“The great mystery of life is not suffering but affliction.”—Simone Weil
Simone Weil (1909-1943), born Jewish, stood on the edge of converting to Christianity for most of her adult life. Perhaps she was baptized, perhaps not, the evidence is unclear. She is best known as a Christian mystic, though that ignores her very down to earth work, such as her involvement in the trade union movement, and with the international volunteers in Spain. Weil starved herself to death in sympathy with the occupied French. If you think that makes sense, you may stand closer to Weil than you think, closer than you should.
If biography were philosophy, we could dismiss Weil as emotionally disturbed. Disturbed or not, she wrote brilliant essays on a variety of topics. As she grew older, most were about God. It is her essay on “The Love of God and Affliction” that I am concerned with. It’s a brilliant essay, and it’s quite wrong.
The mystery of affliction
What does Weil mean by the mystery of affliction (malheur)? It is not surprising, she says, that the innocent are killed, or that people suffer from disease. Criminals and germs (nature) account for that. But it is surprising that God would have given affliction the power to seize the souls of the innocent and possess them as though they were the worst people on earth.