The Hour I First Believed

John ArmstrongBooks

Wally Lamb has written two hugely successful best-selling novels: She's Come Undone and I Know This Much. He has been called "a modern-day Dostoevsky" because his characters are introspective and search for a "mocking, sadistic God" in the process of coming to grips with life.

Lamb's new novel, recently released after some ten years in the making, is over 700 pages long and titled: The Hour I First Believed. The new book deals with tragedy in general and the teen killings at Columbine in particular. While Lamb was writing this novel 9/11 shattered our daily lives in an unusual way. Then this horror was followed by the widening war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina. Says Lamb, "I worried this novel into existence." A reporter writes that at one point Lamb was so vexed that he offered to pay back a large royalty advance and give up the entire project.

Lamb believes the media did not portray the shooters at Columbine accurately. He feels they did not kill because they were "bullied" bur rather, "The killers were motivated more by feelings of superiority than inferiority. They thought they had the right to play God."

Coming from a man who has spent a decade studying and writing about violence and heartbreak I have to take this observation quite seriously. I have always wondered about the mainstream analysis of the Columbine evil and now I have good reason to wonder even more.

Lamb says his spirit was nearly broken by this study. "I'm scared by the randomness that can happen in life. Yet I ended up feeling hopeful about a world that somehow goes on in spite of it."

Lamb has apparently grasped something deeply human about all of this but lacks the perspective that a robust doctrine of Christian providence can give to those who fear and grieve in the midst of divine hope.

Providence is very often rejected or misunderstood in our time. The famous Heidelberg Catechism says:

"Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand" (Question 27).

The alternative to such a view of providence is appealing on one level, since it seems to create a universe where random acts of violence and kindness co-exist and God is not sovereign in any meaningful sense. But I have never understood how a Christian gains comfort from random acts of either violence or kindness. There is nothing random about God's care for his creation, especially his care for his own children. Mystery abounds for sure but removing God's personal care is not a solution, or at least it is not one that lends any measure of comfort to the human soul.

I think I will read Lamb's novel but I expect that I will wonder where providence fits in the world that he responds to as a truly great story-teller.