Tragedy and God in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

[Slight spoiler alert: This post reveals a plot development in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but it’s an obvious one that the reader anticipates many chapters earlier. My first post on Stowe’s book reflected on slavery, sin and liberation.]


The child Eva is the center of her father’s life. Augustine St. Clare has grown cynical and flippant over the years, a defense mechanism to the misery he sees around him in the slave-holding South, but Eva, a delight to all who know her, is the one person he himself delights in at all times.

Eva is a character written to reflect what it means to come to God as a little child. Literally a child, she exhibits unwavering and unquestioning faith in Jesus. Her father finds himself unable to share in this faith, though he adores her and aches to have what she has.

She is a sickly child, and her impending death comes hard to all who know her: family, friends, slaves. Her father’s grief at her bedside is not the loudest, but it is the deepest. This scene is taken in her sick-chamber, where her father and his cousin Ophelia attend to her.

“Papa!” said Eva, gently laying her hand on his.

He gave a sudden start and shiver, but made no answer.

“Dear Papa!” said Eva.

“I cannot,” said St. Clare, rising. “I cannot have it so! The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me!” and St. Clare pronounced these words with a bitter emphasis indeed.

“Augustine! has not God a right to do what he will with his own?” said Miss Ophelia.

“Perhaps so; but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.”

Yes. Tragedy is never easy to bear.

The Burden Carrier

When tragedy strikes, when grief enters our hearts and marrow, are we to consider ourselves less than faithful to God if we find it hard to bear?

I think not.

The Bible tells us to turn to God with our cares, and promises he will sustain us through it all. (Psalm 55:22.)

Jesus – this same God in the flesh – told his friends that those who are burdened should come to him and find rest. (Matthew 11:28-30.) He didn’t say he would solve all their problems and remove them from life’s tragedies, but that in him there is rest in the midst of it all.

This same Jesus is also the one who experienced tragic loss in his own life, weeping at his friend’s tomb, mourning with those who mourned. (John 11:32-35.)

Our God is one who knows what it is to grieve, tragically grieve. He is able to be with us in our own tragedies and griefs because he knows personally what tragedy and grief are all about.

And he is God.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1.)

This is the One who bears our burdens with us, for us, alongside us. The One who is ever-present, helping us in our times of trouble.

He is our Savior. He is our burden-carrier.


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12 Responses to Tragedy and God in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  1. Aimee Byrd says:

    Yes, Tim, I think that we pass by the title “Man of Sorrows,” not really believing it because of his divine nature. We forget his human nature, and the pain that it must have been to walk this earth in all its sinfulness, seeing the effects of sin on God’s people—to the point where he was hated and rejected by the people who claimed to be waiting on the Messiah. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

    • Tim says:

      The Incarnation was fraught with opportunities for sorrow and pain, and well as joy and triumph. I try to remember that the Prince of Peace that Isaiah wrote about is also the Suffering Servant he wrote of too.

  2. Mary Anne says:

    I’m afraid that after recent events I identify pretty closely with St. Clare. I also think of Aslan in The Magician’s Nephew telling Diggory Kirke that “Grief is great. Let us be good to one another” because Diggory is afraid his mother is going to die. Aslan treats that grief and fear as the thing it is and does not attempt to minimize its difficulty.

    For me the real tear-jerker at this point in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Topsy’s frantic grief over Eva’s death because, as she puts it: “She said she loved me,” said Topsy,—”she did! O, dear! oh, dear! there an’t nobody left now,—there an’t!”

    I hope no one ever asks me to read this chapter aloud, because I’d never make it through . . .

  3. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Tim — it is such a comfort to know that Jesus understands all of the emotions we feel and that He bears our burdens for us and with us.

  4. I definitely need to reread “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The first and only time was in high school, and I know I loved it (although I cried through much of it). I’d love to read it again through more mature eyes, so I can catch more of the spiritual themes.

    One of my favorite professors often tells his students that it’s important to reread books, “Because the words don’t change, but you do.”

    • Tim says:

      That re-reading experience is one of the reasons I recommended A Fly Went By in commenting on your blog tonight, Jaimie!

    • Adriana says:

      Jaimie, I cried too while reading certain portions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was moved by the weight of the book’s historic significance. I could imagine families reading it by the fireside and being stunned, grieved, and enlightened by the truth. It created such shock waves around the world! It certainly must have caused disagreements behind closed doors — between husbands and wives lying in bed at night after reading it. Would they break the law and aid a runaway if one came knocking or not? And I just love that it was written by a overburdened housewife with a boatload of kids — like me! The act of reading it felt like entering into that critical moment in time.

  5. Adriana says:

    This is such a tender, comforting reflection, Tim. It is good to be reminded that “Jesus wept.” I’m glad you reminded me of the character of Eva. I read a biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe while I was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “Child-like faith” was one of her favorite themes. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Why I haven’t Seen 12 Years A Slave (and probably never will) | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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