Saturday, August 9, 2008

‘Home’ and the Imperishable Inheritance of Grace

"Maybe this Robert will come back someday…What of Jack will there be in him?”

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I used the word ‘imperishable’ here in this title because it is the word that most embodies the splendor and incorruptible eternality of our inheritance in Christ’s standing and also the rewards that are made possible by Christ’s great repute. However, for this novel it would have been just as fair of me to use the word “irresistible” and to good effect. That is the question here isn’t it? Can an inheritance of grace be resisted?

It would be true to say that this novel is a work that takes its aim at a profligate son, a prodigal. But where does Christ’s story of the prodigal son get its start? The story that Christ read as a young man, the story that set down roots in His heart is the story of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the father of Jacob and of Esau.

This novel “Home” is a story about inheritance, and how the claim inheritance makes on its benefactor can survive and be carried out in weakness. In the same way, the promises of God were carried down through the life of Jacob, the deceiver.

“Jacob was a quite man, dwelling in tents,” -Genesis 25:27b

"Jack had run a length of clothesline from beam to beam and thrown a tarp over it to make a low tent in the angle of the floor and roof…a soul that had improvised this crude tabernacle to stand in the place of other shelter…” –Marilynne Robinson, ‘Home’

Just as the Reverend Boughton would often pull Jack in close to get a good look at him, so did Isaac reach out to touch his sons. When Isaac's vision became “dim” as scripture puts it, he carried out his blessing by touching his son and, in that way, confirming on him his grace. So many times through out the novel Reverend Boughton longs to see Jack but can’t. “Is Jack here? I hope you find him, because it seems like I never even get a clear look at him,” He is the only child who truly had the Reverend's inheritance, and at the same time, the only child whom the Reverend could never completely see in order to bestow his blessing. This is why the reverend has no peace, because, although he has many children, he has not given his blessing to the one he intended to have it.

At the end of the novel we learn that the inheritance was given, and received. The young Robert receives the framed picture of the river and, like a fissure in a mountain, the line of grace runs back up through the entire novel, introducing and superimposing itself on every scene that felt deprived of it. Although the salvation moment happens off stage, it is made incarnate here in Jack’s son. Just as Jacob wrestled with God and was full of deceit, his true inheritance and election was made certain because he fathered the nations, and this is why the Lord is wonderful.

The lord is wonderful because even after the metal is cast, and the form is cooled, and there seems to be no hope, only an empty expectation to receive back from the mold that shape that was always cast into it, out comes something full of redemption and grace.


John Paulling said...

Well done, Nate. Your sentence, "The young Robert receives the framed picture of the river and, like a fissure in a mountain, the line of grace runs back up through the entire novel, introducing and superimposing itself on every scene that felt deprived of it," is wonderful, big-picture exegesis. I see the connection of the tent that Jack builds, with that of Jacob's, but I wonder what significance the tent has in and of itself in the novel. Nate, PD, thoughts?

Nathan Jordan said...

I think the tent embodies Jack's solitude, and also his youth. It isn't a repeated image, like so many other images in this novel. It is only featured once, as if once is enough. For me It was unbearable to read, the twisted blanket, etc. My question is what does Robinson expect us to do with this "crude tabernacle" she has inserted in the story. I feel like this was an extremely important point in the novel, a cataract you have to go around to keep reading, simply because it stuck out like a sore thumb. In someways the tent is a literal rejection of the house, and its blessings. It is "another" alternative for Jack, a crude shelter.

John Paulling said...

Gen. 28 is helpful as well. In this text, Jacob has just left home after being blessed by Isaac. His father sends him to his Uncle Laban to get himself a wife. On his way there he has his famous dream with angles of God ascending and descending on a ladder that leads from earth to heaven. The Lord is at the summit of the ladder and says to him, "I am the Lord the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring... and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 28:13-15). When Jacob wakes up he says, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it... How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Jacob then names the place Bethel, which literally means, "house of God." Jacob then makes a vow (this is my last quote), "If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to father's house in peace" (Gen. 28:19-21).
Clearly, this is a kind of temporary temple. Jacob, meets God here, explicitly calls it the house of God, and receives from God the promise that he will be the continuation of the blessing that God begun with his grandfather Abraham, establishing him as a patriarch.
This should help some more with interpreting the object of the loft in the barn. Especially, the awkwardness with which Jack treats it when Glory intrudes. Also, that image of God being at the summit of the ladder, that's gotta be part of the reason for that semi-excessive talk about the ladder in the novel. Anyway, maybe y'all have some thoughts.

Nathan Jordan said...

"so that I return safely to my Father's house" G 28:21

There's no where else for Glory or Jack to go. That house is constantly the center, but it also gives their lives a comparative eccentricity, the same way living according the the economy and truth of the kingdom makes us look eccentric.

Paul-David Young said...

Nate- Great to have you on here. Excellent insights in Home. These discussion about Jacob and are excellent. Is this a new literary device that Robinson has crafted? Some kind of improvisational allegory? It seems that traditional understandings of metaphor, allegory, analogy, etc. are too thin to take into account what she is doing.