I am slogging my way through a massive biography on Mark Twain (Mark Twain, A Life) by Ron Powers. In the life of this esteemed writer I once again see a dynamic that I found while studying the book of Job: when faced with loss or deep pain man can either choose to trust God or he (or she) will lower his view of God.
In 1858 as a cub riverboat pilot, Sam Clemens (Twain) had secured a menial job for his younger brother, Henry, onboard the steamship Pennsylvania. In the summer of that year unfortunately, (or fortunately) Sam had a falling out with the captain and was placed on another vessel. With a hold full of turpentine the Pennsylvania departed upstream from New Orleans without Sam but with his beloved brother. Two days later Clemens received word that a boiler explosion had sunk the steamship, killing 150 people. While not killed in the initial blast, Henry who was asleep over the ship’s boilers, was badly injured and died three days later.
Twain was grief stricken over the loss of his youngest sibling. In a letter to a family member he wrote, “Long before this reaches you, my poor Henry,—my darling, my pride, my glory, my all…the light of my life will have gone out in utter darkness” (88). Of this tragedy his biographer writes, “Henry’s death closed a door in Samuel Clemens’s heart. Before it happened, he had talked of joining the ministry, a fantasy had he had in common with Orion (his older brother). Now his skepticism regarding the Christian faith hardened into nonbelief… “(89).
In the face of tragedy and great loss one can choose to exercise faith in God in the midst of pain or he will lower his view of God. Twain and Job illustrate the two options.