly the “patient” Job lauded elsewhere in Scripture (see Jas. 5:11), here Job longs to argue his case with God. Contrast Job’s argument and complaint with Ivan Karamazov in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, who in the face of human suffering, particularly the horrible suffering of children, is led to deny the existence of God altogether. Dostoyevsky paints Ivan’s denial of God sympathetically, for he knows that such horrid suffering is a very real threat to faith. Job too is well acquainted with suffering, but his faith endures. His mouth is full of arguments, but they are arguments with God.
Too often have folk simply given in, resigning themselves to their misfortune: “It must be the Lord’s will; I guess we will just have to accept it.” Or, like Ivan, they abandon faith in God altogether. Job offers a third way: he is unwilling to accept suffering passively, but he also refuses to abandon his faith!
God’s Presence in Suffering.
Finally, there is a word of hope for the church, for the God whom Job sought has indeed sought us and found us, even in the midst of our suffering. Indeed, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted in his Letters and Papers from Prison, in a world of suffering “only the suffering God can help.”3 Job’s cry is answered by Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). For here, in the midst of Jesus’ anguished cry, we find that the depth of human suffering has been taken into God’s very being. God is very much aware of the realities of suffering, for God’s Son has himself suffered. The apostle Paul reminds us, in light of Christ’s suffering, that the good news of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ, we know that nothing—not injustice, not suffering, not even an overwhelming sense of God’s absence—can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:31–39). Safe and secure in this good news, we are set free to lament and to argue our case with God.
J. S. Randolph Harris, “Homiletical Perspective on Job 23:1–9, 16–17,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 147–151.
Jeff Astley, David Brown, and Ann Loades, Evil: A Reader, Problems in Theology (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2003), 14.
“Wiesel, Elie,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).