a searing novel by Marilynne Robinson:
You have preserved my life from the pit of destruction, when you cast behind your back all my sins. – Isaiah 38:17
Speaking to reporters on a plane back from World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis made headlines with his comment, “If [gay people] accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” But the hoopla around this comment obscured an even more radical statement in a similar vein: “I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one looks for the ‘sins of youth,; for example, is it not thus? And then these things are published. These things are not crimes. The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime. But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives. When we go to confession and we truly say ‘I have sinned in this matter,’ the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?”
We do not have the right to not forget. I thought of this line more than once as I drew near the close of Marilynne Robinson’s brutal Home, the 2008 companion piece to her earlier novel Gilead, which I reviewed here in a series on books about marriage. Home, the most painful book I’ve read this year and one of the most powerful, retells the events of Gilead from a different perspective. Both books deal with the return of a small Iowa town’s prodigal son: Jack Boughton, a preacher’s kid who always stood apart from his big, loving family, a mistrusted and mistrustful type who went from being the town prankster to the town delinquent to the town thief. He finally skipped out decades ago, breaking his father’s heart, and comes back only as the old man is dying. Is he hoping for reconciliation? Is he trying to make amends? Or does he have—as his father’s best friend, the narrator of Gilead, suspects—much more sinister motives?
(This is probably the most painful book I’ve read all year. I’m so glad I read it but I doubt I’ll revisit it for a long, long time.)