Essay

The Marriage Plot

By July 20, 2012 No Comments
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James Bratt is away today, but we are glad to share Elaine Schnabel.  Elaine graduated from Calvin College with an English major last year. She’s currently teaching English at Kosin University in Busan, South Korea and spends her spare time traveling, busking and keeping up with her blog,  http://bearoflittlebrain.blogspot.com/.

I recently read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. As with many modern books that aren’t for young adults, it was difficult for me—and that’s not because I have trouble understanding words like uxorious and subitize (neither of which were in this book).

These kids of books are difficult for me because the characters are so realistic and (thus) frustrating. One of the main characters is Madeleine, a rather oblivious rich hottie with a passion for Jane Austen and planning her life around her manic-depressive-abusive boyfriend. Looking for love and intimacy through sex and romantic destiny, she is quite lost but neither she nor Eugenides solve what is a glaringly obvious problem. Defining her life through intimacy with other people (boyfriends primarily, using sex primarily), gives her no foundation from which to build a solid life.

I have trouble identifying with books like this because they show the clear source of a problem many people face today (loneliness, aimlessness)—and then sort of shrug and wander away. “Dudes,” the book (and current armchair philosophy) says, “life’s a bitch, and people let you down, but . . .you know . . . there’s no real answers, so yeah. Make the best of it. Love yourself, be “true,” and good luck.”

We’re smarter than that.

It’s uncool right now to believe there are black and white rules, Biblical right and wrong—designed not to curb pleasure but to enhance it. But why? Why are we so hell-bent on freedom that makes us act like jerks and feel lonely?

One of the other characters rants a little about Job. We all know the story: God allows Satan to do all sorts of horrible things to Job, because he is God’s poster-boy. All of the horrible things—the killing of his children and destruction of his property and so on—occur before the first two chapters of Job are complete. The next 36 chapters are a conversation between Job’s friends and Job, as he cries out in anguish to God.

So this character says, “In the Old Testament, Job is always asking God questions. ‘Why do you do so terrible things to me? I am your faithful servant.’ He goes on asking and asking. But does God answer? No. God doesn’t say nothing.”

False. God does answer after 36 long, annoying chapters. What’s more, the book of Job could have gone on and on past those 36 chapters of conversation and questioning (on the subject of 2 chapters of action) into the twenty-first century when people are still asking, “Why God? Why would you do this to me? Why is there suffering?”

God answers Job; he answers us—and he is very, very clear.

He speaks from chapter 38 to chapter 41 and I recommend the full version, but here are the verses relevant to this discussion (in rather sarcastic glory):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? . . .
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
Or shown the dawn its place—
That it might take the earth by the edges
And shake the wicked out of it? . . .
Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?     . . .
Unleash the fury of your wrath!
Look at every proud man and bring him low
Look at every proud man and humble him,
Crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
Shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
That your own right hand can save you.”

God answers Job and he answers us. When who we are defines our lives, we don’t like to hear how unimportant we are. When the people we surround ourselves with define our lives, we don’t like to hear how unimportant they are, too.

Read the full version—it’s even more badass.

Elaine Schnabel

After graduating from Purdue University with an MA in communication, Elaine Schnabel moved to Indianapolis where she rolls her eyes at the electoral map while earning her MA in theology at Fuller Seminary (online). She works a variety of part time jobs and, if invited to, she will talk about her cat for hours. She dreams of being a writer, a researcher of religious communication, and a professional soccer player.

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