Why does God allow good people to suffer?
Why is God silent in the face of suffering?
Why does God not step in and stop evil?
Why do the wicked survive and the good perish?
These are as questions as old as time (see the book of Job and Psalms). The first episode of season seven of Game of Thrones tackled them too. Sandor Clegane, “the Hound”, has been around since the beginning of the show. First he is bodyguard to the king, then he is a wandering fighter. Filled with anger and contempt, Clegane is not afraid to tell it like he sees it. Recently though his character-arc has started to turn towards redemption and he has fallen in with a group who worship the one true God (Sidenote: the world of Game of Thrones is filled with different religions but the specifics need not concern us here).
In the season premier Sandor is talking with Beric. Beric has been killed in battle numerous times, but the Lord of Light keeps giving him his life back.
SANDOR: So why does the Lord of Light keep bringing you back? I’ve met better men than you, and they’ve been hanged from crossbeams, or beheaded, or just s*** themselves to death in a field somewhere. None of them came back. So, why you?
BERIC: You think I don’t ask myself that? Every hour of every day? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What does the Lord see in me?
BERIC: I don’t know. I don’t understand our Lord.
SANDOR: Your Lord.
BERIC: I don’t know what He wants from me. I only know that He wants me alive.
SANDOR: If he’s so all-powerful, why doesn’t he just tell you what the f*** he wants?
The question is simple: if Beric’s God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just make himself known and be a bit more explicit in what he wants?
This conversation is happening in a farmhouse. The previous residents of the house, a father and his daughter, are dead. A few seasons ago Sandor had visited the same farmhouse and robbed them. Though he did not kill them with his sword, his actions certainly put them on the fast track to death. Witnessing their decaying bodies, he seems remorseful, in his own hardened way. The remorse is more profound as he knows they were better people then he, that he should be dead, as should other killers, and the family should be alive.
SANDOR: There’s no divine justice, you dumb ****. If there was, you’d be dead…and that girl would be alive.
Why do innocent children die and murderous warriors survive
Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? – Psalm 10:1
I’m not interested in discussing answers to this question right now, as pointing out how great it is to see the question raised in such a popular television show.
Not only is Game of Thrones master storytelling, but it brings up these sorts of ethical questions (for some it is whether to watch the whos in the first place!). That is one of the reasons I taught a workshop at the Student Conference on Game of Thrones and Tolkien, comparing the hopeless world of Thrones where evil seems to triumph with the hopeful world of Tolkien where powerful forces bend the arc of the story towards justice and goodness. Along with that, I encouraged them to keep their minds and hearts turned on when they watch television and movies so that they can engage with their peers around the questions, messages and worldviews found and expressed within those stories.
In other words, how do we answer Sandor Clegane’s question in the real world?