Story and Silence: Transcendence in the Work of Elie Wiesel
By Gary Henry
A surprising parallel in Christian theology to Elie Wiesel's outlook is found in the
following extract from the writings of C. S. Lewis:
There is, to be sure, one glaringly obvious ground for denying that any moral purpose
at all is operative in the universe: namely, the actual course of events in all its
wasteful cruelty and apparent indifference, or hostility, to life. But then, as I
maintain, that is precisely the ground which we cannot use. Unless we judge this waste and
cruelty to be real evils we cannot of course condemn the universe for exhibiting them.
Unless we take our own standard of goodness to be valid in principle (however fallible our
particular applications of it) we cannot mean anything by calling waste and cruelty evils.
And unless we take our own standard to be something more than ours, to be in fact an
objective principle to which we are responding, we cannot regard that standard as valid.
In a word, unless we allow ultimate reality to be moral, we cannot morally condemn it. The
more seriously we take our own charge of futility the more we are committed to the
implication that reality in the last resort is not futile at all. The defiance of the good
atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious
homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable
and authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with
no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being
indignant. The fact that he arraigns heaven itself for disregarding them means that at
some level of his mind he knows they are enthroned in a higher heaven still. I cannot and
never could persuade myself that such defiance is displeasing to the supreme mind. There
is something holier about the atheism of a Shelley than about the theism of a Paley. That
is the lesson of the Book of Job. No explanation of the problem of unjust suffering is
there given: that is not the point of the poem. The point is that the man who accepts our
ordinary standard of good and by it hotly criticizes divine justice receives the divine
approval: the orthodox, pious people who palter with that standard in the attempt to
justify God are condemned. Apparently the way to advance from our imperfect apprehension
of justice to the absolute justice is not to throw our imperfect apprehensions
aside but boldly to go on applying them. Just as the pupil advances to more perfect
arithmetic not by throwing his multiplication table away but by working it for all it is
From "De Futilitate," in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1967), pp.69-70.
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