Waiting for God

by Simone Weil
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339

Simone Weil, a French Jew who was raised in a secular household, fled her native country under Vichy rule, ending up in England. Weil wrestled with questions of faith for the remainder of her days. Strongly drawn to Christianity and often considering converting herself, she stopped short of conversion and thus was still Jewish when she died at age 34. Waiting for God is a set of letters and essays that were compiled after her death by theologian friends J. M. Perrin and Gustave Thibon. The primary theme is the individual’s relationship with divinity. Closely related is the theme of intellectual understanding contrasted with revelation as the basis of religious knowledge. Another theme connected to the character of one’s personal knowledge is one’s obligation to extend that knowledge through compassion for other human beings.

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In the documents included, Weil presents different aspects of her struggles, considering intellectual arguments about belief as well as her internal convictions. Studying God’s ways was similar, she believed, to studying in school as it required the power of attention, which she called “waiting on truth,” rather than seeking out that truth.

Weil argued that baptism was not necessary to accept Christ because one’s relationship with God and Christ was personal and was in itself a sacrament. Her reservations are connected with her interrogation of the role of the Catholic church as an institution, colored by what she understood as its lack of action during the war. A hierarchical and dogmatic vision of faith, she felt, was antithetical to the personal way by which one comes to fully comprehending divinity. In addition, confining oneself to studying any one religion would limit one’s understanding; Weil also includes insights from her studies of Buddhism and other faiths.

This comprehension comes with personal experiences of joy along with those of suffering and affliction. Such knowledge, therefore, must include compassion. One’s personal understanding is increased as well as extended to all other human beings because they share the capability of being similarly afflicted.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

The letters of Waiting for God offer the most direct way of comprehending (to some degree only, of course) the iconoclastic faith of Simone Weil, for they are personal and go directly to the heart of her affliction and her faith. (We know her personal anguish when she describes herself in the letters “Last Thoughts” as “a barren fig tree for Christ” and tells Father Perrin that “for other people, in a sense I do not exist. I am the color of dead leaves, like certain unnoticed insects.”)

The essays are valuable, however, as an intellect’s reading of her Christian faith. In “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” Weil develops the central idea that prayer consists of attention and that, accordingly, Christian study is fundamentally a matter of giving full attention and developing the power of attention. “In every school exercise,” she writes, “there is a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go out in search of it,” and she underscores the spiritual seriousness of her message by writing: “Only this waiting, this attention, can move the master to treat his slave with such amazing tenderness.” Even the love of neighbor requires attentively looking at the neighbor to know the neighbor as one who suffers. If one goes at Latin or geometry with the right kind of attentiveness, she concludes, one may on that account “be better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required.”

The essay “The Love of God and Affliction” is a careful statement of her view that both joy and affliction are necessary if one is to know God, and she describes affliction as “a marvel of divine technique,” and adds the reassuring comment that although affliction is the most depressing and painful kind of suffering, if one loves—that is, persists in turning toward God—one finds oneself “nailed to the very center of the universe. It is the true center; . . . it is God.” We cannot go to God, she declares, but if we love God whatever our affliction, “Over the infinity of space and time, the infinitely more infinite love of God comes to possess us.”

If one is inclined to suppose that Simone Weil was urging an attitude that calls for isolation and self-absorption in the effort to make contact with God, one has only to read her essay “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” in which she argues that the love of God includes and requires love of neighbor, love of the world’s order, love of religious practices, and friendship. Although she argues that “contact with God is the true sacrament,” she immediately adds that “We can, however, be almost certain that those whose love of God has caused the disappearance of the pure loves belonging to our life here below are no true friends of God.”

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