“The nature of God” was the lesson title for the Year 11 GCSE class this morning – understanding how Christians and Muslims perceived God. The words omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent were discussed. Then the idea of the inconsistent triad was explored.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus argued,
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
If evil challenges thoughts of omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it also challenges the belief in omniscience.
At the end of the discussion, one student said, “But, sir, what about the people who put God on trial?”
The student knew the story told by Rabbi Hugo Gryn, whose uncle had been in a concentration camp.
In this camp there happened to be a group of particularly learned Jews, several of them rabbis. They had to work six-and-a-half days a week, but on Sunday afternoons they were left in relative peace. One such afternoon the learned Jews, in their despair, took up the notion of putting God on trial- not so outrageous as it may seem, for there is a Hebrew term meaning ‘to have a legal disputation with the Lord’. So witnesses came forward for the prosecution, there were others for the defence, and there was a bench of rabbis acting as judges.
The case for the prosecution was overwhelming. They had only to look at their condition. Their community was being wiped out; most of their families had already been destroyed; how could a good God permit this to happen? The case having been made and a desperate defence put up, the judges had little difficulty in reaching their verdict: the accused was guilty as charged – guilty of neglecting His chosen people. Silence fell upon the court, until one elderly inmate rose to his feet.
‘Nevertheless’, he said, ‘Let us not forget. It is time for our evening prayers’.
There is an intellectual honesty in admitting that the world does not correspond to theology; that criticism and rejection of faith are reasonable responses; that opponents of religion present a very convincing case. There was an intellectual honesty, also, among the Year 11 students who acknowledged all of the horror in history, but believed there were things beyond explanation, that human free will should be held to account.