Is God Dead?

Grave Reflections for Holy Saturday

This weekend our inclination is to move right to Sunday, with its spring flowers, chocolates, and promise of new life.  On Friday we might pause to reflect a moment on the cruel reality of death, but by Saturday our sights are already set on the morrow, preparing our Sunday best, hiding eggs, planning to attend a celebratory service.

Why not?  God is alive!  At least that’s what William Lane Craig declared to the largely conservative readership of Christianity Today in 2008.  He noted that reports of God’s demise were premature and “grossly exaggerated.”

Yes, the God of power, of triumph, who always gets his way, seems to be alive and well.  And we like to believe that this powerful God turns this power toward us. When things are going well, it must be because God is on our side, as Bob Dylan sang so long ago.

A new world with resources and land and treasures untold is “discovered.”  God is good.  The Native peoples are swindled, conquered, and abused in the name of “progress.”  God is good.  The most impressive empire since ancient Rome is established.  God is good.  We are secure in our nation, our identity, our faith.  God is powerful, is he not?

A convenient perspective, when things are going well.

But it has to be asked: where is this God of power for the people of Japan?  The people of Haiti?  The people of Libya, Egypt and Syria?  Those hit hard in our current economic crunch?  Where is this God of power when our nation is losing its grip as the focal point of world awe?  He’s easy to invoke –even easier to believe in– when all is well.  But too often throughout history, this God has nothing to say to the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and in fact, is often invoked at their expense.  This God is too busy being victorious to stoop and assist the downtrodden.  And so are his people, who demand, ‘strap yourself up by your own bootstraps’ and ‘that’s what they get for not being good Christians’ and so on.

I don’t believe in that God.

For me, that God is dead.

What if God is actually bigger than that?  Bigger than our claims of nationalism. Bigger than a God who acts in power at the expense of the weak.  Bigger than our gospel of prosperity, which ignores people of the third world who suffer so that we can continue unimpeded in our march toward material wealth.  Bigger than demanding his followers sacrifice critical thinking in the name of a slavish biblical literalism.  Bigger than a God who calls us to marginalize the gay and lesbian community. Not just bigger, but better.

The catholic philosopher and theologian Jean-Luc Marion notes that “idols are not just wooden examples of the divine, they can be ideas too.”  In other words, there are certain conceptual frameworks that we setup as “God”, which are not actually God.  John Calvin noted that the human mind is an ‘idol factory’ bent on creating things to worship.  Perhaps this powerful “God” of much of Western Christendom is such a god.

The gods of nationalism, ignorance and fundamentalism seem alive and well, but it’s time for them to die.

And perhaps, on this Holy Saturday, when the tomb is full and the questions linger, you might join me in this funeral.

After all, Jesus himself noted that unless a seed goes into the earth and dies, it cannot rise again to new life.  So perhaps the death of these gods of our own making will pave the way for the God who is, and who is always beyond our limited conceptions of him.

As a Christian, I see this God incarnate in Jesus, who set aside power in entering our world.  And as far as I can tell, Jesus continues to set aside his power in order to empower you and me, who after all, are now his body – his very hands and feet to minister to a broken world – not as powerful conquerors, but as fellow broken vessels.  Now that is something worth celebrating this Easter.

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10 thoughts on “Is God Dead?

  1. Wow. You and I must have been on the same wavelength lately. I’ve recently undergone a personal revival in which things in the Bible about God’s attributes, characters, ways, etc. have jumped out at me. It’s gone beyond the labels of denomination, Western Christianity, and modern comforts. I’ve decided I don’t like the god of America or the god of the Baptist church or the god of the Catholics. I love, or rather am totally enamoured by the God of the Bible. You know the one who seeks his own glory before anyone else? You know the one who sent a part of himself to die on the cross for such a worm as I? That one. I need that God, the One True God.

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  2. People ask: Is God Dead?
    I will say: It’s your decision.

    If God is dead for you, so then he is dead for you. The decision is yours. God has given you your freedom to disown him. He forces no one to believe in him.
    What Jesus Christ has said to you, you can refuse and deny it. He will never force you, not even in death.
    You have a lifetime where you have the option of saying yes. A lifetime. If you’ve heard him speak to you. If not, you are excused. Then he will talk to you another time.

    Some say: “If God is love and omnipotent, he will also save the infidels. “How do you know? How do you know that God does not need your faith to be able to save you? Do you think Gods kind of omnipotence is that he just put his will on the natural laws he has created for you to exist? ”

    No, because God can not force anyone.

    As if love is everything. No, love can not do everything. Love can give all of itself, but it can never force anyone.

    I do not know if God is dead. But I say: “If I have just a grains of sand as a doubt. A clue in the dark, almost impossible to find, a thoughtful touch that this could be true. Then I’ll throw myself on my knees and thank God for everything he has given me. ”

    This is not a hint of doubters. To all those who ask themselves about God, to those who seek God. To all those who think, who am I and who is God.

    But it is a hint to those who deny God.

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  3. thank you, dear bryan.
    I am struggling on this very same front–even been called a heretic for it, but then again–so was Jesus. follow the rabbi, eh? but I am careful to remain humble in my understanding of “all this” because i could be swept up in misinterpreation as swiftly as the current dogma took roots in our Churches. but regardless, we can’t just stop asking these questions and go on clinging to our steadfast conclusions in the face of a hurting world. right? i hope not.
    the God that shows His face to me Loves everyone. even me. and He has asked us to be a part of redeeming His world. could there be anything fundamentaly and theologically heretical about this? if i am wrong because i have allowed pride and fear to rule my theocracy, so help me God. but if i am wrong because i am desperately trying to practice the perfect Love of Jesus, i am just human, and i will never stop trying.
    so… off my soap box. thanks, bryan. this blessed me–what ever the title. i tend to glaze past those anyhow. (although i 1,000 percent understand your frustration.)
    a final word of encouragement–i feel like this is a micro-example of what we have done with God’s Words–given dogmatic, egregious (even if perhaps true), misleading “captions” of His fuller, more True message. you are a martyr in good company. 🙂
    much love,
    *britt

    ps. your wife rocks. 😉

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  4. As Rob Bell replies to the question of “Do you believe in Jesus?”…
    …”Well, it depends on which Jesus you’re talking about.” (late night paraphrase)
    We all try to create God in our own image, don’t we.
    Thanks, Bryan. Great reminder.

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