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Hammering it home

... he mocks the despair of the innocent... Job 9.23

Before she left France, Simone Weil wrote a letter in which she distinguished between suffering and affliction. To illustrate the difference she appealed to the example of Job, who was deprived of everything: health, family, status, wealth. There was mystery surrounding the origin of his loss but we do know that he was innocent. Similar may be said of Jesus on the cross. Though completely innocent himself, he died as a criminal. Both are examples of affliction, whose devastating impact is perfectly expressed by Jesus' cry from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

To explain the significance of Jesus' words, Weil describes how God's love is mirrored in the love of a human couple: they desire to become as one in their intimacy yet, even if force of circumstance places them on opposite sides of the world, they remain united in their love. This reflects the experience of God in his crossing of time and space in order to enter creation. The separation of the Father and Son, which reaches its climax on the cross, does not diminish their love - though it comes at the price of affliction.

To explain how this works, Weil launches into a lengthy excursion into the behaviour of creation, taking the ocean as an example. We are entranced by its beauty and power, which derive from its conforming to what we call the Laws of nature. There are no exceptions as many seafarers have found to their cost. Yet we do not blame the ocean for maritime tragedies because the ocean is merely behaving according to the rules by which it was created. Were it to change in order to prevent accidents, it would lose the very obedience to those Laws of nature which make it beautiful.

Weil contends that the same can be said of human beings. It is in conforming to the parameters of our creation - in other words in our obedience to God - that we flourish. To do otherwise is to take our eyes off God and head in another direction, which amounts to sin. As somebody else has put it, harmony comes as we conform to the rhythms of grace. Jesus appealed to the effortless beauty of the lilies of the field. Experiencing this harmony involves both joy and suffering: we experience beauty, truth &c through their physical impact, while our soul rejoices in their qualities.

Weil draws the threads of her insight into affliction together through the image of a nail. The head of the nail is designed to receive the hammer's blow. The impact of that blow travels though the body of the nail until it is concentrated into the head which then penetrates the object towards which it is directed. The purpose of affliction is to act upon us in such a way that we are driven into heart of God, where we belong.



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