Study doesn’t not engender wisdom,” he continued, his voice stern and challenging. “Analysis does not inspire insight.” He raised his eyebrows, exhorting Charles and his classmates to pay attention. “Only empathy allows us to see clearly. Only compassion brings lasting change.” (p. 14)
This is not my book. It was given to me by my mother, who had received it from a friend. Hence the break in my Japanese reading; I wanted to read it and return it in a timely manner.
My mother and I are constantly discussing why it is that novels written by Christians seem to resemble Harlequin Romances. Not in the way of romance, but in the way of trite. Well-meaning, to be sure, but essentially sitting on your tongue like a meringue which is alternately melting into nothing and making you shiver with its sweetness.
That is why The Dearly Beloved is so special. The two couples within its pages wrestle with doubt, both with themselves and with God. Never mind that the two men are ministers, that one of the wives is a pastor’s daughter. The other one lost her parents in a car accident when she was a child, and she will not believe in God. One of her twin sons is born with autism, and she will not believe in God. But, her doubts, her questions, her reluctance are a remarkable platform on which to build the novel. For what Christian doesn’t question God?
Lily is in stark contrast to Nan, who believes in God with her whole heart and always has. I find myself in her words:
Of all the things she thought she could give up for him (James, her beloved) she could not give up her faith in God. She had pondered this as deeply as her father would have wanted her to, and she had come to the conclusion that her faith was an essential part of the person she wanted to be. Who would she be without God? What purpose would her childhood have served? Whom would she thank for her blessings? How would she understand the workings of the world? How would she accept its mysteries? (p. 61)
It’s not something that you can be taught; faith is something you grab hold of, or don’t. And I love how Cara Wall has shown us in this novel that it is not easy. It is not simple. It is not always clear or straightforward.
God doesn’t always come in visions or dreams, and God rarely comes in certainty,” he (Nan’s father) went on. “God has come to you in restlessness and yearning. God has come to you in questioning. God has come to you as a challenge. It won’t be easy, but it’s a perfectly acceptable calling.
This is said to her fiancé, James, who has decided to become a minister. His uncle sponsors his education through a university in England, and so it seems quite unlikely that he would be sitting for an interview next to Charles.
Faithful, sturdy, unswerving Charles. He was my favorite in all the book, even though I most closely resemble Lily’s nose-in-a-book, headstrong ways. His faith carries him through the most trying challenges, the unbelief that surrounds him especially in his wife, Lily. Charles is given this advice when he is considering marrying her:
Love is the enjoyment of something. The feeling of wanting something deeply, of wanting nothing more. Our love of God is not as important as our faith in God. Love wanes, faith cannot. One can have faith and anger, faith and hate. One can believe deeply and still rail against God, still blame God. In fact, if one can hate God it is a sign of deep faith, because you cannot hate and at the same time doubt God’s existence. (p. 127)
But, no one is prepared for the issues of barrenness or of a child with special needs. No one is the perfect wife or husband, mother or father, friend or minister. They work through their wounds and longing, their sacrifice and fulfillment, growing ever more closely bound together. They become the dearly beloved to one another.
I found this a deeply moving book, able to express far more than one narrow perspective on faith from either the faithful, or the unbeliever.