Where was God in the Tsunami?
David Bentley Hart
Category: Doctrine and Theology
My sincere thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy of David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?
I have called this post a book promotion, rather than a review, because to best communicate my enthusiasm I feel I need to speak more personally. Hence this will be more of a personal reflection, especially as my brain is still panting with delight having finished the book a matter of minutes ago.
Everywhere, Hart's language is electric and his style energetically lucid and deeply polemic. Indeed, and as one blogging friend put it to me recently in private correspondence, it makes reading anyone else rather boring by comparison! Hart reserves some especially biting rhetoric against the arguments of certain 'triumphalist atheists', but he also calls 'limited atonement' a heresy on the way, and Calvin (and Reformed thinking generally) is nothing but a punch-bag for his searing argumentation. Great fun! Indeed, though I have grown in Christian faith mostly within a Reformed Evangelical context, I found his rebuke of theological determinism as profound and moving a case as I have read anywhere. For its size, this book has as much punch as many grand tomes. It's like a shot of mature whiskey in that it holds as much alcohol as many pints of cheap beer put together. Perhaps not the best analogy, but it's getting too late to hit the delete button now.
Reading The Doors of Sea has not only proved to be a great aid in thinking through theodicy, it awakened in me a fresh delight in the glory of God in all of creation. I read much of the book while sitting in my back garden, and southern Germany at this time of year is often quite simply beautiful. Sitting out on the lawn reading the words of Thomas Traherne, which Hart cites at some length, was a profound spiritual experience. Hart's own prose reached into my soul, as it were, and set free some profound worship. It was a breath of fresh air to unashamedly let go of efforts to somehow ascribe to a good God every wicked evil that has ever happened in the name of God's sovereignty. Furthermore, his brief elucidation of how one should conceptualise the divine sovereignty was, I found, intellectually satisfying — certainly more so, to my mind, than Rowan Williams' short efforts in Tokens of Trust. Hart's exposition of the significance of the discussion between Ivan (who Moltmann would perhaps call a protest 'atheist' of sorts) and Alyosha, in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, was probably the high point of the book for me, as was Hart's perception of the significance of the elder, Zosima, who, Hart argued, 'constitutes a kind of "answer" to Ivan' (58). This discussion powerfully thrust the importance of love right back where it ought to be.
Being the nauseatingly opinion-on-everything theologian I am, I couldn't follow Hart at every point. His discussion about the issue of divine impassibility, which Hart considers a very important dogma, was less impressive. To be honest, I haven't made my mind up on this issue yet — and I have read too much German Protestant theology to swallow that one without a fight.
But the real point of this post is not review but something else, i.e. some shameless plugging: Please, please read David Bentley Hart's The Doors of Sea. You will not regret it; you will love me for recommending the book to you and will want to kiss me (but please don't). I know I review quite a few books on this blog and I'm always trying to plug something, but for your own sake get this one.
In a recent review of Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite (which Eerdmans were also kind enough to send me — and will consequently be reviewed here in due time), John McGuckin memorably wrote that Hart's book 'comes among us like a satellite fallen through the roof of the hen house' (SJT, 60(1): 94 ). Almost as good as the old 'bomb into the playground' line. Hart's small book, The Doors of Sea, if I may use a similar analogy, came at me like a hornet through a toilet window while I was quietly sitting reading my newspaper.
The Doors of Sea: Very memorable, very profound, very moving, very thought-provoking and, perhaps most importantly, it promoted me to sit still and worship the glorious and infinitely beautiful God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Chris Tilling, October 2007
Chris Tilling describes himself as an Englishman who now lives just outside Tčbingen, Germany, together with his beautiful wife. In his postgraduate research (under the supervision of Max Turner) he's working on a thesis that concerns the christological significance of the language Paul used to describe the relationship between risen Lord and believer. His blog, Chrisendom, is primarily occupied with biblical and theological themes - especially those Apostle Paul shaped - but he tries as best as he can to squeeze in a decent amount of inappropriate baloney on the way. Go there to find out more.Eerdmans | Order from www.christianbookshops.org