book response: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (1998)


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After tearing through Russell's first book, The Sparrow, I tore through it's sequel, Children of God as well. This book seems to be an even more intense meditation on the problem of evil. This may be why this book's pages did not turn as quickly as the first one, which is not to say it's a lesser book, it's just deeper.

Russell still does a good job at imagining the future. For example, everyone in the future in this book uses "ROM tablets" instead of iPads. The Pope in 2096 is a woman. In 2070, the Jesuits are allowed to advocate for birth control.

But the story picks up with recovery of the interstellar rape victim, Emilio Sandoz, and the ongoing question of why would God, if he exists, allow that to happen. Russell spends more time in the Hebrew scriptures in this book looking at all the angles to the problem of evil. Jeremiah comes up, the weeping prophet, who also wonders why God allows awful things to happen to his city and his people before his eyes. She also turns to rabbinic interpretations for explanations. I found this one insightful.

"There's a passage in Deuteronomy - God tells Moses, 'No one can see My face, but I will protect you with My hand until I have passed by you, and then I will remove My hand and you will see My back.' Remember that?"
Emilio nodded, listening.
"Well, I always thought that was physical metaphor," John said, "but, you know - I wonder now if it isn't really about time? Maybe that was God's way of telling us that we can never know His intentions, but as time goes on...we'll understand. We'll see where He was: we'll see His back." p.428

She doesn't neglect her Catholic sources either. "Like Saint Teresa said: If that's how God treats His friends, it's no wonder He's got so few of them." p.111 Despite all this religion in the book, it doesn't feel like a sermon, nor does it feel artificial, she is writing about Jesuit priests on a mission to Alpha Centauri after all. The theology comes naturally in the story, which I consider a rare talent. Sadly, she does not expect to write a third book, even at the request of her own son. As I've said before, I don't read many novels. But I do read about evil. I read history, particularly, those historical topics that cover our inhumanity towards each other. I also read theology, particularly the topic of evil. This book is a great intersection between those two genres and certainly provided entertainment like the other two genres do not.
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