I Loved This Novel. Still Do. More Than Before.

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead—if you can call it that—continues to move me, months after I read it. I have waited to comment on it since I knew it would be around for decades (centuries?). I wanted to let it ripen in my memory.

Rev. John Ames is dying. The book is a kind of last testament he would like his young son to read when he is twenty-five, long after his father is dead. His voice is still with me.

So I went back to gather a few treasures. Gilead is not a “must read.” There are no “must reads” but the Bible. None.

So how do you choose what to read before you die and give an account to Jesus? I do it largely by what is awakened in me when I read samples. I hope these help. Some of the treasures.

He’d walk fifteen miles across open country in the dead of winter to settle a point of interpretation. We’d have to thaw him out before he could tell us what it was he had on his mind. (p. 16)

Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined. (p. 53)

You two are dancing around in your iridescent little downpour whooping and stomping as sane people ought to do when they encounter a thing so miraculous as water. (p. 63)

In my present situation, now that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face. (p. 66)

Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes—old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable. What of me will I still have? Well, this old body has been a pretty good companion. Like Balaam’s ass, it’s seen the angel I haven’t seen yet, and it’s lying down in the path. (pp. 66-67)

I have always liked the phrase “nursing a grudge,” because many people are tender of their resentments, as of the thing nearest their hearts. (p. 117)

Presumably the world exists for God’s enjoyment, not in any simple sense, of course, but as you enjoy the being of a child even when he is every way a thorn in your heart. (pp. 124-125)

At my time of life, I refuse to be angry. It was kindly meant. And it had to be done sooner or later. It’s true that if I have to spend my twilight stranded with somebody or other, I’d prefer Karl Barth to Jack Benny. (p. 128)

Boughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, “Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I’d multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is much more than sufficient for my purposes.” So he is just sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two. (p. 147)

Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. (p. 166)

But the fact is, I have never found another way to be as honest with myself as I can be by consulting with these miseries of mine, these accusers and rebukers, God bless them all. So long as they do not kill me outright. I do hope to die with a quiet heart. I know that may not be realistic. (p. 179)

And she kissed me on the top of the head, which, for her, was downright flamboyant. (p. 186)

We human beings do real harm. History could make a stone weep. (p. 190)

He could knock me down the stairs and I would have worked out the theology for forgiving him before I reached the bottom. But if he harmed you in the slightest way, I’m afraid theology would fail me. (p. 190)

It is true that we all do live in the ruins of the lives of other generations. (p. 198)

My heart was very heavy. There was Boughton sitting in his Morris chair staring at nothing. Glory told me the only words he had said all day were “Jesus never had to be old!” (p. 236)

It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire. Another reason why you must be careful of your health. (p. 238)

It was truly a dreadful thing he was doing, leaving his father to die without him. It was the kind of thing only his father would forgive him for. (p. 240)

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (p. 243)

“He will wipe the tears from all faces.” It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required. (p. 246)

This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope. I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love—I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence. (pp. 246-247)