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God on Trial – thank you bbc

September 4, 2008

Sometimes I feel I should thank God for the BBC. Sometimes the license fee is justified by one production and last night’s ‘God on Trial’ was it. Quite simply brilliant. I was moved to tears several times, and by the time Rabbi Akiba (Anthony Sher) had his final word there were fat tears rolling down my face and I sobbed.

The story is set in Auschwitz in amongst Jewish prisoners in a blockhouse in Birkenau. They set up a courtroom in which to put God on trial for breach of contract – he has broken the covenant. They then proceed to make arguments for and against this God.

Honestly, words fail me. I cannot capture how good this was as drama, as theodicy, as theology. All the traditional arguments are discussed with the pain of the horror of holocaust.

Anthony Sher is outstanding representing living Torah, he has memorised it and he spends most of the trial with his eyes closed praying. Until that is, they shave his beard and his head and then, with blood on his scalp and his face he delivers a tour de force.

He recites the history of Israel and all the ‘injustices’ of God against the Egyptians, the Amalekites, Uriah the Hittite, Saul and so on, asking questions like ‘why did God kill those children and let Pharoah live, after all he was the one who said no!’

Finally he asks,

what was it like to be an Egyptian mother (the night the first born were killed) or an Amalekite?

Then, looking around the blockhouse he says,

it was like this!

The only comfort they could draw from their history was that God is not good, he is not good at all. He has just been on our side. His conclusion is that the glory and majesty of God is now to be seen in the might of the German empire. God has made a new covenant with a new people.

Yet, when the soldiers came to take them away for the chambers, and a skeptic grabs hold of the Rabbi as pleads ‘what do we do now, what do we do now that God is guilty?’ and the Rabbi answers, gloriously,

Now we pray.

I was reminded of Jesus on the cross. After the cry of dereliction, he commits he spirit into the hands of the one who had turned his back.

I just love the honesty of Jewish exploration of the relationship with God. The ability to put God under the microscope where no question or comment is off limits. I may not always like their answers, but I love the courage. I wish we had it. We could never, as Christians, deliver the sermon that the Rabbi delivers as the damning charge against God. Never. There are areas of faith that are not up for debate.

The closing scene of this programme is powerful and you can watch the whole thing on the BBC iPLayer here.

I presume that this was commissioned and shown on Wednesday to celebrate the European Day of Jewish Culture

  1. David Gardiner permalink

    On a lighter but not unconnected note, check out:

    On at the same time on the other side.

  2. The BBC is the best network out there. Next to Bravo.

  3. love the desperate housewives clip dave…I can see clergy all over the country clutching their chests.

    And on a lighter but n ot unconnected note Stephanie, outside the BBC it’s gotta be Dave.

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