Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wrestling with Simone Weil

To read Simone Weil is to exist on a high level of abstraction where such concepts as God, joy and evil predominate. Rather than try to discuss the problem of evil--how can the existence of God be maintained in a world of evil?--or the existence of God or the meaning of joy, I focus on a statement in the form of a question that nags at me.

Weil, the always challenging French philosopher and mystic, wrote:  "To say that the world is not worth anything, that life is of no value and to give evil as the proof is absurd, for if these things are worthless, what does evil take from us?" (Gravity and Grace)   I am trying to figure out what she means.

What, she goes on, does suffering take from the one who is without joy? In other words, if I may presume: A glimpse or experience of joy is essential if we are to see what is real beneath the misery of life.

For Weil, the reality of life is suffering, yet this does mean that reality is evil or worthless; suffering is the precondition for moments of transcendent joy. (She wrote extensively about affliction.) We must endure pain and suffering, which do not de-value life any more do than human evils (war, racism, hatred, etc.).

Another way to express this is to focus, as Justin E. H. Smith does in a recent blog (, on love as the essence of God.

The problem, he says, with most concepts of God is that they include God as king or tyrant or powerful father rather than simply "the love that charges through all of creation."  The anthropomorphic images of God, it seems to me, are useful metaphors for children, but prove dangerous to mature people who want to pray.  God is not a being, but Being itself.

Since God is not a being, Smith says, God cannot be a monarch.  God should be a reason to rejoice: so the love that is God and that is seen in creation leads to joy. We see this love in the God's creatures, and to experience it is to know something deeper and longer lasting than mere happiness. In other words, joy.

I assume this is something Simone Weil would agree with.

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