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. Request personal prophecy 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.

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