Theodicy in Thornton Wilder's the Essay

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" (16) In other words, since God is not completely benevolent, one must protest against God for allowing that which is not just or that which is evil to exist.

In an illustration of this strategy, Roth refers to the work of Elie Wiesel, who "shows that life in a post-Holocaust world can be more troublesome with God than without him" (9). In his works, Wiesel looks at different forms of theodicies and does not accept them for various reasons. Because of his experiences, he has put together his own personal theory of theodicy that allows him to accept God while still handle his violent experiences. In his book Night, Eliezer, who, despite his young age, has studied Jewish theology, at first wonders the suffering is due to committed sins, but then changes his mind and sees it instead as something to which someone must submit.

In Chapter 3 of Night, Eliezer breaks his narrative to consider how the Holocaust affected his life after it came to an end. He looks back to his first night in Birkenau and clearly and emotionally writes how he felt then and how he will always feel from that night on in order to justify his mixed thoughts:

Never shall I forget that night . . . which has turned my life into one long night. . . .Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God. . . . Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

With some comments as these, it appears that the book offers no hope at all. As Roth notes, Eliezer protests God's actions. Yet, although it ends with Eliezer a shattered young man, without faith and hope for himself or for humanity, Wiesel, himself, believes that there are reasons to have faith in God and humanity's capacity for goodness, even after such horrors as the Holocaust. The fact that Eliezer has taken the time to write his memoir, ironically demonstrates that he feels he has something to lend, something to say to others. His life has value, therefore, and so must other people, too.

Roth says that the verdict reads "guilty," (9) but that word is not the end. Wiesel's thought has a method of a potestant. He does not stop asking questions, "What is the next step?" Without reaching a conclusive answer, he continues, "And yet" And yet." Regardless, he must add something else. "How is one to believe? How is one not to believe?" These thoughts allow Wiesel not to discount the waste that indicts God. Instead, he stands with Moses in recognizing that God's sovereignty, at the same time as arguing against God for the sake of his people. Roth explains that Wiesel's argument is that one is not to look for a divine scapegoat or to solve problems by blaming God. Rather, humans have to take responsibility for their own actions. All in all, Wiesel is mapping out boundaries of meaning that will help him deal with his ordeal in Auschwitz. It would be too far to deny God completely. Yet, it is also going too far to say that he is completely good or to apologize or exonerate him.

From a personal standpoint, I cannot support the "accept all" philosophy of theodicy. I cannot ignore the evil in this world as if it did not happen. Nor, however, do I feel that expressing anger or disappointment with God will help. Anger, unless it helps one's internal conflicts, does not solve anything. It can be a wasted emotion. Instead, I look at another person who spoke about theodicy. John Hick redefines evil as a "soul-making" theodicy in Evil and the God of Love. Hick claims that in light of present day anthropological knowledge, some type of two-stage conception of human creation has unavoidably has to become the Christian tenet.

Hick argues that a person who has attained goodness by facing and mastering temptations, and therefore making responsible decisions is good in a rich and more valuable sense than if that individual were to be created in a state of either innocence or virtue. This even justifies the hard work of the soul-making process. For example, a child who is raised believing that the only or the ultimate value in life is pleasure most likely would not become an ethically mature adult. If we are the children of God and there exists any similarity between God's ultimate purpose for humanity, and the purpose of parents for their children, it is necessary to that the presence of pleasure and absence of pain cannot be allowed to be supreme and an what then is this "supreme and overriding end"?

"Soul-making" is the crux of the matter and the main focus of Hick's argument. People are not completely developed spiritually, which God hopes them to be. If humans have free will, then they can make choices. The good decisions they make will add to their spiritual development, so they must be able to make good choices. Yet, they must be able to make bad decisions, too.

Is this another way of not facing the issue of why there is evil? Yes, as is any concept of theodicy. None of the approaches can actually explain why there is good and evil, unless one truly believes there is no God, Satan is stronger than God, or that there is another life where goodness will prevail forever. My case falls into what is called "cognitive dissonance," or a way that it is possible to mentally cope with something that is alien to one's own concepts. If I believe that there is no God or that he is totally good or completely bad, I cannot handle my life. However, if I see myself, and all people, as having some free will and some capacity of making life better for others, I can move forward.

This moving forward is what gives me the impetus, as Hick notes, to continually improve and better myself. If I was a complete fatalist and thought that life was already patterned, and I had no control over anything that happened to me -- good or bad -- what would give me the reason, as Hick says, to be an ethically mature adult? I cannot explain why evil occurs. Is it because God is testing humans to see how they can grow through their travails? Are we some kind of experiment? That, too, is personally disconcerting for me to consider, so I, like Wiesel, will only think about and accept that which is cognitively "non-dissonant."

In the meantime, like Wilder, it is necessary to revisit the idea of theodicy at different times of our life. When we are young or old, healthy or sick, in the midst of goodness or evil, we have to somehow rectify that with our beliefs, so our view of God will change, as well.

References Cited:

Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. New York: MacMillan, 1967.

Kushner, Harold. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. New York: Random House, 1981.

Peterson, Michael. The Problem of Evil. Notre Dame, IND: Notre Dame University, 1992

Roth, John. "Theodicy of Protest" Davis S.T. (Ed.), Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, Westminster: John Knox Press, 2001

Wiesel, Elie. Night.…[continue]

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