January 26, 2012


I recently watched a PBS docudrama, God on Trial. In the film, a group of Jews are held at Auschwitz during the Nazi reign. Experiencing genocide at the hands of the Nazis moves many of them to question their religious belief that they are the chosen people of God. Consequently, they decide to put God on trial.

I rented the movie because I hoped that it would contain some strong debates on theology, both for and against. I was not disappointed. There was one particular section of the movie that I found most intriguing, which I will present here for the reader's consideration. It explores several parts of the Old Testament that are not typically discussed in Gospel Doctrine classes. Perhaps this will shed more light on the reasons I have such a difficult time believing the Old Testament is in any way literal or reflective of how a real god, as envisioned by the LDS church (among others) would behave. See this previous post for an example more specific to LDS doctrine. The opinions expressed in this scene do not necessarily reflect my own. Please see my comments below the scene.

The setting is that several male Jews are gathered in a dark, cold room with dirt floors, discussing what they are to interpret from their experiences as they relate to God. A rabbi who has been silent so far begins to speak (the transcript was provided from this site; or you can watch the scene here):

Rabbi Akiba: Who led us out of Egypt?

Judge: God led us out of Egypt.

Rabbi: I have a question; Why were we in Egypt to start with?

Judge: There was a famine, so we took shelter.

Rabbi: Who sent the famine?

Judge: Well, we don't know much about the famine...

Rabbi: God sent the famine. So God sent us to Egypt and God took us out of Egypt.

Judge: And later He sent us out of Babylon in order that we might...

Rabbi: And when He brought us out of Egypt, how did He do it? By words, vision, miracle?

Judge: Moses asked Pharaoh...

Rabbi: And when Pharaoh said no?

Inmate: The plagues.

Rabbi: First Moses turned the Egyptians' water to blood (Exodus 7: 17-21). Then God sent the plague of frogs (Exodus 8: 1-7); next a plague of mosquitoes (Exodus 8: 16-18); then a plague of flies (Exodus 8: 21-24). Then he slew their livestock (Exodus 9: 1-6). Next a plague of boils (Exodus 9: 9-11). Next came the hail (Exodus 9: 18-25), which battered down the crops and even the trees and structures everywhere, except in Goshen where the Israelites lived.

Judge: But still Pharaoh did not agree.

Rabbi: And so a plague of locusts (Exodus 10: 12-15). And then the days of darkness (Exodus 10: 21-23). And finally what?

Judge: God slew the firstborn of Egypt and led us out of Egypt.

Rabbi: He struck down the firstborn: from the firstborn and heir of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the slave at the mill. He slew them all (Exodus 12: 29-30). Did He slay Pharaoh?

Judge: No, I don't think so. It was later.

Rabbi: It was Pharaoh that said no, but God let him live. And slew his children instead. All the children. And then the people made their escape taking with them the gold and silver and jewelry and garments of the Egyptians (Exodus 12: 35). And then God drowned the soldiers who pursued them (Exodus 14:26-28). He did not close the waters up so that the soldier could not follow. He waited until they were following and then He closed the waters. And then what?

Judge: And then the desert and ultimately the Promised Land.

Rabbi: No. The Promised Land was empty and a new place, uncultivated.

Judge: No. There were...

Rabbi: When the Lord thy God shall bring you into the Promised Land you shall cast out many nations before you, nations much greater and mightier than you are. You shall smite them and utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them (Deuteronomy 7: 2).

Inmate: It shows us His favor. We are His people.

Rabbi: And he gave us a king in Saul. Now when the people of Amalek fought Saul's people, what did the Lord God command? I'll ask the scholar.

Scholar: Crush Amalek and put him under the curse of destruction.

Rabbi: Was Saul to show any mercy to spare anyone?

Scholar: Do not spare...

Rabbi: Do not spare him, but kill. Kill man, woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, cattle and donkey (1 Samuel 15: 3). So Saul set out to do this and on the way he met some Kenites (1 Samuel 15: 6). Now these were not Amalek's people, he had no quarrel with them. He urged them to flee. And the Lord our God, was He pleased by the mercy of Saul: by the justice of Saul?

Scholar: No. No he wasn't.

Rabbi: And when Saul decided not to slaughter all the livestock and to take it to feed his people (1 Samuel 15: 9-26), was God pleased with his prudence, his charity?

Scholar: No.

Rabbi: No, He was not. He said, you have rejected the word of Adonai, therefore He has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15: 23). And then to please the Lord our God, Samuel brought forth the king Agar and hacked him to pieces before the Lord at Gilgar (1 Samuel 15: 32-33). After Saul, there came David who took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to himself (2 Samuel 11: 2-4). After arranging to have Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11: 14-15) against the wishes of God, did God strike David for this?

Scholar: In a manner of speaking...

Rabbi: Did He strike Bathsheba?

Scholar: In the sense that when they had...

Rabbi: Adonai said, since you have sinned against me, the child will die (2 Samuel 12: 13-14). [Turning to the judge] You asked earlier, who would punish a child? God does! Now did the child die suddenly, mercifully, without pain?

Scholar: In a-

Rabbi: Seven days! Seven days that child spent dying in pain while David wrapped himself in sack and ashes and fasted and sought to show his sorrow to God (2 Samuel 12: 15-18). Did God listen?

Scholar: The child died.

Rabbi: Did that child find that God was just? Did the Amalekites think that Adonai was just? Did the mothers of Egypt -- the mothers -- did they think that Adonai was just?

Scholar: But Adonai is our God, surely...

Rabbi: Oh, what? Did God not make the Egyptians? Did He not make their rivers and make their crops grow? If not Him, then who? What? Some other God? But what did He make them for? To punish them? To starve, to frighten, to slaughter them? The people of Amalek, the people of Egypt, what was it like for them when Adonai turned against them? It was like this. Today there was a selection, yes? When David defeated the Moabites, what did he do?

Judge: He made them lie on the ground in lines and he chose one to live and two to die (2 Samuel 8: 2).

Rabbi: We have become the Moabites. We are learning how it was for the Amalekites. They faced extinction at the hand of Adonai. They died for His purpose. They fell as we are falling. They were afraid as we are afraid. And what did they learn? They learned that Adonai, the Lord our God, our God, is not good. He is not good. He was not ever good. He was only on our side. God is not good. At the beginning when He repented that He had made human beings and flooded the earth (Genesis 6: 6) - why? What had they done to deserve annihilation? What could they have done to deserve such wholesale slaughter? What could they have done that was so bad? God is not good. When He asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22: 1-2), Abraham should have said no (some of my thoughts on this story here). We should have taught our God the justice that was in our hearts. We should have stood up to Him. He is not good. He has simply been strong. He has simply been on our side. When we were brought here, we were brought by train. A guard slapped my face. On their belts they had written "Got mit uns" -- God is with us. Who is to say that He is not? Perhaps He is. Is there any other explanation? What we see here: His power, His majesty, His might, all these things that turned against us. He is still God, but not our God. He has become our enemy.
That is what's happened to our covenant. He has made a new covenant with someone else.

My Comment: Naturally, I do not agree with the suggestion that God made a covenant with the Nazis. My purpose in sharing these thoughts is that it seems appropriate to question these and other alleged acts of God (more). If God is the ultimate example of righteousness, we may either judge each of these acts as righteous because they allegedly were God's, or we can examine the acts and ask ourselves if they fit the criterion of righteousness. If not, the only conclusion remaining is that these acts were not God's, or, at a minimum, the Old Testament is not inspired scripture. As we wrestle with such difficult mysteries of the divine, I again pose the question of what is more reasonable here; are there sensible justifications for God's alleged actions as outlined in the Old Testament, or is the explanation more acceptable (however uncomfortable) that God did not command or cause these things to be done? Whether there is higher order to the universe is still up for debate, but the aforementioned stories are some of the many reasons I do not endorse the Old Testament as sacred text, or as a description of any god I can possibly believe in or worship. Lastly, I think it clearly calls into question the LDS teaching that the god of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ (more on that here).


raemanzu said...

This is such an impactful post. I have, briefly and fearfully, let my mind travel along this line from time to time and wondered if a God who takes sides against his own children can really be called good. I believe it is better to say the Old Testament is not completely true than to take the terrible alternative: saying that God is the way the Old Testament shows him to be. If he is like that, then the only reason we follow him is because of fear, and because he is the most powerful, thus implying that might makes right. I can't believe that....

Latter-day Guy said...

So glad you mentioned this show. It's a fantastic piece of work! Really excellent performances.