Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Greatness Will Not Make Me Happy

I'm reading Sense and Sensibility and was struck by this exchange between Elinor and Edward. She speaks first. Not accusatorily; just matter-of-factly.
"You have no ambition, I well know. Your wishes are all moderate." 

"As moderate as those of the rest of the world, I believe. I wish as well as every body else to be perfectly happy; but like every body else it must be in my own way. Greatness will not make me so."
Edward gets it.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Express Purpose of Interfering

I just finished reading The Peril at End House, a Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie. It's very very good, but I was especially struck by a bit of theology that Poirot brings up.

There's a minor spoiler in this, so if the book is on your reading list and you want to remain totally surprised, you'll want to skip this whole thing.

Some set up: Poirot and his buddy Hastings suspect that someone is trying to murder a young woman named Nick. It's an unusual case, because they're trying to prevent a murder instead of solve one. That's one of the things I love about the book. 

But here's the spoiler: Nick's cousin Maggie is dressed similarly to Nick at one point and is killed instead. Shortly after, Poirot and Hastings talk about what happened. Hastings is narrating and begins:
"It's really amazing the way Nick has escaped. It seems almost incredible." 

And suddenly I remembered the tone in Frederica’s voice as she had said: "Nick bears a charmed life." 

I shivered a little. 

"Yes," said Poirot, thoughtfully. "And I can take no credit to myself. Which is humiliating."

"Providence," I murmured. 

"Ah, mon ami, I would not put on the shoulders of the good God the burden of men’s wrongdoing. You say that in your Sunday morning voice of thankfulness — without reflecting that what you are really saying is that le bon Dieu has killed Miss Maggie Buckley." 

"Really, Poirot!" 

"Really, my friend! But I will not sit back and say 'le bon Dieu has arranged everything, I will not interfere.' Because I am convinced that le bon Dieu created Hercule Poirot for the express purpose of interfering."

It's a profound, important idea that Poirot expresses. Hastings offers a quick, simple platitude about the Providence of God being responsible for saving Nick, but he hasn't thought through the implications. Hastings is never the deepest thinker, but someone a little more thoughtful would realize what Poirot points out: that God can't just get credit for saving Nick. If Hastings is right, then God must also taking the blame for murdering Maggie.

Poirot goes even deeper though and dismisses the idea that God had a direct hand in the affair at all. In Poirot's view, God has placed his people on the Earth to act on God's behalf. We don't get to sit back and wait for God to fix the world. We have to understand that it's our job to fix it as God's agents. That the way he fixes it is through us. 

It's a terrifying responsibility that more of God's people need to take seriously, but I think Poirot is absolutely right.


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