The Day That God Was Dead


Pixabay_Jesus2Friedrich Nietzsche famously once said that God is dead. Today, we remember the one day in history when he was right.

Yesterday, Good Friday, we commemorated the day when humanity unknowingly put God to death for the unthinkable crime of claiming to be God. St. Augustine identifies pride as the root of all sin, defining pride as essentially putting oneself in the place of God. These two aspects flow together in a confluence so tragic and beautiful as to be poetic: as humanity sins by putting itself in the place of God and puts God to death, God puts Himself in the place of humanity and suffers death for their sins.

God Became Human? God Died?

This story is so familiar to us, we have became numb to the utter absurdity of it. God became human? God died? These are not things that God does. These are category mistakes, foolishness to the learning of the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet far from foolish, this is actually rather fitting. And while fittingness is not a strictly logical argument, it is a sign that your thought is headed in the right direction. St. Thomas Aquinas gives us several reasons why it was fitting that Christ should die (all found in ST III, 50, 1 ,c.).

First, since Christ suffered for our sins, it is fitting that He take on the punishment for our sins. Death came into the world through sin, as St. Paul reminds us: “Through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Christ defeats death by suffering death, like a vaccination for a disease that He then passes on to us as a cure.

St. Thomas also says that Christ’s death demonstrates the reality of His Incarnation. The Word of God didn’t merely appear to be human (Docetism), nor was He tag-teamed with a human person (Nestorianism), but truly took on a human nature, and really became human. The humanity of Christ was not an optical illusion or a temporary mask that God wore, but was truly His. As St. Paul puts it, “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being” (1 Corinthians 15:21).

This Is a Sign For Us

The fact that Christ’s body lays dead in the grave for a day is a testament both to the true humanity of Christ. There is a physical continuity, as St. Athanasius reminds us when he writes, “In that body which was circumcised and carried, which ate, and toiled, and was nailed on the tree, there was the impassible and incorporeal Word of God: the same was laid in the tomb” (Epistle to Epictetus). And it will be the same body that will rise from the dead and be glorified. This is a sign for us. This is to show us that when we are made anew spiritually in Christ, the old self is not annihilated, it is refreshed, “washed clean in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). We do not lose ourselves; we find ourselves. Grace does not destroy nature, it perfects nature.

Our Own Promised Resurrection

And this likewise applies to our own promised resurrection. All men have a natural fear of their inevitable death. For us, death is shrouded by fear and doubt: will it mean our permanent dissolution? Is there some other state beyond our physical life? If so, is it desirable? Sin has clouded our minds and hidden the truth from us, but faith and revelation console us with the knowledge that death is not the end. (St. Thomas has a good philosophical argument for the immortality of the soul—perhaps another time.) By undergoing death and lying in a tomb, Christ accompanies man to the very end of us life, and thus strengthens man’s assurance that what is to come belongs to his destiny, too. When Christ is raised, it is not as an exception or as a singular miracle, but as the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). When Christ is raised, it is to conquer death definitively, not for Himself, but for all men. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, “Christ fully reveals man to himself,” (Gaudium et Spes 22). This means that whatever man is supposed to be, whatever man is meant to be, Christ is an exemplar of it, an icon of the perfected humanity to which we are all called—perfected in Christ, participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

But before Christ can be raised from the dead, He has to be dead. Before the sun can rise, it must set. Before the grain of wheat can sprout, it must fall to the ground and die. Today we remember that darkness before the dawn, before the Son rises.

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4 thoughts on “The Day That God Was Dead”

  1. According to Christians, God can do anything and Jesus is
    God, but being that Christians are not God and Christians consider the Gospels
    of Jesus the word of God, you would think that Christians would be fearful of
    not entering the kingdom of heaven by disobeying the WORD OF GOD, which
    Christians admit they routinely do.

    Just as the Pharisee complained that Torah and the
    Religion of Moses was too tough on them, so its today’s Christians that
    complain of the hardships of being ‘Christlike’ and obeying the harsh
    commandments of their Gospels…

  2. It is in contemplating the implications of the fact that Jesus is God incarnate that one can see if there is some heresy within oneself. I’ve seen this in Christians of all stripes. Once you start really thinking of what it meant for Jesus, the God-man to really be human people start getting uncomfortable…and that’s before getting to His death! We tend to have a superficial understanding/acceptance of Good Friday. But when we sit and really think about that day and His lying in the tomb, that is when the objections to Jesus’s humanity come out from their lurking.

    A poster on a different site (an atheist) asked this question: why did Christians feel the need for special days to remember what Jesus did when they remember every day (or at least every Sunday). This article gives a good reason why we need them: to get out of our comfortably superficial understanding of what He is and what He did and become instead the kind of Christians who can set the world afire.

    i pray all of us will allow the Lord to transform us in this Easter within the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The world really needs the fire of Christ!

    1. Freddy Nietzsche once said “God is dead.”
      How easy it must be for a non-believer to stand fast and
      believe that “logic stands alone; faith is for the ignorant.”

      Freddy was a smart guy! (often atheists are extremely bright!)
      But how shallow it must be NOT to have the depth and beauty of “faith”…
      NOT to know the complete Truth…

      Celebrating Easter just renews the comfort of knowing our Lord…
      He has risen and will bring peace to those who serve Him…

      (Hope you didn’t eat ALL of your jelly beans yesterday!!!! ?)

  3. ” Is there some other state beyond our physical life?”

    Good question. The answer is yes. The details are best left to God and not for human speculation as
    to what spiritual form it will take.

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