The story is based on one of Wiesel's real experiences during the Holocaust. He witnessed three Jews indicting God for all their suffering and giving him a trial. After several days, the verdict came: guilty. Afterwards, they prayed.
Wiesel's story takes place in 1649 in a Ukrainian village after a pogrom. I believe it is referring to the Khmelnytsky Uprising, one of the many, many Jewish tragedies throughout history. At the beginning, most of Jews have just been killed in the latest pogrom. Some traveling Jewish minstrels decide to put on a play in which they prosecute God. They say that God has no justification for the death and suffering he has caused. No one is willing to defend God until a stranger Sam appears. In the very end, Sam reveals that he is Satan. Satan commands a final pogrom before the trial can end.
My first impression is, "Wow, Jewish philosophy is mature!"
I've got an intriguing quote from an interview with Elie Wiesel on this story.
For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But simply to ignore God--that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference? No. You can be a Jew with God. You can be a Jew against God. But not without God.Wiesel is making an argument about the Jewish identity. Now, I'm not from a Jewish tradition, so it isn't particularly important to me what the definition of Jewish is. But I imagine that many secular Jews would take offense to Wiesel's comment. In case my readers didn't know, it's fairly common for non-theists to identify as Jews, because in their minds, being Jewish is about their rich culture and heritage. Wiesel apparently disagrees, at least during this particular interview.
From an atheist perspective, Wiesel's comment is rather ironic.
There is a disturbingly common misconception that atheists are angry at God. No I'm not. "Indifferent" is a slightly more accurate description. I'm indifferent to God in the same sense that everyone else is indifferent to the invisible pink unicorn standing next to them--the invisible pink unicorn in which most of society believes, and on which society bases many decisions. And of course, being indifferent to God does not imply that we are indifferent to anything else. Atheists are more God-ignorers than God-haters (though they do occasionally accuse the hypothetical God of hypothetically being responsible for evil). Most people would be relieved to know we don't hate God.
And yet, Wiesel seems to have flipped this around. In his story, it's God's prosecutors who are portrayed positively, and the defender who is evil. And from Wiesel's comment, we know that he places non-theists at the bottom of the ladder. Funny how we end up below Satan, huh? At least we don't try to defend God's ways.
But I guess he got us there--if the problem of evil is our primary argument against God, why don't we just argue with God instead of denying his existence? Partly it's because no one wants to believe in a God that isn't benevolent, but also because the problem of evil is not the only argument against God's existence.
Just for fun, I'll link to an opposite perspective. It's the typical morality-requires-God refrain, if you care to know.