The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, a novel about the 18th century collapse of a bridge in Peru in which five people were killed, is neatly bracketed by the opening and the closing chapters titled, respectively, Perhaps an Accident and Perhaps an Intention. The titles refer to the question that the Franciscan monk who witnessed the disaster was wrestling with: why did those particular five die? Brother Juniper expanded a great amount of effort and energy in trying to find the answer (but if you want to know what he came up with, you’ll have to read the book).
Wilder’s Brother Juniper of course is in no way alone in the world in feeling baffled by this question. Mankind in general spends a long time pondering why a brick has fallen on their saintly neighbour’s head while the vile woman down the street enjoys a seemingly perfect health into her 90s – just so as not to cite more extreme examples. Any number of religions have had their say on the subject, and the author of Ecclesiastes 9:11 – that would be the famously wise King Solomon – came to a conclusion that, at least in my experience, is difficult to refute…
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Is this a mite depressing, or what?
(Although I’m all in favour of the battle not being always to the strong. Think Salamis.)
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