Frederick Buechner, religious novelist, dies at 96

“Contrary to popular religious belief,” he wrote in a 1994 essay for The Times, “I don’t think God changes things in the sense of making bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, or to give victory to one side over the other in wars, or to pass a bill in Congress to make school prayer constitutional.

Mr Buechner said he believed that chance rules much of the universe, but also that “through chance things happening, God opens up possibilities for redemptive human change in the inner self, even for those who would not be taken dead believing in him”. .”

Emerging from a chaotic childhood in which his family constantly moved as his father, an unsuccessful salesman for industrial chemical companies, drifted from job to job during the Depression and committed suicide when the The boy was 10, Mr Buechner attended private boarding school and his father’s alma mater, Princeton, and taught for a few years before beginning his writing career in New York.

His first novel, “A Long Day’s Dying” (1950), about the conflicts between a student, his widowed mother, his grandmother and his mother’s lovers, appeared when he was 23 years old. It won both critical praise and commercial success. “Overall, it is a true work of art, of fine sensibility and amazing human understanding,” wrote David Daiches, an English scholar at Cornell, in The Times Book Review.

It was not until the publication of his less successful second novel, “The Difference of the Seasons” (1952), which explored the moral vacuum in a group of sophisticated people, that Mr. Buechner had his spiritual awakening. Attending Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, he heard a sermon by its famous pastor, George Buttrick, which inspired him.

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