He Suffers with Us

PBS stations around the country are currently running a deeply sobering film that is a must-see for people of faith. Called God on Trial, the film tells the story of a group of Jewish inmates at Auschwitz who don’t understand why God seems indifferent to their suffering. (Because of profanity, disturbing images, and other elements, the film is not suitable for children.)

The film begins on the “day of selection,” on which some of the prisoners are chosen for extermination to make room for more prisoners. As the chosen ones await their fate, though some of the prisoners insist that God is still with them and that “suffering is a part of God’s plan,” many others feel abandoned and bitter. A young man named Moche complains, “[God] should be here, not us. . . . We should put [Him] on trial; then maybe He’ll hear us.”

So the prisoners decide to bring a charge of “breach of contract” against God for breaking His covenant with the Jewish people. What follows is a compelling exploration of suffering, sin, and faith.

An older man named Kuhn insists, “This is a test of our faith. . . . The point is to keep faith.” He even suggests that the Jews have broken the covenant themselves by forgetting their Scriptures and disobeying God’s law. But as Kuhn’s son Mordechai points out, the new prisoners who have just arrived are devout followers of the Torah, and yet they’re being punished along with the Jews who have lapsed from their faith.

The arguments go on and on, covering such subjects as what crime they might have committed, whether the punishment is proportionate, why their torturers thrive if God is just, and whether there might be some possible redemption or purification that will come from their suffering-the kind of questions that people of faith have always wrestled with. They even face the possibility that God has withdrawn His favor from them and made a new covenant with the Nazis.

The arguments are hard to hear and the film is very hard to watch. Not because we haven’t heard arguments against God before-many of us have been hearing them and debating them for years-but because we hear them in a situation like this, among men who have so much at stake. As one character remarks, appeals to reason mean little in a world that seems to be run by madness.

But this makes it all the more meaningful when, even though they cannot understand God, they realize how desperately they need Him. One young father who had his three little boys taken from him surprisingly speaks in favor of God: “I know He is here, even though I don’t understand Him. . . . Maybe God is suffering with us.” Even when they feel furthest from Him, God is embodied in the sacrificial love of some of the prisoners.

I don’t want to give away too much here, but I recommend that you watch the film if it airs on your local PBS station, or pick up a copy of the DVD, which will be released in January. Consider watching it with your church group or a close circle of friends. Don’t be afraid to wrestle with the emotionally painful and intellectually challenging questions about God and suffering-and how it could be, possibly, that God suffers with us.

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