We all know what we think of when we hear the word “affair,” and somehow applying it to our relationship with God just seems, well, naughty. But if God is love, isn’t He also…a lover?
Such is the theme of the classic novel by British author Graham Greene, The End of the Affair. Set in London during the Blitz of World War II, the story is narrated by Bendrix, a bachelor novelist bitterly relating the tale of his affair with the beautiful Sarah, a married woman.
For the first half of this short book, all you want to do is hate Bendrix. Beyond the fact that he’s literally stealing his neighbor’s wife, he acknowledges and doesn’t give a rip about his own depravity. Jealousy, pettiness, and what he calls “hate love” dominate his relationship with Sarah as both lovers desperately try to find wholeness in each other, both knowing they never will.
But the beauty, as well as the piercing depth, of this story comes from this realistic presentation of these desperately honest sinners. When it comes to well-crafted characters, nobody does it better than Graham Greene. All depraved to the core, you want to hate them but find you can’t, because they’re you. In Greene’s writing, you are faced with the reality of the darkness that we all carry inside of us, the darkness that can only be dissipated by the power of God’s grace.
And this book is about grace.
When Sarah ends her affair with Bendrix, his maddening jealousy convinces him that she has a new lover. Bendrix hires a detective to track down this unknown rival so he can win Sarah back, convinced that no one can love her as much as he does. But what if this new lover is even more jealous, strong, and loving than Bendrix could ever imagine?
I would love to talk about this book forever, since it’s my all-time favorite novel (and that means a lot, because I read a ton). But the best part of The End of the Affair is the way it hits you right in the soul with unexpected truths, and I don’t want to take away from any of the surprise of the experience.
I do want to say that while it’s an amazing book, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a theological text. Graham Greene was supposedly a Catholic, and if so not a very good one, so his word is not gospel.
But I can say with confidence that every time I’ve read this book I’ve come away with a deep-in-the-heart feeling of how our ordinary lives hide amazing spiritual realities and am reminded (to an extent I rarely receive from theology books) just how jealously God loves each of us. Each time I turn the last page, I take a deep breath and appreciate anew the most passionate, fulfilling relationship I have ever experienced, the one that saved me from the utter loneliness of this empty world: my affair with God. I hope that in reading The End of the Affair, you can be reminded of the same.