On April 8, 1966, Time Magazine’s cover read, “Is God Dead?” which created quite a stir, but this meme was made famous long before by atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. I have included a short video clip about this that I will borrow from to explain what he meant by saying this and to make my own point.
Nietzsche announces the death of God in a famous aphorism in his book, The Gay Science called “The Madman.”
“In this passage he tells the tale of a madman who runs around yelling, “I seek God!” I seek God!” Even though people ignore him and go on with their business, he doesn’t stop. He yells, “God is dead! God remains dead” And we have killed him! How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers…There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Despite the madman’s warning, the people on the street paid little attention to him. When he noticed the indifference of those around him, he threw his lantern on the ground so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men.”
However, this attitude of Nietzsche’s did not come naturally but was an attitude that he came to adopt after years of struggle, pain, and suffering of living in what he believed to be a godless world. It was a world with no transcendent purpose and, thus, no meaning in which mankind had no special place in the scheme of things. In other words, this worldview led him to experience the agony of Nihilism.” (from video clip)
Perhaps Nietzsche was a prophet. Certainly this tale sounds eerily familiar. But I want to ask, what ‘god’ was Nietzsche referring to? To answer this, we need to first see that he saw two worldview options: Nihilism and the True World views.
Nihilism simply means that life has no meaning or purpose. It is what it is, nothing more.
The True World views usually posit that there is a transcendent world waiting beyond this life where there is total bliss (heaven, nirvana, utopia, etc.).
Nietzsche observed that all true world views appear to have this in common: the domain of higher value (true world); the domain of lower value (this earthly existence); and the goal is to overcome this earthly existence and enter into this true world. Nietzsche called this an “Ascetic Ideal” and considered it an absurd fantasy.
But we must also understand that Nietzsche was no dogmatist. He understood that he may be wrong; that there very well could be a True World; he just thought it was better for mankind to believe otherwise.
In his last work, Ecce Homo (shortly before he went insane), Nietzsche conveyed this idea. He wrote: “The concept ‘beyond,’ ‘true world,’ were invented in order to devalue the only world there is—in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality!”
In other words, he thought that belief in a better life awaiting the future of an individual would motivate them to them escape the responsibility and burden of having to make the most of this life. Therefore, for more than any other reason. Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God because he felt that a world composed of individuals who did not believe in true world theories would be a much better world. But, as Victor Frankl pointed out, Nihilism provides no hopeful alternative:
“For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” (Victor Frankl)
Here’s the video clip. The whole clip is worth watching if you’re interested in this topic because it covers the subject much better than I can here.
And here’s why I bring this up. If Nietzsche’s ‘God’ was according to Greek mythology or Gnosticism, I would agree with him. But the God of Christianity is no such God. Neither is the Christian worldview.
The after-life is only one part of the Christian worldview. It also emphasizes that what we do in this life matters. It’s the presence of the indwelling God that makes us better human beings in this life.
14 For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and motivates us, because we are absolutely convinced that he has given his life for all of us. This means all died with him, 15 so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for him—the one who died for us and now lives again. (2 Cor.5:14-15 TPT *)
Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, that treating “the least of these” is how we treat Him (Matt.25:40, 45). In fact, most of His parables talk about being held accountable to how we treated one another in this life. Indeed, the whole Bible is filled with admonitions to take care of the marginalized, the widow, and orphans. But God doesn’t leave us with commands we cannot follow. He empowers us by His grace to love with His other-centered love, even though this is a life-long cooperative process with Him, for God’s kingdom is within us (Luke 17:21).
Furthermore, the God of the Bible says that this world, and everything in it, is very good (Gen.1:28), and He gave humankind responsibility for the care of this world (Gen.1:26-28; Psalm 115:16). The God of Christianity is not about letting the world go to hell in a handbasket while we escape into eternal bliss; it’s about redemption and restoration—both for humankind and all of creation (Rom.8:19-25; Rev.21:1-5).
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (John 3:17 MSG *)
The Christian hope is not ultimately about leaving earth and going to heaven; it’s about heaven coming to earth. And He started this revolution by giving us His Spirit, which Paul called a down payment on the redemption of our body (Rom.8:23). This is the whole point of the Christian doctrine of the bodily resurrection. Here’s N.T. Wright to explain the classic Christian hope:
So, while the Greek and Roman gods, or the ‘god of the gaps’ may be dead, that would only be because they never existed in the first place. This argument has no bearing on the God of Christianity, and I’m hopeful we’re all finally waking up to this reality.