In the Face of Brutality

Four-fifths of the way through her new book, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard confesses, "I don’t know beans about God." Up until then she nestles her theology behind sharply pointed questions or submerges it in the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin, Simone Weil, or the cabalist Hassids. At this point, however, she’s downright disingenuous. If Dillard truly has no clue, why write a book that asks and then attempts to answer the question: In the face of human-made horror and natural calamity, how can we believe a personal God loves six billion of us? It’s a gracious statement, but in all likelihood Dillard knows beans about God. She’s just cagey, or honest, enough to know that beans are only seeds.

For the Time Being is an extended prose poem on the apparent contradiction between what our hearts yearn for and what our blunt senses tell us about our world. Dillard begins roughly by shoving our faces in it. She weaves delicately artful descriptions of children so deformed some might call their very humanity into question. If God is omnipotent, and if there is such a thing as innocence, what accounts for these sports of nature?

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