A Commentary On Man


A Commentary On Man’s Faith And Guilt Essay, Research Paper

A Commentary on Man s Faith and his Guilt

Archibald MacLeish raised many thought provoking questions in the play J.B.. The Book of Job had already asked some of these questions, while others were very original and insightful. MacLeish offers many powerful thoughts on the relationship between man and God, some of which are disturbing to consider.

Nickels lost his faith in both God and man. He believes that the purpose of life is merely to survive and not to live. Nickles says,

There must be thousands!… Millions and millions of mankind burned, crushed, broken, mutilated, slaughtered, and for what? For thinking! For walking around the world in the wrong skin, the wrong shaped noises, eyelids: sleeping the wrong night wrong city- London, Dresden, Hiroshima. (MacLeish, 12)

In fact the only thing that Nickels did have faith in was that J.B. would curse God if tested. Mr. Zuss, on the other hand, has complete faith in humanity and J.B. He knows of J.B. s strength and his ability to love God. In short, Mr. Zuss has faith in J.B. s faith. However, J.B. s faith in God is ill founded. J.B. s faith in God is based on the fact that he believes God to be just, but is God really just? If he is then why does J.B. suffer so? Maybe it is just J.B. s notion of justice that is incorrect. Bildad comments on the notion of justice, History is justice! Time inexorably turned to truth! One man s suffering won t count, no matter what his suffering; but all will. At the end there will be justice! Justice for All! Justice for everyone! (MacLeish, p121). This can be taken to mean that there is no justice for individuals only for mankind as a whole. So if this is the case, how does J.B. manage to keep his faith when he finds out that there was no reason for his suffering? The deaths of his children, the loss of his wealth and the corruption of his health were all done for no cause and yet J.B. maintains his love for God. Why? Perhaps J.B. now puts his faith in the fact that God is all knowing and has a plan for each of us that we cannot hope to understand. After all, is that not the definition of faith, to put ones trust into something that is beyond comprehension. J.B. realizes this in the end,

I know that thou canst do everything… and that no thought can be withholden from thee. .. Therefore have I uttered that I understood not: Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. I have heard of thee by the hearing ear… but now… mine eye seeth thee! Wherefore I abhor myself… and repent… (MacLeish, 132)

The three comforters offer some intriguing thoughts on the concept of man s guilt. Bildad states that guilt is merely a sociological accident . That is, guilt is simply determined by chance; if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time you are guilty. Should the man who survives a fatal car accident feel guilty? Should the other deaths be on his conscience, he was merely going about his business when his car staled and plowed into a group of pedestrians. There was nothing he could have done to prevent this, yet those people are dead because of him. However, this idea of guilt also has a lot to do with perception, You may be guiltier than Hell as history counts and not one smudging thumbprint on your conscience. (MacLeish, p121). What at one time may have been considered a sin might not be today and what may be a sin today might not be considered a sin tomorrow. An example of this can be seen in the idea of Manifest Destiny which America practiced though the 1800 s. People of the time felt they were doing God s will and so had a free conscience. Yet today we look back at all of the injustices that came as a result of Manifest Destiny and are haunted by our misdoings.

Eliphaz suggests that guilt is a psychophenomenal situation . He says that our ignorance causes our guilt and that we are all actually victims of our guilt because of this. Many immigrants who come here are often ignorant of the finer points of the American justice system. As a result of this they are frequently penalized for carrying out customs that are a part of their culture. This type of situation could hardly be seen as an intentional provocation of guilt.

Then there is Zophar s argument, which I find to be the most interesting of the three. Zophar argues that it is man s guilt that makes him human. He believes that it is guilt that separates us from the mindless beasts, for animals are incapable of sin. This seems to be a perversion of the truth. It is man s ability to distinguish between sin and piety that makes him human, not his ability to practice the former. Zophar also contests that it is God s fault that sin exists. He feels that God created man with a predisposition towards sin. Zophar responds to J.B. s questioning thusly, …Man s heart is evil! …Man s will is evil. Your fault, your sin, are heart and will: the worm at heart, the willful will corrupted with its foul imagining. (MacLeish, 126). Yet there is one argument of Zophar s that I do agree with, that the beginning of mankind can be traced back to the fall of man. For it was at this moment that man acquired the ability to distinguish between good and evil and it is this knowledge coupled with our free will that makes us human. If man simply acted on instinct what would be the point of life. We would have no control over are actions, we would be automatons only concerned with the thought of survival. Would there even be religion? Would we have the time or the desire for it?

What is man supposed to base his faith on if God does not always act justly? What is there to believe in? Is God to blame for the existence of sin? These are a few of the questions that one must consider if one believes in God. Whether or not any answers can be found has yet to be seen.

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