“Lyric Theodicy: Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Problem of Hiddenness”

In Adam Green & Eleonore Stump (eds.), Hidden Divinity and Religious Belief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 260-277 (2015)

Abstract

The nineteenth century English Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins struggled throughout his life with desolation over what he saw as a spiritually, intellectually and artistically unproductive life. During these periods, he experienced God’s absence in a particularly intense way. As he wrote in one sonnet, “my lament / Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away.” What Hopkins faced was the existential problem of suffering and hiddenness, a problem widely recognized by analytic philosophers to be left relatively untouched by conceptual explanations. In this essay, I argue that Hopkins’ poems themselves fill this gap left by conceptual approaches by articulating the existential crisis faced by those who feel the searing pain of suffering and the numbing, leaden echo of silence. His lyric speaks into existential suffering in ways akin to biblical laments and, as such, creates a space in which those who suffer can meet God, even if only to contend. Understood within Hopkins’ view of the incarnation and passion, these poems also suggest a way to identify with Christ in the experience of hiddenness, thereby making God present even in divine absence.

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Ian Deweese-Boyd
Gordon College

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