About 5 or 6 years ago, while at Queens University in Charlotte I signed up to take a class entitled, "The Problem of Evil". In this class we studied and diliberated this problem of everpresent evil that we have in our world. We filled our days with readings stemming from all different forms of thought and belief. One book on our list of required reading has stuck with me since then and remains one of the most thought provoking literary achievements I have witnessed in my years of study. "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell chronicles the life of Emilio Sandoz, a jesuit priest, in the far future who assembles and helps lead a team of universal explorers as they embark on a mission to a planet far from earth. After careful study of sounds, music, and poetry which are heard with far reaching equipment, it is determined that there is indeed intelligent life beyond us humans.
What brings the reader in, is not so much the fantastical words giving us a glimpse into what life could be like out in the infinitive space of our universe, but the questions that arise from what Emilio experiences while on the planet of Rakhat. He is faced with indescribable torture, pain, and loss and is forced to relive every agonizing moment under the close watch of his fellow jesuit priests once back on Earth. Before embarking on this mission, Emilio discovers a love so deep and penetrating with God at the hope of something so beautiful and magnificent other than what he has experienced on Earth. His belief and devotion to the practice of the jesuit order comes into question once he endures what no human should have to endure. The question then arises, if there is a God, known to be unchanging in love and goodness, why have these terrible things happened to me, a person wholly devoted to trusting in God’s will and protection? How do we make sense of the senseless and still put our faith, hope, and love into our God?
After sharing his indecent and unimagineable ordeal with his collegues, Emilio is healed in a partial way. Those who have witnessed his story discover that Emilio came closer to God than they ever could. Coming face to face with evil; having it tug at your very existence, God becomes your focus and you come closer than ever in relationship with God. One of the other priests recalls an old Jewish story "that says in the beginning God was everywhere and in everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove himself from some part of the universe, so something besides himself could exist. So he breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists" (Russell–401).
The things we experience in this life are not always wonderful and beautiful, and I don’t think God ever abandons us, though it may feel like it. Emilio felt as if God was willing that he suffer, but God was with him, suffering along side of him. We can feel God amidst the pain as well as the joy; its just not easy.
At the close of the book, I think it opens a whole new thought that brings me back to consideration of God in the midst of evil. Emilio is handed a book by Aeschylus, a Greek writer of tragedies, and he translates it from the Greek to say, "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God". What does it mean? How do we explain evil when we can’t destory its presence in our lives? Where is God in it all? Some age old questions with very few answers….