Letters to Annie, Part I

This is my response to Annie Dillard’s fine little book, Holy the Firm, where she treats with the problems caused by human suffering. I turned this in as my Rhetoric paper at the end of freshman year. I’m not sure how I did yet, but I felt like I succeeded. I’ll be posting this in three parts.

I.

 “We do need reminding, not of what God can do, but of what he cannot do, or will not, which is to catch time in its free fall and stick a nickel’s worth of sense into our days.”

–Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Dear Annie. Your book is a superb little failure. You paint with grace the fiery death of a moth that wanders into a flame, and the heartwrench of a little girl disfigured by burns in a plane crash. You ask the question Why, God, is Julie Norwich scarred? You craft a perfect question mark with no answer.

You and I live in the same heartbroken world. You ask about Julie Norwich, I ask about my neighbor Philip, who killed himself at seventeen. Why?

Dear God,

You knew this would happen,

You let it happen,

You made it happen.

Dear God, why? Amen.

I didn’t know Philip well; I mourned less for him than for his family and their shattered life. Why did he end his life? Why does suffering have so much power? What the hell is going on?

Suffering is the accustomed condition of humanity in this age, the symptom of evil; it is disease and death and the sick feeling of betrayal. What is evil? It is the absence of good, the absence of God. It is the hereditary, voluntary mental affliction that makes us forget our place as creations and murder our Creator on a tree.

The neighbor kid was a guru of human suffering. All suicides are. He knew how evil the world was, but refused to know why. He and we can’t look at the suicides and the diseased without wondering how they can exist on this planet supposedly ruled by the God of all goodness.

Annie, you talk about Jesus and the blind man. Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Asked the disciples. Neither, said God. He was made blind so that the works of God might be displayed in Him. Jesus hasn’t healed this man yet, so is he referring to the blindness itself? You believe He is, and I agree. But how could the terrible affliction of blindness be a work of God?

We are all afflicted. Some of us are blind, some limbless, some adulterers. We are all afflicted so that the work of Christ can be made manifest in us. But you ask, do we really need more victims to remind us that we’re all victims?

Annie, you don’t understand the world, and you think God meant it to be that way. You and many others believe God doesn’t control pain and suffering, or He would stop them. God is a victim too.

Can God kill Himself? I would, if I had to watch my beloved children die, one after another.

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