Gilead | Study Guide

Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead | Section 14 | Summary



John expresses he does not want to be old, or dead, or barely remembered by his son. He feels like he is being slowly left out of life, as though he is already gone.

John discusses an article on Christianity with Boughton. Boughton says he thinks heaven is all the pleasures of Earth times two. Jack comes out to join their conversation. Jack wants to hear John's theory on predestination, and John evades a definitive answer because he hates the topic.


Part of facing one's mortality is the bitter realization that life goes on as usual after one is gone. John has a hard time with this, especially when he notices people have started to act like he is too frail for normal everyday life. His spirituality allows him to realize that his body failing him is not entirely bad. He can "look forward to" the "ecstatic pirouette" the Apostle Paul describes in the Bible of being changed "in the twinkling of an eye."

But, the main focus of this section is on the doctrine of predestination. Predestination assumes that God has already chosen who will enter heaven, and some people, as Jack puts it "are intentionally and irretrievably consigned to perdition." John tries to neutralize the implications of Jack bringing up the topic by saying human understanding "cannot hope to penetrate" the workings of God. But Jack is not satisfied with this "cagey" answer. Jack has had "a reason to wonder fairly often about" predestination, which is perhaps his attempt at admitting a certain repentance for the abandonment of his child. John posits, "a person's behavior is consistent with his nature." This line of reasoning seems to upset Lila, who points out "there doesn't seem much purpose in" salvation if people do not change. Boughton and John do not seem to have any conclusions on how to reconcile "the mystery of predestination" with "the mystery of salvation." With all their spiritual teachings between them, these two ministers cannot give Jack the answer for which he is looking. Instead it comes from Lila, a person unschooled in religion. "A person can change," she insists. And, her response must be some consolation for Jack. Her good faith is instructional for John, who realizes his response to Jack is a "terrible problem."

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