Neither the sin nor the punishment was pleasant, but theologically it’s very straightforward. The problem is that not all sins get to be punished, and not all suffering is caused by sin.
How, for instance, do we explain the Holocaust? Eliezer Berkovits is right: to say the victims of the Holocaust sinned and deserved their suffering is nothing short of obscene.
The question is age-old and no one has yet found the complete answer. Every answer is useful: every answer is inadequate.
Every Book of the Bible addresses the question in one way or another, but we still feel the need to keep investigating.
The Book of Job sees a righteous man suffering and God saying in effect, “What do you, little man, know about running a world?”
It’s a devastating cry, but it avoids the question. And even if it does help, it addresses the pain of an individual: does the same approach work with the suffering of a nation?
The Book of Ezekiel is more useful in terms of national suffering and in a sense is Holocaust literature, but it deals with binding up the wounds more than with why the wounds happened in the first place.
Midrashic thinking deals more directly with the problem but gives the impression that in the presence of despair the important thing is to hope. This does not mitigate the deep sorrow, but it enables us to continue to feel the pain whilst determining to survive and rebuild.
Back to No’ach. Even though the theology there seems relatively straightforward, at least we see a new generation at work on rebuilding.