Theodicy by Medieval Allegory

Theodicy by Medieval Allegory

A sudden gust of wind rattles my workshop window. I look out through its opaque glass. Displeasure greets me. Through the dim pane I spy swirling clouds and a deep gray sky. A storm approaches.

But I toil on despite the portent of rain. I must. My debts to the blacksmith lay before me and my obligations to the tax collector loom above me.

I sigh. A heaviness weighs on my soul. My daily toil, ongoing and inexorable, burdens without relief. And all around, the afflictions of nature and the inhumanity of the villainous torment endlessly.

Then I hear a voice.

“My companion in the faith, I see troubles weigh on your spirit.

Who spoke now? My apprentices have departed and my journeyman have left. Only I stay on, and from my work bench I can see that the doors remain closed and their bolts latched.

Do I now hallucinate?

“Do not wonder,” the voice continues. “You will not see me. I am from above.”

From above? How can that be? I look up. Nothing, no one.

The voice speaks again, “I am from above not as a direction on the Earth but a place beyond the Earth. I am from the Divine.”

Could this be? Am I now graced by a vision? Why would I be so blessed?

The voice pauses, then utters softly. “Let me rest your spirit and relieve your puzzlement. You dwell in faith, and thus you stand worthy in the eyes of the Divine. So yes a vision graces you.”

A vision. From the Divine. What should I do? Give glory, yes. I put down my well-worn tools, dust off my clothes, then bow. “Glory to the Divine and all mercy to us sinners.”

The voice demurs. “The Creator serves his people. I thus come to give aid from the Divine, not to garner praise for it.

“Thus speak your troubles,” the voice beseeches. “A storm approaches. To delay only worsens your journey homeward.”

Who am I to contest a request of a Divine one? Overcoming my deference, I speak of my troubles. “Voice, you speak correctly. A heaviness does weight on me. I toil daily, endlessly, without prospect of relief. And evil and desolation encroach from all directions.”

Though the voice be not visible, I sense it nod in understanding. “Your share the troubles of many. Let us then enter discourse, in search of your enlightment.”

The words of the Divine stir hope in my soul. “My greatest appreciation.” I again bow, in great humbleness.

The voice begins. “Let me start with a question. When you toil at your craft, and then complete a work and see before you the finished product, do you not find joy and satisfaction in the excellence you have created?”

I must concur. “Yes, my toil brings a reward as such.”

The voice asks. “If for example you hew a cross for the monastery chapel, do you not find joy in refining every detail and give praise when you hang your handiwork above the chapel altar?

“If on another day you fashion wheels for a cart that carries barley from the field, though the cart be dirty, and your wheels never admired, do you not find fulfillment that your wheels roll true, and stand strong and straight under any weight heaped upon the cart?

“And if still you craft a table and chair for your household, do you not find joy in every cut of the saw and every swing of the hammer, as you make a simple but sturdy piece to sustain and support your family?”

I could not disagree. The voice had spoken correctly. “Yes, despite my toil, I receive joy as I strive for excellence, and find tranquility in providing satisfaction to those who receive my work.”

The voice speaks again. “And does not the joy and fulfillment multiply in proportion to the effort and exertion, for it is both the work and the product, both the journey and the destination, that fills one with satisfaction?”

I consider and find myself not objecting. “Yes, the greater the difficulty, the more joy in both mastering the challenge and creating the product.”

The voice then extends the line of questions. “May I now ask if your joy and tranquility stands singular? Or may others in other endeavors and who practice other crafts also find such?”

I again know the voice has spoken correctly. I reply, “Yes, certainly, many do find such.”

The voice continues. “So the archer, practicing daily though his calluses burn, and his muscles ache, does not the true archer strive diligently for an aim perfect and a release clean, almost to become one with the bow.

“And the artisan? Does the artisan, the true artisan, simply work carelessly? Or does the artist toil studiously, caring for every detail and refining even the smallest piece, when creating the murals and inlays, regardless of whether for a great cathedral or a lowly chapel.”

I answer simply. “Most certainly.”

“And the same for the sculpture, or clock master, or swords maker. Do not each of those, if true to their craft, work tirelessly in service of their faith, and their profession, and to those for whom they work in service or payment, and do they not find pleasure and joy in the refinement of their work, and the satisfaction of their client.”

“Voice from the Divine, you speak of that which does occur.”

The voice pauses, letting his word linger in my mind, then continues.

“So the toil and the challenge, for the diligent, they create and enable the reward and satisfaction, not diminish or prevent it.

I consider. And yes I find the words of the voice persuasive. But I find also that I must issue a rejoinder.

“But could our toil not be with less anguish and pain?”

I sense a nod, though I cannot see the voice. “Close your eyes, and open them. Do you struggle to see? No.”

The voice continues. “Listen to the wind now rustling the window. Do you struggle to hear? No.”

Again the voice. “When you take a tool, do your hands not move fluidly, without even a thought? And do your legs, even when weary, not move you easily across the room. And your heart and lungs? Do you need to concentrate at all on them? No. They work with no thought on your part. And your mind? Does not what you have learned, and does not the motions you have practiced, flow with just small effort from your memory as you hone your works?”

A pause, and a continuation. “I dare say you have a body that eases your burden, and enables you in your productive toil.”

“Voice from the Divine, you have enabled my awareness. Until you spoke, I lacked a realization and thankfulness for all that a person can perform effortlessly, and how much greater would our toil be if not for the abilities of which our body finds itself endowed.”

But though I give thanks for the insight, I do not find relief from my heaviness. Though reluctant to again challenge the Divine, my heaviness compels me to do so.

“Yes, we are endowed. And our toil brings reward. But, as we have just enunciated, in my craft, and all the crafts, the toil and reward beget each other. The effort and the satisfaction, they arise together, and abide as one, matching and complementing.”

I pause, taking a breath, and then speak again.

“But a greater of evil strikes, and does so unrequited, unexpected, unmatched by reward. I speak of the evil of nature. Nature hurls down its calamity upon all the people, without purpose we can see, or cause we can discern, or warning we can detect, or reward we can perceive.”

I sense no retribution from my challenge, so I continue. “The calamities run wide. Floods, they wash away our fields and villages; drought, it reduces the crops; vermin and insects, they devour our food and fruit; lightening, it sparks fire amongst our abodes and forests; diseases, they stricken our children and our elderly. Nature descends upon us all manner of misfortune without cause, or warning, or purpose, or reward.”

I stop. In time, the voice responds.

“Look outside the window of your shop. A shower falls now, without summoning or effort, to water the crops. And the sun will reappear to nurture their growth. And the seeds will sprout without urging. The cow gives milk, the sheep wool, and the pig meat. The ground gives up its clay, stone and metal, and the forest its wood, without charge, to build your homes and erect your edifices and craft your implements.”

Yes,” I take the liberty to dispute, “but could not the sky shower down gentle rain to water our crops without pouring out torrents that flood our towns. And could not our candles flicker with gentle flames without the lightning throwing down bolts that ignite our forests and torch our homes.”

The voice stays undaunted. “Before Mankind knew of farming, the floods of rivers revealed how seeds grow to tall stands of grain. And before Mankind knew of fire, the lightning ignited the trees and brought to them the knowledge of fire’s light and warmth.

I protest, respectfully, “We have learned of farms and fire, so why do the floods and the flames still bring harm. And disease. No good that I can imagine can come from disease.”

I stop and remain silent, respectfully. The voice continues.

“You have learned of fire from the lightning. Do you presume that you have garnered all lightning can reveal? I dare say no. Mankind in time will learn further secrets of lightning, and with that understanding produce light beyond your experience and generate power beyond your imagination. And disease. In the scourge of disease Mankind with nonetheless discover the mechanism of life, and that understanding will enable the forestalling of illness, and increase the bounty of your farms, and reduce the pain of your afflictions.

“Should the Creator make the Earth easy? Would the minds of Mankind not atrophy and would growth not cease? Should he change nature at every turn to avert all disaster? Would not Mankind become complacent, lazy, even contemptuous of even the slightest distress? I say to you, even the calamites must come, in measure, to spur Mankind in knowledge, and kindle you to compassion, community and sharing.

“In his creation, the Creator neither coddles nor overwhelms Mankind. Rather, He bestows benefits and begets challenges in proper proportion.”

I am humbled at the force of the voice’s words. But I still question.

“But what of those who suffer injury, and death, in the calamities of nature? Even as we let our children grow and do not guard them from distress, and even as we let our workers learn, and do not shield them from failure, we do protect them diligently from grievous injury and death.”

The voice takes a long, deep breath, at least I sense so. “Yes, calamity in nature does bring injury and death, and many swear damnation against our Creator for the sufferings of his creation. The Creator’s allowance of calamities assists and stimulates humanity, but you ask where justice lies if death and injury strike down the unfortunate and undeserved in the cause of the advancement of humanity as a whole.”

A pause follows, as if the voice seeks the proper wording to convey its answer.

“When you toil, fulfillment arrives, many times straight away and other times after delay, and sometimes not at all. But you measure this arrival by human time, in hours, or days, or years. And when some toil sees no reward, you may carry this for what seems forever, for a lifetime.

“But is human time the only duration? Is a lifetime really forever?

“Consider the Creator. Would your lifetime not be as to His second? I say to you those who suffer and even die, for the cause of humanity, they will receive fulfillment straight away, but straight away as measured by the Creator, though enormous for you. And in that fulfillment, their suffering will dwindle away as if a second, dare say a smallest portion of a second, against the infiniteness of their fulfillment when they enter the Creator’s time.

“For the universe retains all information, and the Creator remembers all suffering, and those who suffer for the good of all will find fulfillment beyond all measure. I say to you the very atoms of the stars retain all knowledge, and in the Kingdom of God the Creator will reverse the degradation to resurrect in glory the souls of those who suffered for the advancement of Mankind.”

I bow my head in humility. The plan of our Creator spans large and long, beyond my conception, for our Creator himself spans large and long, infinite, beyond my conception.

“But I sense you have more. Ask.” The voice interrupts my contemplation.

I fear to challenge again for so often my questions have revealed the depth of my ineptitude and the weakness of my faith.

But the voice has implored me to continue. And so I challenge again. “Nature strikes as only one part of the greater part of evil. Nature works beside a collaborator in calamity, Mankind itself.

“Mankind bestows all manner of distress. Murderers slay their fellow man; vagrants lurk ready plunder and steal; wars take the lives of our knights and conscripts; the baron himself sends out his sentinels to harass and even torture.

“Why must Mankind endure capricious and horrific evil at the hands of our brethren? Could we not be created without evil and hatred, anger and envy, and only show love and kindness?”

The voice responds, in questions. “Do you love your wife? And you children? And do you not hold the saints in reverence and pray to them for their intercession? Do you not revere in high esteem your fellow craftsman?”

“Yes. Certainly. But I do not need to hate, or despise, or condemn, to so feel.”

“Is that so?” the voice continues with a question. “Would your love of your wife and children, and your reverence for the saints, and your esteem for your fellow craftsman, run as deep and true and sincere if that would be all you could do? If you did not choose, among all the things you could choose, to feel as you do would what you feel matter?”

I say nothing, just ponder.

“When the fruit grows, and brings pleasant tastes and smell, do you consider that the fruit tree itself loves you? Or cares for your well-being? When the rainbow appears, and delights your sight, do you think the rainbow itself did that of its will? When the wind rustles the Fall leaves and causes them in their colorful splendor to twirl in a dance, do you think the wind itself cares or the leaves themselves have concern? No. Those objects do not feel, do not think, do not give of their volition.

“For all the bounty and pleasantness of nature, and for all the splendor in it you admire and enjoy, do you attribute that splendor to the will of nature? No, I say. Rather you appreciate nature and you possess gladness at its splendor, but you attribute that splendor to the will and beneficence of the Creator.”

I nod, but do not speak, as I am but a poor pupil to the wisdom from the Divine.

“When your brethren do a favor, you feel their care, and concern, because they do so freely and in their own volition and their own choice. You feel not love from the wheat in the loaf your brethren bake for your, or the metal in the tool they hone for you, but from the freely given love in their choice to bake the bread and hone the tool.

“The craftsman that taught you, the parents that raised you, the priest that serves you, the wife that nurtures you, you cherish their efforts because they flow willingly. The act bestows the love, and the object transmits the love, but the value of the love stems from the free choice of the one who gives the love by their own volition.”

I shake my head in shame. In my impudence I have questioned and doubted the wisdom of the Creator and his bestowing on us the gift of our will.

The voice interjects amidst my pondering.

“Companion in faith, you still harbor another deep question and great challenge. Do not fear retribution. Bring forth this challenge.”

I am startled. Not only does the voice bless me with patience and wisdom, but asks that I further challenge.

I begin.

“Evil and distress, calamity and inhumanity, reign down on humanity. Our Divine Benefactor, the Creator, proclaims a coming Kingdom of God that will banish such.

“But why do I, nor anyone else, even in deep belief, not know where and when we will see the Kingdom of God, in its full glory.”

I continue. “The prophets and the Savior set a cornerstone on Earth for the Kingdom, then foretold of its arrival in fullness in a future. But when and where in the future? Why does not the Creator reveal the time and place, and give hope to the weary and faith to the wavering?”

A silence descends. And I feel a calmness in the presence of the voice.

“My brethren in faith,” the voice intones in a deep voice, “if in a flash I place you on the top of a high mountain, do you experience the mountain?”

I answer to the negative. “No, the mountain ranges vast. One must traverse and explore the mountain up and down, in all seasons, to grasp the enormity and diversity of the mountain. One does not experience, much less appreciate, the mountain from one singular place, no matter how high.”

“My brethren in faith,” the voice again intones in a deep voice, “if I tell you the day and time of a great eclipse, and you observe that eclipse at the appointed time on the appointed day, do you comprehend the motions of the sun and moon?”

The voice of course knows the answer, but asks rhetorically to highlight it.

“Of course no, the sun and moon move in great arcs and curves over days and months. One must spend great periods watching and charting the sun and moon, to grasp the scope of their motions. One cannot comprehend their cycles, nor dwell in the glory of their motions, from an observation at a single moment.”

“My brethren in faith,” the voice continues, “if I give you a great ship, and a great crew to sail it, and dock it in a great port by the ocean, do you understand the ocean, and all its creatures, and all the lands that abound on the shores of the ocean?”

I answer straight away to the negative. “No, one can not know the oceans docked in a port. One must sail the oceans, in day and night, in sun and rain, to comprehend its breadth, and observe its creatures, and walk on its shores and lands.”

“Now, my brother in faith, does the mountain, in any way, exceed the greatness of the Kingdom of God?”

I of course do not know the nature or extent of the Kingdom of God, but cannot, in any way, imagine that a mountain, even in its enormity, will come close to the greatness of the Kingdom of God.

“I must agree, the Kingdom of God would reign greater, in all respects.”

“But the sun and moon, in their great size and distance, surely they must match the greatness of the Kingdom of God?”

I ponder, but just for a moment, then answer.

“You look to catch me here, but a moment’s reflection reveals the answer. The Creator himself will be present in the Kingdom of God, and the Creator made the sun and moon, and could make them and more in the Kingdom.

“And brother, the ship and its crew. Such a ship could sail to the corners of the Kingdom of God, correct?”

I see again that the voice taunts as if one should agree in the affirmative, while in reality the answer lies to the negative.

“You again dangle a question with rhetorical flair, as if no question exists that of course a great ship could so sail. But your flair aims otherwise, to emphasize the opposite, that even the greatest ship on Earth could not cover even a tiny corner of the Kingdom of God.”

A pause stretches out. Then the voice resumes.

“You speak the clear truth, the Kingdom of God looms many times many the greatness of the mountain, and the distance of the moon, and the reach of a great ship.

“Repeat then your question.”

I repeat the question as the voice requests. “Yes, I asked why the Savior does not reveal the time and place of the Kingdom of God, to give hope to weary and faith to the wavering.”

“Now,” the voice replies, “if you cannot understand a mountain from a single time and place, and the Kingdom of God looms greater by far than a mountain, will you understand the greater Kingdom of God from a single time and place.”

The voice pauses, but I am spellbound and do not reply.

The voice thus continues. “And similarly, if you cannot understand the motions of the sun and moon, or the depth and breadth of the ocean, from a single time and place, and the Kingdom of God looms greater by far than the sun and moon or the oceans and seas, will you understand the greater Kingdom of God from a single time and place.”

I again feel shame at the meagerness of my faith and the insufficiency of my understanding.

“You again reveal the naivety of my questions. I had imagined one would enter the Kingdom of God as if crossing the threshold of a castle gate, or passing over a mountain saddle into a verdant valley. But I erred.”

I pause. The voice then continues my thoughts.

“You speak correctly. One does not arrive at the Kingdom of God as if a destination, any more than one becomes a master of a craft by entering a workshop. Nay, one gains awareness and understanding of the Kingdom of God through a journey in faith and love.”

As I ponder and appreciate the insights the voice has beseeched me, a further question arises. Reluctance again washes over me, but also does the stern and insistent command of the voice to not withhold my queries.

So I ask.

“Only the most learned person can understand the mountain, or the moon and sun, or the ocean, in a lifetime, or if ever. How then can anyone, especially one of lesser stature like myself, come to know the Kingdom of God, as the Kingdom spans greater than the mountain, and the moon and sun, and the ocean?”

The voice smiles, or at least seems to smile, for I cannot see the smile, but smiles as if satisfied that even in my question somehow I have shown a new understanding.

“In your inquiry, you have offered a profound and deep question, and demonstrated a great and wise insightfulness.

“You state correctly. One person, alone, cannot come to know the Kingdom of God, even with great faith and effort. For just as the building of a great Cathedral, or the construction of an enormous ship of the sea, requires legions of craftsmen and builders, and spans across decades and centuries, the realization of the Kingdom of God will require legions of the faithful, across great spans of time.

“And while a Cathedral can reach completion, the Kingdom of God arising as it does from the infinity of the Divine, will grow forever infinitely.”

“Glory,” I proclaim. Then ask. “The Cathedral requires great toil because while it serves as a house of the Divine it erection remains a work of Mankind. Could the Creator in his power not bring the salvation of his Kingdom without the reliance on Mankind?”

The voice responds, again gently.

“The Creator does not create the Kingdom for a self-glory. The Kingdom serves for the glorification of the Creator only as it reflects the unbounded love of the Creator in bringing fulfillment to Mankind.

“Remember our lesson. Toil and challenge beget fulfillment. The greater the challenge, the more deep the fulfillment. And thus the Kingdom of God, by emerging through the work of the many and their toil in faith and glory across eons, beget the greatest fulfillment for all.”

I again stand in awe and humility. The voice’s wisdom continues to lay bare my ineptness, but nonetheless the voice humors me and continues to expand of my understanding. I pause and dwell in the enlightenment.

But I find myself compelled to further questions.

“The Savior set the cornerstone for the Kingdom. And you have enlightened me that the Kingdom will not come in a moment and a flash, but will develop over eons of times, through faith and love, among generations of believers, with our collective toil and sacrifice and faith begetting our fulfillment and joy.

“But what of the prophecy of the future coming of the Savior? When will that occur?”

The voice, again, corrects my perceptions.

“You again conflate the Creator’s time into your time, and compress a duration extending across eons into an event occurring at a moment.

“A tree does not sprout all at once, but begins as a trifling seed, sprouting unseen amidst the leaves on the floor of the forest, then growing slowly, taking decades to grow to a giant and majestic tower of nature.

“In the same fashion, but in the time span of the Creator, the return of the Savior will transpire across ages, with his revelation spreading over eras and eons and generations.

“May I dare say Mankind will reach the stars in the sky, and populate the moons and the planets of the universe, during the ages when the Savior again emerges.”

I struggle to comprehend the voice’s words. How does the Savior reveal himself across ages? And how will my brethren, and I, and all the peoples of the ages, come to witness this fruition.

Though I did not speak my questions, and only thought them in my mind, the voice knows of my queries even without my utterance of them.

“You must remain in faith. For neither can you, nor Mankind, yet understand in its completeness the plan of the Creator. But remain in faith, for in the Creator’s time your soul will live in glory in Kingdom as it emerges.”

Then, though I cannot see the voice, I sense it depart.

I stand, for a moment, spellbound, but then in humility I kneel, bowing, knowing not why I was blessed with this vision but thankful beyond on bounds.

I look out. The rain has passed, and the moon in its fullness shines, and as I ponder the greatness of that moon, I give thanks for the glory and beneficence of our Creator.