” He stood appalled, judging himself with the thoroughness of God, while the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it. He had never thought himself a great sinner before, but he saw now that his true depravity had been hidden from him lest it cause him despair. He realized that he was forgiven for sins from the beginning of time, when he had conceived in his own heart the sin of Adam, until the present, when he had denied poor Nelson. He saw that no sin was too monstrous for him to claim as his own, and since God loved in proportion as He forgave, he felt ready at that instant to enter Paradise.”
-Flannery O’Connor; The Artificial Nigger
I’ve been reading a book of O’Connor’s short stories lately with varying degrees of interest and enjoyment. There is no doubt she is a brilliant writer and well-deserving of her place in this country’s literary canon, but nonetheless, her stories make me very sad. She manages to give birth to characters who exemplify the depravity of man so intensely that it is both exhausting and painful to read their stories.
So earlier this evening I was sitting in the Filling Station, fully prepared to be left saddened yet again by the story, when I came upon those words I just quoted at the end of one story. “the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it.” How incredibly powerful are those words? Shouldn’t that very action be taking place in our hearts? This bears a great deal more thought.