‘Divine Victory,’ by David Bently Hart

‘We Christians are not obliged (and perhaps not even allowed) to look upon the devastation of that day – to look, that is, upon the entire littoral rim of the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal and upper Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children – and to attempt to console ourselves or others with vacuous cant about the ultimate meaning or purpose residing in all that misery. Our religion, after all, is a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces – whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance – that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. And we are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological ages and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the richer, more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven by darkness.  That ours is a fallen world is not, of course, a truth demonstrable to those who do not believe: it is not a first principle of faith, but rather something revealed to us only by what we know of Christ, in the light cast back from His saving action in history upon the whole of time. The fall of rational creation and the subjection of the cosmos to death is something that appears to us nowhere within the unbroken time of nature or history; we cannot search it out within the closed continuum of the wounded world; it belongs to another frame of time, another  kind of time, one more real than the time of death.

When, however, we learn in Christ the nature of our first estate, and the divine destiny to which we are called, we begin to see – more clearly the more we are able to look at the world with the eye of charity – that there is in all the things of earth a hidden glory waiting to be revealed, more radiant than a million suns, more beautiful than the most generous imagination or ardent desire can now conceive. Or rather, it is a glory not entirely hidden: veiled, rather, but shining in and through and upon all things. The imperishable goodness of all being does in fact show itself in all that it is. It shows itself in the vast waters of the Indian Ocean, and it is not hard to see when those waters are silver and azure under the midday sky, or gold and indigo in the light of the setting sun, or jet and pearl in the light of the moon, and when their smoothly surging tides break upon the shore and harmlessly recede. But it is still there even when – the doors of the sea having broken their seals – those waters become suddenly dull and opaque with grey or sallow silt and rise up to destroy and kill without will or thought or purpose or mercy. At such times, to see the goodness indwelling all creation requires a labor of vision that only faith in Easter can sustain; but it is there, effulgent, unfading, innocent, but languishing in bondage to corruption, groaning in anticipation of a glory yet to be revealed, both as a promise of the Kingdom yet to come and a portent of its beauty.

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of His enemy. Such a faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can defeat; for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are not saved through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetter in which creation languishes; and, that rather showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in darkness were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

– David Bently Hart (‘The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?” pp101-104.)

2 thoughts on “‘Divine Victory,’ by David Bently Hart

  1. Cal April 14, 2015 / 2:34 pm

    I’ve started on Hart so this post caught my eye.

    Ultimately, what do we make of Jesus who tells the cripple, before His moment of freedom, that His handicap was present for the mysterious reason that God’s Glory would be manifest. I love Hart’s critique of saccharine feel-good “God has a plan” and his biblical presentation that this world is the haunt of demons and is fallen. But this attempts to get God off the hook by a Manichaean sleight. None of this verbosity will overcome the piercing question “well, if God could stop it, even if there is evil, why didn’t he?”

    I think we need to be able to bite the bullet and say yes, God did allow these things to happen. But may God curse us if we use it as a band-aid or attempt to explain such things. Hart’s at least right to point to the Pascha and the Resurrection. But, as in Augustine’s time, the East waffled. We need a sober, compassionate, patient, and, perhaps at times, silent confession of the sovereignty of God and a mighty providence that even uses, in strange twists and turns, the enemies of God against themselves for our good and His glory.


    Liked by 1 person

    • whitefrozen June 3, 2015 / 7:32 am

      I suspect Hart would refuse to answer that piercing question, since, for him anyway, giving an answer would be to explain or rationalize it.


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