Marilynne Robinson is a wonderful writer. She drew me in, both heart and mind, from the first page. Lila, a neglected child of the Depression Era, is kidnapped (out of mercy) by a wandering farm hand. The author follows her rough life, filled with desperate decisions and shows the hopelessness growing in her heart. As an adult Lila meets a soft-spoken Calvinist pastor, one whose theology judges the very people Lila loves. The gentle pastor marries her and is a constant means of God’s grace to her, but she is left with the question of God’s justice. How can all those wonderful people she loves from her past be on their way to hell? Ms. Robinson sets the stage to grapple with the problem of evil.
Along side this another strand of thought is being developed. The author begins by showing the sacredness of things. Things become sacred because of those related to them. A shawl is special, set apart from other shawls, because of the one who owned it. The person’s grace has actually changed the value of the thing. She then grows that idea to show how one person’s grace toward another changes that other just like God’s grace changes us. Finally she attempts to answer the problem of evil. God loves his people and His people love even those who aren’t His people. How can we, as God’s people, enjoy the new heaven and earth, knowing those we love are in hell? Maybe God is more generous, more gracious than we ever imagined. Lila concludes that those she loves will also be in heaven with her, because this is God’s grace toward her.
Ms.Robinson does a wonderful job showing the beauty of God’s transforming grace through his people. I left the book more thankful for those who have been grace to me and with more determination to be more gracious to those in my life. I was disappointed with her apparent answer to the problem of evil. If we feel God is unjust, there are two options. One, God isn’t as harsh as we think, or two, we are worse than we think. I tend to agree with both of these, but Ms. Robinson tends to excuse sin and belittle God’s justice. I left this book feeling the non-Christian characters were innocent victims of their circumstances. How could God really judge?
Ms. Robinson’s book reminded me a lot of Flannery O’ Conner’s writings. They both write about the same themes, but while Flannery seems to lean heavy on justice and light on grace, Robinson seems to do just the opposite. If Flannery were to write about Lila, she would dissect every corner of her heart. She would open up self-deceit and pride. Ms. Robinson seems to take a more psychological, therapeutic approach. Both perspectives have their insights. If these two ladies ever met in heaven and conversed, I would love to listen in.