Sometimes people ask me to watch films, having been moved for some reason to think that I’d like them. My friend Jimmy handed me a film in a Netflix envelope probably some six weeks ago, and I said, sure, I’d watch it. And then life happened, and week after week, he’d ask me, and I’d say “No, haven’t watched it yet.” The problem was that it was a holocaust film, and that meant the moment would have to be right. Day after day, the moment wasn’t right. Why yesterday, as a part of my Sabbath time, the time was right, I don’t know.
But it was.
What unfolded was a torturous delight. Obviously, it’s hard to call a holocaust film delightful, and now that I’ve said it, I take it back. Delightful? No, God on Trial, a Masterpiece Theatre production that aired last fall on PBS, is not delightful…but the marriage of intellectual swordsmanship with the emotional needs of the moment was pretty incredible. Just last week, I was having a conversation about one of my short sketches for Willow Creek, a piece that they eventually did not use because of it’s intellectual nature. I was talking about intellectual questions being deeply emotional for some people, depending on the stakes of the immediate situation. In God on Trial, the story is told of a group of Jewish prisoners who have just arrived at Auschwitz. They have been separated into two groups and are waiting for half of them to be taken the gas chamber, while the other half will live, and begin work the next day. While they await their fate, they decide to stage a trial of the person they hold responsible for this calamity–God.
The crime of which God is accused is simple: covenant-breaking. They accuse him of breaking the covenant with the Jewish people, that He will be their God, protecting them from their enemies. The trial that unfolds is a fabulous look at the questions that trouble us, especially in times of suffering. The case for and against the love and compassion of God is brilliantly and passionately played out, made all the stronger by the powerful ensemble cast. Devastating performances all around…the kind of performances I’d love to see on the live stage. (Please, someone turn this script into a piece for the stage.) I won’t tell you how it ends, or the verdict, but if you see God on Trial, you’ll think a long time about the meaning and power of faith.