Wednesday, August 5, 2009

David Bentley Hart on the God of Nothing But Will

"[I]t seems worth noting that there is a point at which an explanation becomes so comprehensive that it ceases to explain anything at all, because it has become a mere tautology. In the case of a pure determinism, this is always so. To assert that every finite contingency is solely and unambiguously the effect of a single will working all things — without any deeper mystery of created freedom — is to assert nothing but that the world is what it is, for any meaningful distinction between the will of God and the simple totality of cosmic eventuality has collapsed. If all that occurs, in the minutest detail and in the entirety of its design, is only the expression of one infinite volition that makes no real room within its transcendent determinations for other, secondary, subsidiary but free agencies (and so for some element of chance and absurdity), then the world is both arbitrary and necessary, both meaningful in every part and meaningless in its totality, an expression of pure power and nothing else. Even if the purpose of such a world is to prepare creatures to know the majesty and justice of its God, that majesty and justice are, in a very real sense, fictions of his will, impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, merciful and cruel, radiant and monstrous — some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment, and all for the sake of the divine drama of perfect and irresistible might. Such a God, at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite brute event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism. Quite apart from what I take to be the scriptural and philosophical incoherence of this concept of God, it provides an excellent moral case for atheism — or, for that matter, Gnosticism."

—David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 29-30


  1. What on earth does all of that turgid verbosity really mean, or refer to that has anything to do with Truth and Reality?

    Especially when compared to these references.

  2. Brad,

    Hey, I hope you're doing well. It was great to meet you at the CSC. I finally got a chance to wonder over to your blog. I think it's fantastic. Thanks for putting so much great stuff on one site.

    I love this Hart quote. Doors of the Sea is one of my favorites. I also like David Burrell's book on Deconstructing Theodicy. Both of these books emphasize the reality of chaos and chance in the world and condemn 'Christian' attempts to attribute the chaos to a clear and detailed divine outline (that is actually accessible to our minds).

    Regarding the comment above from Anonymous, I think that Hart can definitely be faulted for being unnecessarily wordy (to say the least).

    But this quote has everything to do with "Truth and Reality." It is precisely the Western scholastic (especially as it is expressed in some streams of Reformed theology) claim to possess exhaustive knowledge of Truth and Reality that Hart is deconstructing. Hart's main intention in this quote is to point out that human knowledge cannot fully comprehend the will of God. How foolish it would be to not only assume we could comprehend God's will but also explain how his will worked through every biochemical episode whether immaterial, vegetative, human, or cosmic. His point about such a view of God's will not making scriptural or philosophical sense should be noted. Both scriptural and philosophical accounts of determinism struggle to account for why chaos exists. The New Testament clearly testifies that the creation is under the oppression of 'powers'.

    Okay I just reread the comment... :p Hopefully, I just didn't spend all this time responding to a spam comment. So let me know if this helps, Anonymous.

    Great blog, Brad.