In a Vision of the Night
Job, Cormac McCarthy, and the Challenge of Chaos
Imprint: Baylor University Press
247 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: November 2021
How is life possible in a world of evil, suffering, and chaos? Christians have historically been inept at offering adequate answers as to why people’s lives are derailed by sudden chaos and, even worse, at equipping people to live in the throes, or aftermath, of that same chaos. Underlying this confusion is an assumption that evil is a formidable chink in the armor of God’s creation. The book of Job challenges such thinking, but its meaning often remains hidden because of a long-standing belief in Christian hermeneutics that the book is about why bad things happen to good people, or about why suffering happens. This is not the case.
With In a Vision of the Night Philip Thomas offers a fresh perspective into the book of Job by reading it alongside the fiction of Cormac McCarthy. While some critics have previously identified Joban overtones in McCarthy’s work, Thomas argues for something far stronger: a recurrent Joban resonance throughout McCarthy’s works. McCarthy’s rejection of philosophical theodicy, his anti-anthropocentric vision of the world, his assumed presence of chaotic figures, and the quietly persistent note of hope that runs throughout his books reveal the Joban influence. Thomas contends that knowledge of the book of Job gives insight into McCarthy’s literary output; conversely, reading Job through a McCarthyite lens enables proper apprehension of the scriptural text.
Through a thematically based theological reading of McCarthy and Job, In a Vision of the Night draws out often overlooked aspects of the book of Job. Further, it reveals that McCarthy, like the Joban author, constructs a theodicy that both rejects the easy stance of a detached and generalized answer to the question of why chaos comes and advances the more pressing question of how life continues in the face of chaos.
Introduction: True Words in Literature
1 Of Darkness and Definition: Not the Why but the How
2 The Fruitlessness of Philosophical Theodicy: An Untamable God
3 The Decentering of the Human Subject: Anthropocentric Impotence
4 The Looming Threat of Chaos: An Unpredictable Creation
5 The Possibility of Hope: Between the Idealized and the Real
6 Of Theodicy and Transformation: McCarthy as Theologian
An unflinching look into the dark chaos of this world, which wields words with the seriousness such reflection requires, and yet finds hope. I’m speaking, of course, of Cormac McCarthy’s novels…and the book of Job…and Philip Thomas’ comparison of the two in this book. Unlike his subjects, though, Thomas’ clear and comprehensible study makes them both easier to understand, and, if possible, more powerful. Mixing McCarthy’s mud-and-blood-spattered world with Job’s spittle-frothed laments, Thomas enables readers to see reality more clearly and appreciate the theological contributions of these works more fully.~Will Kynes, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University
Readers disturbed by the dark matters of the biblical book of Job and the novels of Cormac McCarthy will be grateful to Philip Thomas for his penetrating study. Careful to respect the integrity of both ancient scripture and recent fiction, Thomas interrogates one by means of the other. A bracing view of God emerges, one in which our anthropocentrism is crushed even as we are pointed to an unquenchable graciousness.~John Sykes, Professor of English and Religion, Wingate University
This profoundly thoughtful book moves between theology and the searing visions of Cormac McCarthy with grace, curiosity, and a genuine invitation to readers to explore the deep rewards of thinking theologically about literature, and literarily about theology, positing that each may be enriched by open dialog with the other. In this illuminating conversation, Philip Thomas interrogates the relationship between the agonized cries of despair in the Book of Job to the equally existential torments of McCarthy’s characters. From The Sunset Limited, in which White admits to Black that the only book of the Bible he has read is Job, to the kid in Blood Meridian, who by the end of the novel carries a Bible, ‘no word of which he could read,’ Thomas looks beyond easy examples of intertextuality to interrogating, as Chapter Five suggests, ‘the possibility of hope amid chaos’ in McCarthy’s novels and plays and the haunting laments of Job in a world that seems both bereft of meaning and freighted with potential.~Sara L. Spurgeon, Professor of American Literature, Texas Tech University