The point of life and the kindness of God.
Nick Cave’s trenchant yet tenuous answer to the meaning of life in the midst of loss.
If you’ve never perused The Red Hand Files, you’re really missing out on a smattering of eclectic and affecting answers to reader-submitted questions via the mind and fingers of Nick Cave. Cave, of course, is a multifaceted artist in his own right, with songwriting contributions to his name across a wide-range of genres, from film scores to grunge rock to western ballads, which isn’t to mention his acting and screenwriting credits, too. Indeed, if you scour his Wikipedia page, you’ll quickly discern that Cave is somewhat of a “Renaissance man.” The Red Hand Files, therefore, is merely another medium through which Cave is able to express himself, often leading to trenchant responses to a kaleidoscope of inquiries.
Recently, Cave was asked, “What is the point in life?” This is just the latest example of the type of queries Cave is forced to comb through in his inbox. Surprisingly, Cave is able to craft an answer to this most critical of life’s existential questions in a mere four paragraphs. I wonder, though, how you might answer that same question. Life’s “point” can be answered in pat fashion or in a jumbled menagerie of uncertainty. Some, perhaps, are inclined to give the confessional response that the point in life is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Larger Catechism, 3). That is, certainly, an appropriate reply. However, what that looks like in the midst of the life’s more tumultuous seasons is less perceptible, less pat, and more perplexing. Cave writes:
To understand the point in life we must first understand what it is to be human. It seems to me that the common agent that binds us all together is loss, and so the point in life must be measured in relation to that loss. Our individual losses can be small or large. They can be accumulations of losses barely registered on a singular level, or full-scale cataclysms. Loss is absorbed into our bodies from the moment we are cast from the womb until we end our days, subsumed by it to become the essence of loss itself. We ultimately become the grief of the world, having collected countless losses through our lifetime. These losses are many-faceted and chronic, both monstrous and trivial. They are losses of dignity, losses of agency, losses of trust, losses of spirit, losses of direction or faith, and, of course, losses of the ones we love. They are daily, convulsive disappointments or great historical injuries that cast their shadows across the human predicament, reminding us of the stunning potential of our own loss of humanity. We are capable of the greatest atrocities and the deepest sufferings, all culminating in a vast, collective grief. This is our shared condition.
Yet happiness and joy continue to burst through this mutual condition. Life, it seems, is full of an insistent, systemic and irrepressible beauty. But these moments of happiness are not experienced alone, rather they are almost entirely relational and are dependent on a connection to the Other — be it people, or nature, or art, or God. This is where meaning establishes itself, within the connectedness, nested in our shared suffering.
I believe we are meaning-seeking creatures, and these feelings of meaning, relational and connective, are almost always located within kindness. Kindness is the force that draws us together, and this, Beau, is what I think I am trying to say — that despite our collective state of loss, and our potential for evil, there exists a great network of goodness, knitted together by countless everyday human kindnesses.
These often small, seemingly inconsequential acts of kindness, that Soviet writer Vasily Grossman calls ‘petty, thoughtless kindness’, or ‘unwitnessed kindness’ bind together to create a subterranean and vanquishing Good that counterbalances the forces of evil and prevents suffering from overwhelming the world. We reach out and find each other in the common darkness. By doing so we triumph over our collective and personal loss. Through kindness we slant, shockingly and miraculously, toward meaning. We discover, in that smallest gesture of goodwill laid at the feet of our mutual and monumental loss, ‘the point’.
Mr. Cave is on to something with this response, I think. There is something worth clinging to, even in the midst of upheaval, calamity, and loss. Dark though the days may be — and we’ve, certainly, been through our fair share, of late — kindness shimmers as a glimmer of moonlight across a sea of darkness. But as germane as Cave’s reply is, it’s still somewhat incorporeal. For Christians, however, as we “slant, shockingly and miraculously, toward meaning,” we, likewise, find ourselves slanting and falling into the arms of kindness himself. Christian hope, after all, isn’t tethered to some nebulous force that binds us all together, but is tethered to the embodiment of God’s kindness, that is, Christ Jesus the Lord. As we suffer losses, both great and small, it is his beating heart of kindness and one-way love which sustains our days, lifts up our heads, and injects hope into our veins.
Grace and peace to you, my friends.
The Larger Catechism, Agreed Upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster (Philadelphia: D. Hogan, 1814).