God is Dead! (?)

I’m a philosophy guy.  I recieved my bachelor’s in philosophy, I got over half way through a master’s degree, I even allude to my philosophical tendencies in this blog title.

My philosophizing predates my following of Christ.  I am much less of a philosopher than I once was.  Occasionally, though, I try to do philosophy in the name and cause of Jesus.  I’ve been pondering a statement lately.

The statement is “God is dead”

Ordinarily, people view this as an atheistic battle cry.  But the statement is much more nuanced than that.  There’s actually numerous ways people can use the term.  I thought I’d explore some of these.

The statement is associated with Frederick Nietzsche.  If he did not originate the phrase Nietzsche certainly is the one who popularized it.  And Nietzsche’s own complex relationship with Christ and Christianity is something of a mirror of the phrase “God is dead.”

Nietzsche is a wierd philosopher.  He’s frustrating and fascinating and incredibly inconsistent.   As his philosophical career drew to a close, he became increasingly difficult to comprehend.  There’s a goodly ammount of research, theorizing, and hypothesizing around the condition of his mental health toward the end of his life.

Therefore, anybody who says “Nietzsche believed X” is either over simplifying, way smarter than me, or simply wrong.  He’s just not the sort of guy who lends himself to blanket statements about him.

Nonetheless, an incredibly brief but relatively accurate statement about Nietzsche is that he hated Christianity and Christians with a fierce passion… but he was fascinated by the person of Jesus. 

This is all a bit of a digression, though.  Back to his famous words: “God is dead.”

On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much wiggle room.   It seems to be saying: God used to be around.  Now he’s not.

One of the things that can be meant by the statement “God is dead” is that in one sense, he used to be around.   God was alive in so much as people’s actions were altered by their belief in God.  But then something happened.  A cultural shift.  A scientific discovery.  We realized that there was no God after all.  In this sense, he died.

A slight modification of this meaning is the idea that God is rendered irrelevant to our every day lives.  His centrality, soverienity, etc., has been reduced.  This modification comes in two flavors.

Somebody might say “God is dead” and mean it’s a good thing that we’ve realized that he simply isn’t important. 

Or somebody might lament “God is dead” and she might mean that we have forgotten God.  This person might think that belief in God was a delusion that actually made us better people; or they might believe that our de-emphasis on God is a bad idea; we kill God in so far as we don’t do what we should be doing, we don’t act in the way we should be acting.

I’m not in agreement with any of these, really.  But I do think that there is something very valuable about the phrase “God is dead.”  It’s stated provactively, violently even.  

The bottom line about the usefulness of the phrase is this:

If it can stay dead, it was never God at all.

We have this idea in our heads.  This idea is what we think about God.  If this idea is somehow compatible with the idea of being dead, then the idea is simply not very close to the reality of God.

God is unkillable, undie-able.  Somebody might point out that the cross flies in the face of these claims.  I think this would be a fascinating and huge issue.  For now, I’ll side step that issue by putting it this way:

Really, the idea seems to be that God is still dead.  The idea is that God stays dead.  Saying “God is Dead” is just a short, pithy idea.  But it loses most of it’s punch if we accept the idea that death was a temporary thing for God.

No matter how you look at it, I think the value of the phrase “God is dead” works like this:

If you harbor an idea in your head, and if you think that this idea is God, you should try to imagine this entity dead.  If this idea makes sense, if you can envision your idea dead, then your engaged in idolatry.  Your image is not of God at all.

So here is the rather strange challenge all this implies:

Summon up everything you think you know about God.  Picture Him. 

Could he die?  Could he die and stay dead?

If he could, then it’s probably time to start over, re-discover God.  Because He’s bigger than death.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “God is Dead! (?)”

  1. Interesting viewpoint. But aren’t you contradicting yourself?
    You state the fact that God as commonly acknowledged does not exist. Yet you seem to want to rediscover something that does not exist.
    Or are you suggesting a change in the classical attributes or say a different concept of God?

    Like

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