Early into Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila (2014), the eponymous heroine arrives in the Iowa town of Gilead and takes shelter from the rain in its church. That is where she meets the kindly minister, her husband-to-be, John Ames. “I just been wondering lately why things happen the way they do,” she tells him. “I’ve been wondering about that more or less my whole life” is his succinct reply.

Such weighty questions and such dedicated wondering permeate and inform all four of Robinson’s Bible-steeped novels. In her theologically influenced essays she has more freedom and is able to dispense with the baggage and the trappings of fiction—plot development, character studies, style, and imagery—and cut straight to the spiritual inquiry, tackling head-on Lila’s quandaries “about existence, about the great storms that...

 
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