Here’s the final part of Letters to Annie, my response to Annie Dillard’s book Holy the Firm on human suffering. Thanks for reading.
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Annie, mankind suffers now so that the long redemptive work of God will be forever, so that there is no excuse for pride, and so that the power of God is made perfect in weakness. That is true of the world as much as it is of a little burned girl.
A boy born without limbs is just as able to do God’s will as you or I. Life will be harder for him: he will have more suffering to consider pure joy. He will be rewarded. Let us not give in to the conceit that we are more blessed, or more whole inside, than a cripple. Let us not pity falsely. One baby has no legs, and will glorify Christ and be made whole in the Kingdom. Another will grow strong on Earth and use his legs to crush the innocent and burn forever. Which one is to be pitied? What about little Julie Norwich? She will be glorified, or she will turn her back on glory. Either way, her affliction makes manifest God’s works more than it does the horrors of this world.
The limbless babies and the suicides are not proof that God hates or ignores us. Satan made Job’s life Hell, but in the end this man was blessed beyond his dreams. Stretch Job and make him the world. Make him the dark parts of a novel. This story, like Job’s, ends well. In the middle of the tale came the Christ, a poured-out and broken offering. But Christ did not stay in the ground, and suffering will be ended and wounds will be salved. We haven’t reached the end of the book yet, but if we are devoted readers we will believe in the story and the Author, even though we know the whys only partly. When the story is complete, we will know fully, even as we are fully known.
The end of any story is a glorious thing. In the end of this story,
“The plowman will overtake
and the treader of grapes him who
sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet
and all the hills shall flow with it.”
That is surely the wild and outlandish hope of a madman. But this is a wild and incautious world, extravagant hopes are at home here.
Annie, you and I are warriors in a dark trench. But the sun is breaking through the clouds. Let it reveal that One Greater is come who will salve our wounds, who has already given us hope, the only nostrum we need to conquer despair.