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Gilead | Quotes


There are many ways to live a good life.

John Ames, Section 1

When John makes this statement in Section 1, he is rather smug about the fact that as a minister, he has chosen a way to "live a good life." The word choice here belies that he also believes there are ways to live a bad life. His emotional arc in the novel is to understand it is not he who is the judge of a good or bad life but God.


I'm grateful for all those dark years ... a long, bitter prayer that was answered finally.

John Ames, Section 2

Here John expresses how he sees God at work in his life, even in the dark times. He knows God had a reason for allowing him to go through his long period of grief and loneliness, and it was to show him the meaning of unconditional love.


I don't know what to say except that the worst misfortune isn't only misfortune.

John Ames, Section 4

John acknowledges that he was bereft after the death of Louisa and their daughter, but he also understands that this misfortune is what allowed his present happiness. He would not have Lila and his son if it were not for the loss of Louisa and his daughter.


The visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it.

John Ames, Section 7

John states it is impossible to know what any moment in your life means until you reflect on it later. God's purpose is usually not clear in moment while one is living it, and the impact of a moment reveals itself when one is ready to process it.


I can't believe we ... forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting ... we had lived.

John Ames, Section 7

Here John talks about the idea that one forgets all their sorrows once they are in heaven. John cannot believe this idea, because sorrows are instructive in human lives and are a large part of what makes up life.


The human soul, [is] the singular light within the great general light of existence.

John Ames, Section 8

John believes in the eternal nature of the human soul, and he says it is like "light within light." It is this incandescence within people that will live on even after they die.


A person can change. Everything can change.

Lila Ames, Section 14

This is Lila's argument against the doctrine of predestination. Predestination assumes that some people are born evil to live out evil lives and live eternally separate from God. To Lila, this runs counter to the doctrine of salvation.


Bring a drop of water to those of us who languish in the flames.

Jack Boughton, Section 15

Here, Jack is asking John for forgiveness, even though he realizes John's forgiveness is but a tiny fraction of the forgiveness he needs for his past deeds, including the abandonment of his child.


Proofs ... are never sufficient ... because they claim for God a place within our conceptual grasp.

John Ames, Section 15

This is John making his case for his spirituality. Because humans cannot fathom the divine ways of God, no proof that a human could come up with could come close to proving or disproving God. God is outside the conceptual grasp of humans.


Existence is the essential thing and the holy thing.

John Ames, Section 16

This statement is the basis for understanding John's emotional arc in the novel. In his dealings with Jack, he has judged the manner of his existence when it is not his place to judge. The only prerequisite for qualifying for God's love and forgiveness is that one exists. If John wants to be holy, and he does, he needs to let go of his human judgment and treat others, including Jack, with the unconditional love and grace of God.


They loved each other's company when ... they were silent.

John Ames, Section 17

Here John is talking about his father and Grandfather Ames. On the surface, this is a fine example of John's sense of humor, but it also speaks to the idea of understanding on a basic level that the mere fact of existence is a miracle of God and to be cherished. These two men of God could appreciate each other's existence, even if they could not agree on much else.


Just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul.

John Ames, Section 20

John states hell is not fire; hell is being cut off from God. So if one wants to imagine what hell is like, one simply has to look for their most uncharitable thoughts, the places in one's self that are farthest from God's ideal. For John, his deeply held resentment of Jack is certainly what keeps him furthest from God.


Love is ... like grace—the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.

John Ames, Section 20

John realizes that unconditional love does not take actions, good or bad, into account, but only the fact that the object of its love exists. Existence is enough reason to forgive, and enough reason to love.


There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be.

John Ames, Section 21

This is a breakthrough moment for John because he realizes he has resented his father for favoring Edward (his father's "prodigal son") over himself, the dutiful son who stayed and took over his father's pulpit. This resentment was part of the reason he could not forgive Jack, because of Jack's prodigal nature and Boughton's seemingly unfair adoration of him despite it. John realizes that unconditional love does not take actions, good or bad, into account, but only the fact that the object of its love exists.


There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

John Ames, Section 21

This statement circles back to John's statement in Section 1 that "there are many ways to live a good life." It illustrates how much John has grown emotionally and in his faith through the course of the novel because he realizes the essential thing is that one lives, not the way one lives. This distinction is important because it takes his human view of the judgment of others and allows for the fact that humans cannot fathom God's true purpose for his creation. It is not John's place to judge Jack, or his father, or anyone. He can only find his own meaning in life and encourage his son to do the same.

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