Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Death of God

Around Easter, a title wriggled into my brain. I tucked it away, not wanting to address it, not wanting to abandon my current fiction project long enough to rummage through some real-life research. Besides, the idea of writing down the title made me uncomfortable. That kind of disrespect was inconsiderable. But it didn’t fade into a blip on my “stuff to write about” radar, and I had to consider it. On the Sunday after Easter my pastor started a sermon series about, among other wonderments, the cultural shift into post-modernity. About the Christian worldview. The title’s sting sank deeper under my skin until I agreed to give it a few paragraphs. I smiled at the timing of my giving in because research immediately revealed that this week marks the 50th anniversary of Time magazine’s famous cover asking the forbidden question, “Is God Dead?” (April 8, 1966)

This title that bothered me is not original, nor does it shout any sort of unprecedented proclamation or shocking revelation. In my own personal estimation it means nothing at all. I do not consider the possibility, the probability, the forlorn admission, the prideful assumption, or the wishful assertion that God has experienced death. And yet what brought this stubborn title urging the writer in me was the mental observation of Christ hanging blood-soaked on a cross. His skin torn from His bones. His lungs refusing to expand. A blade piercing His side. He was…He is God. And He died. That dreadful, awesome day brought the death of God. That glorious, joyous, Good Friday. 

This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

I picture Jesus and His disciples singing this Psalm, traditionally sung at the Passover meal. Was it for this day the Psalm was written—the day the Lord meant for death? Not just any death, but His death.

Even though He died, I do not accept He is dead. I was not called by a dead God. I do not follow a dead God. Even in death, God is God and He did not remain dead, but conquered death completely. And He lives.

I’ve always assumed those who proclaim God dead, or even question that perhaps He is dead, do so out of ignorance or stupidity. “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14: 1) But it appears the instigators, while fools they may have been, were not staunch in their atheism. If Nietzsche perfected the argument of those who came before him, and if atheist was his identity, then perhaps I've made an incorrect assumption. Those who’ve wasted more time than I have reading Nietzsche may take this quote from another angle.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives; who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

As I read this, fear cries from between the eloquent lines. Perhaps Nietzsche’s fear sprang from what he knew would become of mankind when the ideals and morality that accompany belief in God were abandoned. But maybe he just didn’t know what to do with his guilt. Maybe he saw Christ as I saw Christ. Perhaps he saw a dead God and didn’t know how to absolve himself of the enormous recognition that it was all his fault. Of course, it was his fault. As it was my fault. 

 Maybe this unhappy fool, this brilliant writer and thinker, brought up the subject at the perfect time in the history of the modern world to launch it with enthusiasm. But a hundred years passed before the Death of God movement dropped its coin into the rippling pool of Christian theology. It’s all right there in Nietzsche’s guilty plea, but the trend didn't begin or end with him. Through the last five hundred years, Satan has propagated news of God’s death. Not the Good News, but the hopelessly wrong conclusion. In the 1960s several theologians gave a post-modern voice to the death of God with the spread of theothanatology. (Greek: god: theos, death: thanatos)

A few pseudo-Christians smart enough to use that big word in a sentence proclaimed God may have died. What they meant was that religion was dying. The notion of God was no longer needed for the functional purposes of society. Some of them considered the crucifixion, the actual death of God as the beginning of the dismissal of God.

Then the magazine put the announcement out there for all to see. In preparation for writing this dreaded title, I read Time’s article. It addresses not so much the death of God, but the death of the need to know that God is.

And yet, He is. Death was followed by resurrection. Death cannot contain the One who contains death.

My mental observation turns to a newsstand where a magazine cover demanded attention. Some wondered at the question, but could not answer it. Some were relieved because now they could live as though God no longer watched them. Some shook their fists, thinking surely this kind of talk would bring the wrathful God down to teach us all a lesson. Some simply went on with a smile, though perhaps they deliberated that the fist-shakers might be right. But they praised the living God of their redemption all the same, for He would not, and He will not, be defined by a man, dismissed by a magazine, or declared dead by His own creation. 

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