Now I liked this, I really did. Wasn’t expecting to because I’d hated Veronika Decides to Die. But this was different.
One thing I appreciated was that this edition, at least, had a little preface by the author detailing the premise for the novel. There I was, ready to begin, with some clue about what was coming and, much more importantly, why.
And the story unfolded rather well I thought. In fact, it deals with great moral issues which I think are very very relevant to our world today. The book tells of a moral conundrum inflicted on an insular village by a visiting stranger and then the impact this has on the behaviour and thought processes of the community. It’s an allegory of the human life in some ways and I like that kind of thing.
However, the book also raises a number of points about God and the Christian life which need to be raised, discussed and clarified so I was glad of that. I would have been overjoyed if Coelho had actually reached the third stage of this process but I supposed that I’ll have to remain satisfied that he actually reached stage two at all. Middlesex and Never Let Me Go never got past first base on this front.
In taking up the third stage baton from the author, I feel kind of privileged; honoured that Coelho would leave this role to me, the humble reader – maybe that was his intention.
So, on to clarification then.
There are a number of factual errors about the Bible and the Christian God which he makes showing perhaps an awareness of Christianity but not a well-versed experience of it. The case needs to be clearly stated because to allow these misrepresentations to continue would be to tolerate prejudice.
- In the prologue he says the Bible fails to explain who “us” refers to in the quote from Genesis 3 that “the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil” Those who believe in a trinitarian God see no problem with this as it is obvious from the context of the early chapters of Genesis that this is the Godhead speaking. A little Hebrew and a bit of discourse analysis will show this to be the case.
- “if we are good, God is just and will forgive me for all I have done” says someone at some point. There is an obvious (surely not intentional??) contradiction here though between someone being forgiven for being good. Surely if you are “good” you are not in need of any forgiveness? Jesus stated clearly that it is the sick who are in need of a physician and that he came to save the bad, not the “good”
- “God sows suffering everywhere, just so we can spend our whole life begging him to deliver us from Evil” – there is a view of a malicious, self-serving, insecure God here which does not tally with the God of the Bible. The Bible discusses suffering from a number of perspectives the ultimate of which is of our God himself suffering on our behalf -even on behalf of those who refuse to acknowledge him
- Coelho states that Job ended up in the state of suffering and loss that he did because God decided to punish him. The book of Job clearly states that Satan was given the power to reduce Job to this state by God, not as a punishment, but in order to show that he was a faithful man and that this faithfulness depended not on the total of his blessings but the God who gave them. The restoration of Job to a greater position of blessing later is not mentioned by Coelho presumably because it would not match his view of God as malevolent. Later he states that “our real enemy is God for putting us through everything we’ve suffered” which is a perspective so woefully short of that of the reasons for suffering outlined in the Bible that I hardly know where to begin to refute it.
In all this we see Coelho painting God as the hateful enemy of mankind, tolerating the misery we cause him and the subject of his wrath. Now, if Coelho had stated somewhere that he was simply talking about deity on the whole and had not singled out the Christian God by quoting from the Bible early on, I wouldn’t have to take the pains I have done here. But it is unjust to represent someone as something they are not – especially when they have been so clearly painstaking in communicating exactly who they are.
Despite these distorted perspectives of God, the book is a valuable read for anyone dealing with issues of morality which should hopefully be any Christian anyway. It would make a great starter for inter-faith dialogue and discussion and would be helpful for anyone who was open about finding out what others believe morality rests on and how we make decisions. For that, it’s worth reading and sharing.
For almost fifteen years, old Berta had spent every day sitting outside her front door.
the story of one man is the story of all men
rich men never waste a penny, only poor people do that
if you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid
anyone who loves in the expectation of being loved in return is wasting their time
each one of us carries a gallows inside us
The old woman was right; there was no time to lose, though she hoped that her life would be very long indeed.
terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good> excellent > superb