Thursday, April 24, 2014

“God is Dead” – Nietzsche as a Theologian of the Cross?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a line in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that many have taken as an epitaph on the tombstone of the Christian God: “God is dead . . . And we have killed him.”  While much ink has been spilled debating precisely what Nietzsche might have meant by this claim, I want to suggest that this putative epitaph can also be taken as an epigram indicating what happens every time God comes to us and draw us back to him.

“God is dead . . . And we have killed him.”  This is not only a sociological, historical event in Nietzsche’s sense but also a theological statement of God’s characteristic way of acting in a fallen and rebellious world.  Or, in other words, this statement can be taken as one version of a theology of the cross.

Think Isaiah 53 and the torture and death of the Suffering Servant which results in making “many” righteous.  And think Jesus who lived out this prophecy.  And think the slaughtered Lamb who unrolls the scroll of history in Rev.5.  Death leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes is the way God works in the world.  And think God’s people, the climax of whose victory over the Accuser is that they willingly give up their lives for Jesus’ sake (Rev.12:10-12).   
This way of being God is certainly counterintuitive.  The rulers of this world, both earthly and suprahuman, didn’t get it (1 Cor.2:6-8); and often God’s own people don’t get it, seeking the way of power, security, triumph, and glory in Jesus’ name.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born to German upper crust in the early 1900’s, learned this truth through what he suffered for Jesus standing against the ideology and imperial designs of the Nazis.  In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer wrote, “God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.”  This, I submit, is Nietzsche’s epitaph for God turned into an epigram for the way of God in this world to achieve his dreams and purposes for us!

“God is dead . . . And we have killed him.”  Well, yes, to be sure.  But contrary to Nietzsche’s (or his followers’) hopes, this does not mean we are done with God.  To the contrary, God’s death on the cross and resurrection as the Crucified One means that God is never done with us and never will be.  And thank God for that!  Therein lies our only hope.

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