Words and Actions


John Ames, narrator of Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful bookGilead, raises a fascinating question about the relationship between words and actions.

He describes midway through the novel the similarities between the stories of Abraham & Isaac and Hagar & Ishmael—in both instances Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice both of his sons and in both instances the sons are saved by ministering angels.

These similarities led Ames to think about cruelty towards children and how much room for misinterpretation there is by saying that “the child is within the providential care of God” (p. 130). Ames links this sentiment to a common argument heard both inside and outside religious circles: namely, that if a body or being greater and more powerful than my individual self claims responsibility for the care of another, then I am absolved of responsibility and can behave how I want.

Or, in Ames’ formulation, if…

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