Modern writers speak of God with a sense of tragedy and loss, a scholar told Brigham Young University students Tuesday.

Alfred Kazin, a professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate School and University Center, spoke at BYU's opening fall semester forum assembly.Kazin said he's noticed "in our contemporary world a spiritual bravado" and that many writers speak as though God is "temporarily absent. For many people there is no truth to tell."

Herman Melville, author of "Moby Dick," was the greatest "failure" as a writer because of his brilliant imagination.

"Melville was a natural believer in a period which threatened his belief," Kazin said.

Abraham Lincoln was another great writer, he said, and the former president's spiritual life was troubled and unfocused until he lived through the ordeal of the Civil War.

"He recognized that he himself was being tested as perhaps no other man had been. He was experiencing a kind of spiritual ordeal. He gave to our literature a sense of its theological underpinnings."