Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care?

Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care?

By Reynolds Price
New York: Scribner, 1999. Hardback, 112 pages.

Written as a letter to a fellow cancer sufferer (Price himself survived cancer of the spine), this book explores the question of its subtitle: "Does God exist and does He card" It is a heartfelt, honest, meditative exploration, not a superficial trotting out of clichéd answers, so it offers insight into one man's Job-like struggle; yet one wonders how consoling it might have been for the "man in the fire," had he not died before it arrived. For there are no answers here. Indeed, early on, Price confesses that few of the book's ideas "would seem new to well-read adults."

The author's own belief is that, yes, there is a God and He does care (if we expand our understanding of caring to include the concept that what appears to be evil may in the long run be for a greater good). That belief rests on "personal intuition," the centrality of the figure of Jesus to the author's worship, and a few brief experiences which, though lasting only seconds, appear to be consciousness- expanding. They were rare moments when it was demonstrated to him that "all of visible and invisible nature is a single reality."

Price does not doubt the universe was created by a single, divine intelligence, probably a male one (he thinks we should be glad that the darker side of the Divine has been treated as part of the male aspect, and not imputed to the Virgin Mother). Yet the concept of God as Father, Abba, has no resonance with him. Recognizing that his eighty-six-page discussion of the nature of evil, of the Trinity, and of religious belief has been brief, Price adds seventeen pages to point an inquirer to further study. It is here that he makes a curious passing reference to "the all but uncrossable deserts of 19th century Theosophy." One wishes he had explained that reference, but he does not.

The Letter is thoughtful, but reveals the limitations of belief in a personal Creator.


May/June 2001