Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The White Whale and the Deus Absconditus

James Wood's recent article about Herman Melville in the New Republic has given me a new appreciation for Moby Disk - a book that failed to impress me much in high school. Wood writes that Melville was "not so much a God-doubter as a God-hater," and what made him most angry was the hiddenness of God. Melville once wrote that "silence is the only voice of our God", and this silence was apparently a great torment for him. Indeed, the great white whale itself represents (according to Wood) the "noisily silent God of the Book of Job, the Leviathan who will not be drawn out with a hook, who roars and thunders and bullies and commands, but who never answers the question: 'Why, Lord?'"

This article has fascinated me, probably because I find "God-haters" much more profound and unsettling than "God-doubters." What "God-doubters" fail to realize is that the "elimination" of God only pushes the question back one more step. Without God, the universe is abandoned to meaninglessness and nothingness, but this nothingness functions as a sort of deity itself - the "nothing-God." Of course, the "nothing-God" is not the loving God of Christianity. On the contrary, it acts as an annihilating force against humans and our attempts to gain meaning and security. My guess is that Melville's fury arose from the fact that, from the human side, there is no way to distinguish between the "nothing-God" and the deus absconditus, and thus they are identical for all practical purposes.

In light of Melville's torment, I think it's useful to remember the Lutheran distinction between the hidden and revealed God. A God who is truly God will always remain largely hidden, since a fully revealed God would become just another object of the universe, open to manipulation by human reason. However, Luther's writings always point anxious souls away from the hidden God ("Why, Lord?") and towards the revelation of God in the Word of the Cross. The remarkable fact is not that God exists, but that He exists "for me", in spite of all my sin and doubt.

Anyways, I might give Moby-Dick another try.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I am honored to be the first to comment on your blog. Random comments from strangers are always fun--well, excexpt from people using your blog to advertise something. I hate that. Anyway, you mentioned "god-haters" vs. "God-doubters" and I began thinking about that concept. I actually spoke with someone recently concerning anger towards God. I've felt it before. It's uncomfortable and brings forth all kinds of guilt, at least until you can get a grip on your feelings. It takes passion though. I think that is a clear difference between the two. One cares enough about God to be angry with Him and the other is devoid of feeling. Although, perhaps not. Doubt can be fueled by fear. Hmmm...don't mind me, I guess I'm using your blog to process through this. Feel free to delete my ramblings! Now that I think about it, doubt can also be brought on by pride--not wanting to be wrong. But then is it right or even honored by God to accept His gift because you just want to make sure that if there IS a Heaven that you'll be going there?

Thomas Adams said...

Thanks for the comment! I'm glad to know someone is reading.

You're absolutely right about the pain and guilt of "God-hating". It's a topic that isn't addressed much in the church, probably because people are most worried about the god-doubters, and also because nobody wants to say out loud that they hate God. But that silence is a shame, since anger at God is probably quite common and perhaps even necessary. Luther once said that one must first hate the hidden God before coming to love the revealed God - an insight that emerged from his own experiences of wrestling with God.

Andy said...

The conservative Presbyterian R.C. Sproul likes Melville. One of his favorite stories is from Melville's "Redburn" in which a man visiting Liverpool is given a map by his Father before he goes and when he gets there he discovers that the map is hopelessly out-if-date and more misleading than helpful. Sproul's conclusion (which seems reasonable given that summary) is that the map represents the Bible to Melville.

I liked Moby Dick a lot. It's definitely full of theological significance, but I think you have to really like symbolism. An interest in the minutest details of whaling wouldn't hurt either. :-)

Al Rodbell said...

Tom,

“God haters” really doesn’t capture what this atheist is. You simply cannot hate that which you do not believe exists. I may hate those who would condemn me, ridicule me, ostracize me or force me to believe; but I could never hate "God."

You write: Without God, the universe is abandoned to meaninglessness and nothingness, but this nothingness functions as a sort of deity itself - the "nothing-God." Of course, the "nothing-God" is not the loving God of Christianity. On the contrary, it acts as an annihilating force against humans and our attempts to gain meaning and security.”

Yes, without God there is meaninglessness and nothingness, but that is not the end of the atheists quest. If it were it would truly be untenable. An atheist, those whose atheism is not a product of despair, but of seeing a different truth, is constantly searching for meaning. It may seem cold, but the meaning comes from an expanded concept of science. For me the most beautiful experience was my undergraduate biology class, seeing a beating proto heart in a fertilized chicken egg.

Call it a different kind of faith, if that makes sense to you. It is a comprehensive world view. It has satisfactions and aggravations. Read my blog, and the article on the Cross issue, if you get a chance and it may become more fully understandable.

Regards

AlRodbell.blogspot.com