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.

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  1. Rick Sholette December 2, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Hi John:
    I agree with you that there is much comfort in a worldview that entails biblical belief in some notion of divine providence, and Wally Lamb would surely benefit from such a perspective.
    However, a growing number of well-informed thinkers question the dichotomistic assumption that God must either control everything or else He controls nothing. The view of providence promoted in the Heidlelberg Catechism may be sedating in its meticulous, totalizing view of God’s power and control, but its implications–for many people who dare to question classical Reformed theology–are chilling, not mysterious. Frank Schaeffer’s sad story, for one, seems to support such concerns. There are many others.
    One can embrace a hearty, biblically grounded view of God’s self-restrained sovereignty without capitulating to either deism or atheism, though it does require the courage to question part of the theological status quo. Such non-classical (but biblical) theology offers both comfort and correspondence with common sense views of reality.
    In the end, any particular view of God’s sovereignty personally comforts only to the extent that it helps someone successfully manage the discomfort of living in a fallen world where senseless, brutal, unexpected evil and pain can confront us unannounced any time, day or night, whether in the form of a rapist, robber, fire, suicide bomber, or heart attack.
    While the view of divine providence as promoted in the Heidelberg Catechism and other such documents can be supported by use of Scripture, it is by no means the only view of providence that Scripture generates–and may not be the most comforting for many people.
    Perhaps Wally Lamb and others who struggle with the reality of violence and heartbreak in life would like to know about a God who perpetually cares and seeks to repair, but does not always cause such situations, and about a God who can hijack bad events for good purposes and who will ultimately reassert sufficient control to judge everyone with perfect wisdom.

  2. Sarah December 3, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    I am interested in this book as I read I Know This Much is True and really enjoyed it.

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