I finished The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery (Little, Brown, 1995) by Richard Elliott Friedman, a noted biblical scholar best known for his earlier book Who Wrote the Bible? In Part I of Disappearance, he recounts how the Hebrew Bible shows God progressively retreating from direct human contact and self-revelation; in Part II, he depicts Nietzsche and Dostoevsky as latter-day prophets delivering unwelcome news to their readers; in Part III, he examines how discussions of the Big Bang, our modern creation myth, are nevertheless infused with a sense of spirituality and reverence. Creation has, in a way, supplanted the Creator in the modern view.
There is way too much covered in this book to easily summarize in a few paragraphs, and it is well worth the read if you can snag it from your local library. I've never been disappointed in one of Friedman's books. In Part I, he recounted his surprise at finding the retreat of God from the religious affairs of Israel to be a development that spanned all books of the Hebrew Bible, not just one writer or one epoch. God walked and talked with Adam in the Garden; visited in person with Abraham; was viewed in form by Moses, but only from behind; "appeared" to the earlier prophets; was seen only in vision or dreams by the later writing prophets; then finally almost fell out of the narrative completely in Ezra and Esther, the last narrative books of the Hebrew Bible. This entire development is accompanied by a parallel shift in the divine-human balance as kings, prophets, and scribes increasingly take the initiative in their dealings with God and in representing Him to their fellow believers. Noah was told to build a boat; Abraham objected to God's plan to destroy Sodom; Moses pleaded against God to not destroy Israel; Jonah actually boarded a ship going the wrong way to avoid having to deliver his appointed oracle to the Assyrians in Ninevah.
In Part II, Friedman tells the story of Nietzsche from a new and sympathetic perspective, as well as parallel themes enunciated by Dostoevsky. They were announcing not so much the death of God as the death of active belief in God by society at large. These were authors who took faith and morality quite seriously and were, in a general sense, really social critics, a standard role for traditional prophets, who are rarely apologists for the religious status quo. Kierkegaard, too, decried the empty forms of worship he observed and preached a deeper and more authentic style of faith. Here's a sample quote:
[Dostoevsky] and Nietzsche . . . envisioned . . . an age in which humans would have to appropriate the divine role in their own direction of the world. For both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky an implication of the disappearance of God was a new step for humankind. Nietzsche embraced this view and Dostoevsky resisted it, but both conveived it and understood and conveyed its significance.I'll simply note that, from Friedman's perspective, these two thinkers were observing this development, not arguing for it, and that this "disappearance of God" theme was straight out of the Bible's narrative development rather than some sort of secular or philosophical revolt against belief. The Psalms in particular are laced with recurrent pleas of the form, "Why, God, hast thou forsaken us?"
I kind of skimmed Part III, so I might add additional comments if I get a chance to reread it more carefully. In the modern world, many theologians adopt quite secular modes of thinking about God (there was even a "death of God" theology in the sixties) and physicists sound almost mystical when they talk about ten- or eleven-dimensional reality, singularities like the Big Bang and the Big Crunch, and even those beautiful (if artificially colored) photographs from the Hubble space telescope.
Mormons, I suspect, will read Part I with a good deal of agreement, as it sounds something like the tale of apostasy we expect to read. A similar story of the retreat of active revelation is also evident in the New Testament and the early centuries of the Christian Church. What's surprising, perhaps, is that this pattern seems to apply to the LDS experience as well, which opened with blazing visions of God and His Son, then appearances of angels in open spaces and temples, then private revelations or visions/dreams (rarely canonized), then finally, in the 20th century, the ascendency of institutional rationalization, organizational centralization, and managerial correlation. The scribes always win in the end.