Marilynne Robinson on faith

The Spring 2008 issue of Harvard Divinity Bulletin has a lovely essay by Marilynne Robinson, “Credo.”

History up to the present moment tells us again and again that a narrow understanding of faith very readily turns to bitterness and coerciveness. There is something about certainty that makes Christianity un-Christian. Instances of this are only too numerous and familiar. . . .

My habit for a long time has been to consider disputed and in some cases discarded doctrines on the theory that if in the past thoughtful people have found them meaningful, they might in fact be meaningful, though, of course, meaningful is not the same as wholly sufficient or correct. Take for example the two terms in that venerable controversy, free will versus predestination. There are problems associated with both of them, but in such great matters problems are to be expected, and problems have their own interest and their own implications. In the universe that is the knowledge of God, opposed beliefs can be equally true, and equally false, and, at the same time, complementary, because contradiction and anomaly are the effect of our very limited understanding. As a writer it is important to me to remember always, or as often as I can, that we inhabit a reality far larger and more complex than our conception of it can in any way reflect.

Sadly, the website has only a short excerpt from her essay, but it is well worth getting a copy of the issue. (I found the following essay unreadably over-written–my colleagues assure me it is par for academia–but there’s another wonderful and readable essay on Confucian thought, “Rooted in Humanity, Extended to Heaven,” by Tu Weiming, which isn’t online at all.)