[F]or Nietzsche nihilism is rooted in the attempt to ground and secure one’s being, to master it in a way that excludes boredom, suffering and tragedy. But this grasp for mastery is self-defeating, for in the end it leaves one with nothing: unable to acknowledge the reality of this world of suffering, one puts one’s faith in something beyond the real (for instance God or Truth), in what for Nietzsche literally is nothing.
…Affirmation, as Nietzsche’s response to nihilism, is not a kind of salvation in the sense of a solution or justification of the difficulties and pain of human existence. Nietzsche imagined an affirmation that eschews the need for promises of paradise or purity, certainty and security — or even more mundane promises of “improvement” or “progress.” For him, the problem of affirmation becomes the problem of how we affirm a life without the hope that the negative — evil and suffering — will slowly wither away to nothing. To affirm life only in the hope that we are able to end suffering — or to affirm life only from the perspective of that goal (“it was difficult, but it was worth it”) — is not to affirm this life.
Nietzsche thinks, therefore, that we must embrace a certain meaninglessness, a certain muteness in existence, instead of wishing it or thinking it away with “solutions” such as God or Truth; nihilism, he contends, can be a “divine way of thinking.” But such divine nihilism must be contrasted with the exhausted, life-hating nihilism of the Western tradition. As he explored the nihilism of modernity and imagined a joy that transcends the rational ego-centered consciousness, Nietzsche’s thinking recovered certain religious concepts and practices.