Out of the many stories in Anderson's book, two in particular focus on the relationship between God and man. "Godliness" and "The Strength of God" offer starkly contrasting views of religious life, and particularly of the way God communicates with man. In "Godliness," Jesse Bentley comes to see himself as a kind of Old Testament figure, the founder of a "new race of men sprung from himself." He believes he is chosen by God to prosper greatly, and anxiously looks for a sign of divine favor. He thinks he finds this sign in his only grandson, David Hardy. But when Jesse attempts to confirm God's gift, by taking the boy out into the woods and waiting for a sign or a miracle, the boy feels only fear, as if "a new and dangerous person" has taken possession of his grandfather's body. In "The Strength of God," the Reverend Curtis Hartman feels that God has abandoned him by allowing him to be gripped by sexual temptation. In a moment of utter despair, however, Hartman is allowed a glimpse of the divine (or so he thinks) in the praying figure of the very woman who has been the source of his temptation. The contrast is clear: Jesse Bentley looks desperately for God and finds nothing, while Curtis Hartman is on the verge of abandoning God when he has a miraculous vision.
There are noticeably few happy people in Anderson's Ohio town, and even fewer happily