The Giver, the winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, is the first book in The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry.
Synopsis with Spoilers!
The story centers around a utopian society whose main goal was to remove all suffering. This was done in a few ways:
- All memory of the past was removed from the community.
- Individual choices were removed in regards to careers, spouses, number of children.
- Everyone was given and treated the same.
- The elderly were euthanized, also any child who didn’t develop as expected.
- No one was allowed to deviate from traditions, customs, and/or rules.
The story centers around a 12-year-old boy and his new given career; to hold memories. The leaders recognized the need to learn from history, and thus one person in the community needed memories. Jonas was to become The Receiver of these memories from The Giver. As Jonas receives these memories he becomes aware of suffering. Once aware of suffering Jonas becomes aware of all emotions. He recognizes that his society is devoid of emotion. They don’t celebrate life or grieve death. They don’t experience joy because they don’t have pain. Jonas begins to experience the entire range of human emotions; he begins to value both the good and the bad. With this enlightenment, he kidnaps a baby scheduled to be euthanized. He also plans to release all memories back into society so they can experience the full range of life.
This book has many important themes to discuss. You can start by discussing the link between pleasure/pain or happiness/sadness. Many argue that you need both to experience either (article from Psychology Today).
Understanding Redemptive Suffering is very important and this is, in some ways, uniquely Catholic (Suffering, Catholic Style).
Suffering in our current society is seen as a bad thing. It is viewed as something worse than death. Suffering has no meaning, and the primary goal of life becomes to avoid pain and to concentrate on maximizing our pleasure. Since we enjoy pleasure so much, wouldn’t a loving God only give us pleasure? Many people use the existence of evil, suffering, and pain as a reason to not believe in God. If God is all good, all-loving, how can evil/suffering/pain exist?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers these questions throughout but focuses on them in paragraphs 307-324, 405-409, 418, 595-623, 1368-1372, 1414, and 1503-1505.
I want to start by stating that God never chooses or wills evil or suffering. God does not desire evil nor does He desire us to suffer. While God doesn’t desire our suffering, we all know He doesn’t stop it either. As a parent, I want my children to avoid pain and suffering. Why wouldn’t an all-powerful God stop suffering?
I want to argue that we humans are looking at suffering wrong. We see it as something bad. Something to be avoided. What if suffering is neither bad nor good? What if suffering is neutral? What if it is how we use suffering in our lives to bring us closer or farther from God that determines if suffering is good or bad?
We have to recognize that God’s goal was not to create a utopia based on our pleasure (the basis of Romans Chapter 8), but we were created for redemption:
1 Thes 5:9 For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Heb 2:10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.
God knows the end of the story. He knows how everything works toward our salvation. There is no need to fear or worry about suffering. We know God is going to use it for our salvation. That is His will. We should not believe our sufferings happen by chance or solely from the evils of humanity, we should be convinced through faith that God allows them solely for His glory and for our good.
Rom 8:28 We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Acts 9:16 and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name
The goal I am suggesting is to desire neither suffering or a lack of suffering. The goal is to desire God’s will. This encompasses accepting everything in our lives that are out of our control. Follow Jesus’ example in Mathew Chapter 26: 36-42. Jesus prayed that He wouldn’t have to suffer, but He ends his prayer with: “My Father if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”
I think Jonas, in the end, didn’t see suffering as something to be avoided. He and The Giver suffered a lot in the book, to the point of not being able to work on some days because the pain was just too much. However, he saw all the good that can come from suffering. When you suffer, ask God to allow only good to come from the pain.
One book that has helped me a lot in my physical and mental suffering is Uniformity with God’s Will by St. Alphonsus Liguori. You can read it in about an hour and it will be life-changing.
I want to add that it is okay to try to stop and avoid suffering. Jesus spent a great deal of His time healing the sick. It is not wrong to ask God for healing. The blind man was very specific to Jesus when he asked to see (Mk 10:51). It is fine to be direct with God in our healing and we can use modern medicine to acquire healing. The opposite also holds true. We should not intentionally cause the suffering of ourselves or anyone else. Allow God to take care of everything and accept whatever comes your way.