Cormac McCarthy and God

Tonight, I’m going to see “The Road” at Ragtag, which is based on the award winning book by Cormac McCarthy.  I’m cautiously excited because on one hand I really enjoyed reading the book but on the other hand it deals with some hard and dark subject matter.  Cormac McCarthy also wrote No Country For Old Men for those of you who saw that movie.  Each story is told in a setting where not only is there moral anarchy, but evil is imposing its will.In No Country For Old Men, the good natured sheriff gets close but is always frustrated from catching the evil killer seemingly by fate itself.  Its almost as if evil is given power by a higher power.  In the closing scene, the sheriff describes a dream he had in which his father carried a fire in a horn and went on past him to light the way in the darkness where he would meet him when he got there.  Then, McCarthy closes with the sheriff’s words, “And then I woke up.”  What all the dream represents is beyond me.  But, in McCarthy’s books, fire seems to represent goodness in the ultimate sense.  Here, the sheriff’s words seem to express no hope of things being made right in his future or in his death.  It ends in despair.  If God is in No Country For Old Men, he seems to have given power to the evil over the good.

The power of evil is perhaps more vast and intense in McCarthy’s “The Road.”  The story takes place after some unknown huge, perhaps global,  catastrophe.  Life has become almost utterly choked.  Survival is the essence of life and has driven all moral restraint away from humanity.  In this context is placed a father who is left to take care of his young son.  The story begins with the father surveying the landscape looking for any light, any color, any sign of life and goodness.  After seeing none, he says, “he knew only the child was his warrant.  If wasn’t the word of God, God never spoke.”  In his soon, he saw the only evidence of goodness and therefore the only evidence of God’s existence.  Talk of darkness and fire is throughout the book.  The father and son talk about being the good guys and the carriers of the flame.  Notice the same image used in No Country.  This common imagery is what makes a comparison of the two books interesting.  In No Country, an older man who has tried to hope in the existence of goodness and the existence of God ultimately gives up hope.  In The Road even with the darkness intensified, the father cannot abandon the hope because of his son.  To give up in The Road is either to become evil or to commit suicide.  To hope is to persevere and keep going down The Road.  While the hope is always intentionally vague and is only brief glimmers amidst great darkness, hope is still there.  Goodness is still there.  Perhaps, God is still there.

Why the difference between the books?  No Country ends in despair.  The Road ends with a faint hope.  It is interesting to note that McCarthy has a young son.  He described this book as his most personal as well.  Perhaps, his own son brewed in him hope amidst his existential despair.  In an interview, McCarthy was asked if children were born good.  In my paraphrase, he replied that he found parenting his own child difficult because he felt his son was more moral than he was.  He also said that if children were left to be educated by humanity that they would only become immoral.  Goodness, in McCarthy’s worldview, seems to need to come from outside the human race.  If there is no God, then there is no hope.

This is the beautiful power of The Road: the only power to keep going on in life is to hope that God is real, even amidst all the darkness and evil we see.  In Christianity, the hope is more concrete than the vague hope of The Road.  Our hope is based in the historical events of the Old and New Testaments as well as the nature of the Bible itself.  Yet, persevering in hope is still required for the Christian.  Sometimes, the darkness will be very heavy.  But, we have reasons to hope that God is real and that He will one day make all things right.


About Ryan Wampler

Much of my thinking is trying to connect the dots between the Bible, the lens through which I see the world, and the way I actually live my life. I’m a Mizzou grad, and got a theological education at a post-grad school in St. Louis. My particular areas of interest are: reflecting on books and films and connecting theology and culture.
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