*I avoided major spoilers, but if you intend to read The Poisonwood Bible, you may want to read this post after the book.
I recently took a break from more serious reading and finished the novel, The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. It's a very engaging and worthy read about a domineering fundamentalist Baptist preacher who takes his wife and four girls to the Congo on a mission effort. It's also a commentary on the tragic consequences of U.S. intervention in Africa at both the individual and national level. The question of guilt must be addressed by the characters, haunting some and driving others to madness. It is written from the perspective of the wife as well as the four daughters. As one may expect, they meet great challenges and tragedy in their efforts to win the Congolese for Jesus. I was particularly interested in how each character's faith and religious beliefs were shaped over time by the interaction of their personality with life experiences.
I personally identified the most with the character Leah, who begins her journey to Africa with enthusiasm, eager to help her dad save souls, convinced he holds The Truth and is capable of sharing it with others. She continuously seeks her father's approval, but is given no recognition. Over time, his ineptitude becomes apparent, and she loses faith, both in him and in her religion. She transfers her devotion and love to her husband and to the suffering of Africa. She continues to be a spiritually minded person, but she trusts little in the Bible. Her father's ill-conceived interpretations and use of it as a weapon and punishment are the reason why. Instead, she follows the example of a former missionary who told her "When I want to take God at his word exactly, I take a peep out the window at His Creation. Because that, darling, He makes fresh for us every day, without a lot of dubious middle managers."
I differ from Leah in that I was blessed to have a loving dad whose interpretation of the Bible encouraged rather than discouraged me from following it. However, I'm similar in a few ways. I, too, entered a mission field, convicted of the need to save others. I was overwhelmed by the thought that so many people had not been taught about Jesus and therefore wouldn't be saved. This eventually led to an evaluation of how I view scripture. I am still in that process and haven't given up on scripture, but I do find myself trusting in "creation" more to give me any understanding of God. Of course, what we understand of God through nature depends on the person doing the observing as well as what aspect of creation is being observed.
I found it interesting that another character, Leah's twin Adah, gave expression to my objection to the doctrine of hell, as I had been taught:
"Accoring to my Baptist Sunday-school teachers, a child is denied entrance to heaven merely for being born in the Congo rather than, say, north Georgia, where she could attend church regularly. This was the sticking point in my own little lame march to salvation: admission to heaven is gained by the luck of the draw. At age five I raised my good left hand in Sunday school and used a month's ration of words to point out this problem to Miss Betty Nagy. Getting born within earshot of a preacher, I reasoned, is entirely up to chance. Would our Lord be such a hit-or-miss kind of Saviour as that? Would he really condemn some children to eternal suffering just for the accident of a heathen birth, and reward others for a privilege they did nothing to earn?"
A cynic at heart, Adah is never one to become idealistic or loyal to any ideology. She does grow restless and searches for some type of religion, ultimately settling on science. She studies and appreciates nature in a more detached, intellectual way than her twin. Her studies lead her to conclude that "God is everything" both "virus" and "ant." God values all life, human and non-human, and values a balanced existence of all organisms rather than primarily rooting for the survival of people.
If anyone has read the book, I'd be interested in other perspectives. Also, what does creation say or not say to you about the nature and/or existence of God?