Who would you ask about what God’s voice sounds like, or does God even exist?
Nick Cave is one of Australia’s leading artistic exports and the singer/writer/thinker has recently taken to answering any question his fans put to him.
“For me, the question is what it means to believe.” – Nick Cave
Some have asked the deep, brooding artist if he can give them a song lyric or what is his earliest memory. But Cave also has responded to enquiries about spiritual matters.
The Red Hand Files is Cave’s blog, where he says, “You can ask me anything. There will be no moderator. This will be between you and me. Let’s see what happens. Much love, Nick.” His answers quickly reveal Cave’s self-professed lifetime of wondering about the nature of existence and what’s behind it – or who.
“Does God exist? I don’t have any evidence either way, but I am not sure that is the right question,” writes Cave to an English fan. “For me, the question is what it means to believe. The thing is, against all my better judgement, I find it impossible not to believe, or at the very least not to be engaged in the inquiry of such a thing, which in a way is the same thing.”
“My life is dominated by the notion of God, whether it is his presence or his absence.”
Frontman of The Birthday Party and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Cave grew up in the Victorian regional city of Wangaratta, attending mass at the Cathedral each week and singing in the choir. His songs (Red Right Hand), books (And the Ass Saw the Angel), screenplays (The Proposition) and public statements have been peppered with Christian references and biblical allusions. But Cave professes only an admiration of Jesus Christ, not a devotion. He’s gripped by the Old Testament’s rich and fearsome portrait of God yet believes Jesus came to “right the wrongs of his father” – a personal view at odds with an orthodox understanding of the New Testament.
Cave’s love/hate relationship with the God of the Bible has caused many fans to think he is an atheist. But as Cave points out in one of his Red Hand Files: “I haven’t the stomach for atheism and its insistence on what we know. It feels like a dead end to me …”
“I share many of the problems that atheists have toward religion – the dogma, the extremism, the hypocrisy, the concept of revelation with its many attendant horrors – I am just at variance with the often self-satisfied certainty that accompanies the idea that God does not exist.”
Former Bible Society Australia CEO, Greg Clarke, is a music connoisseur and long-time fan of Cave’s work. “Cave has read the Bible for decades, and much of his songwriting is about it. He seems to sway between feeling that there is a spiritual reality and that there is a big fat nothing beyond this world.
“He’s a bit like a biblical character himself, actually.”
“Cave is open and exploratory, and that’s attractive.” – Greg Clarke
Clarke understands why people from around the world would seek answers from Cave about God, religion and the like – rather than going to a minister, valued friend or Christian organisation. Or Google.
“Most of the formerly trusted institutions, including church, have lost their authority with people,” explains Clarke. “Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.
“Also, how do people access a pastor? They have no idea.
“Nick Cave is out where the people are: on the radio, in their podcasts, holding concerts, and the like … Cave is open and exploratory, and that’s attractive.
“I also think when people admire someone for one thing [such as songwriting], they trust them for other things.”
“I hope the voice of God would be something other than booming, authoritarian and male.” – Nick Cave
Clarke is struck by how Cave takes the Bible seriously and also demonstrates “powerful empathy” towards others. Cave and his wife Susie Bick have shared openly their grief at the death of their 15-year-old son Arthur, who fell from a seaside cliff in 2015. Cave’s investigation of meaning in life is a pursuit Clarke encourages everyone to adopt: “I’m all for working out where the best information comes from. For Christians, it’s clearly the Bible, which links us back to the very beginnings of the faith. The teachings of the church flow from that.”
“But I love that Cave is bringing faith to the fore, where it belongs.”
One of Cave’s most poetic and poignant answers on The Red Hand Files relates to a question about God’s voice. Rute from Portugal asks Cave to solve a heated debate about what God sounds like.
“I hope the voice of God would be something other than booming, authoritarian and male,” says Cave.
“Perhaps, God would have the combined voice of all the untold billions of collected souls, an assembly of the departed speaking as one – without rancour, domination or division; a great many-layered calling forth that rings from the heavens in the small, determined voice of a child, maybe; sexless, pure and uncomplicated – that says ‘Look for me. I am here’.”