Friday, January 21, 2011

Theodicy 101

A man who knew nothing about agriculture came to a farmer and asked to be taught about farming. The farmer took him out to the field and asked him what he saw. "I see a beautiful piece of land, lush with grass and pleasing to the eye," the visitor said. He then watched aghast as the farmer plowed the grass and turned the beautiful green field into a mass of brown shallow ditches.
"Why did you ruin the field?" he asked.
"Be patient. You will see," said the farmer.
Then the farmer showed his guest a sackful of plump kernels of wheat and said again, "Tell me what you see." The visitor described the good qualities of the grain, and then watched in shock as the farmer walked up and down the furrows he had just plowed, dropping the kernels into the open ground and covering them with clods of soil.
"Are you insane? First you destroyed the field, and then you ruined the grain!"
"Be patient. You will see."
Time went by and once more the farmer took his guest out to the field. Now they saw endless straight rows of green stalks sprouting up from all the furrows.
The visitor smiled. "I apologize. Now I understand what you were doing. You've made the field more beautiful than ever. The art of farming is truly marvelous."
"Actually," said the farmer, "we're not done. You must still be patient."

More time went by and the stalks were fully grown. Then the farmer came with a sickle and chopped them all down. His visitor watched open mouthed as the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. The farmer bound the fallen stalks into bundles and decorated the field with them. Later, he took the bundles to another area, where he crushed them until they became a mass of straw and loose kernels from the chaff and piled them up in a huge hill. Always he told his protesting visitor, "We are not done; you must have more patience."
The farmer brought his wagon and piled it high with grain. He took it to a mill, where it was ground into formless choking dust. The visitor complained again, "You have taken the grain and transformed it back into dirt!" Again, he was told to be patient.
The farmer put the dust into sacks and took it back home. He took some of the dust, mixed it with water, and fashioned the mud into the shape of a loaf. The visitor saw the perfectly formed loaf and smiled but his happiness did not last. The farmer kindled a fire in the oven and put the loaf in it.
"Now I know you are insane. After all that work, you burn what you have made!"
The farmer only laughed. "Haven't I told you to be patient?"
At last the farmer opened the oven and took out a freshly baked bread- crisp and brown with an aroma that made the visitor's mouth water. The farmer place the loaf on the table and took out a long knife.
The visitor watched horrified as he proceeded to cut the beautiful loaf into multiple sections.
The farmer took a single slice, buttered it liberally, and served it to his guest.
"Here" he said, "now you will understand."

- "Understanding the Inconceivable" from "The Pirkei Avos Treasury"