Marilynne Robinson on providence, joy, and sorrow

Lila“‘Then the reasons that things happen are still hidden, but they are hidden in the mystery of God.’ I can’t read my own writing. No matter. ‘Of course misfortunes have opened the way to blessings you would never have thought to hope for, that you would not have been ready to understand as blessings if they had come to you in your youth, when you were uninjured, innocent. The future always finds us changed.’ So then it is part of the providence of God, as I see it, that blessing or happiness can have very different meanings from one time to another. ‘This is not to say that joy is a compensation for loss, but that each of them, joy and loss, exists in its own right and must be recognized for what it is. Sorrow is very real, and loss feels very final to us. Life on earth is difficult and grave, and marvelous. Our experience is fragmentary. Its “parts don’t add up. They don’t even belong in the same calculation. Sometimes it is hard to believe they are all parts of one thing. Nothing makes sense until we understand that experience does not accumulate like money, or memory, or like years and frailties. Instead, it is presented to us by a God who is not under any obligation to the past except in His eternal, freely given constancy.’ Because I don’t mean to suggest that experience is random or accidental, you see. ‘When I say that much the greater part of our existence is unknowable by us because it rests with God, who is unknowable, I acknowledge His grace in allowing us to feel that we know any slightest part of it. Therefore we have no way to reconcile its elements, because they are what we are given out of no necessity at all except God’s grace in sustaining us as creatures we can recognize as ourselves.’ That’s always seemed remarkable to me, that we can do that. That we can’t help but do it. ‘So joy can be joy and sorrow can be sorrow, with neither of them casting either light or shadow on the other.’” – Marilynne Robinson, Lila (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 223–24.

4 thoughts on “Marilynne Robinson on providence, joy, and sorrow

  1. Robinson’s finest work yet. A beautiful book, full of grace yet not without great complexity, as this excerpt shows. As grace never is…

    Thanks for sharing this passage.

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  2. Jason, I’ve just finished reading “Lila” and that passage you’ve quoted was the stand-out passage for me, too. It put into words something that I’ve never been able to articulate. John Ames reminds me so much of my own dad!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have found that my deepest sorrows and disappointments have a reward of comfort, intimacy and joy that I would never find in God apart from the sorrow. Thanks for posting!

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