Death of God
On April 8th, 1966, TIME Magazine published one of the most controversial magazine covers ever. The TIME cover asked the question, “Is God Dead?”
In the article, TIME pinpointed Dr. William Hamilton as a co-leader in the Death of God Movement. You might think that Dr. Hamilton was an atheist, hell bent on undermining theism, but he was actually a tenured professor of church history at a seminary in New York. He was a regular church goer, self-avowed Christ follower and — once the article was released by TIME — found himself the subject of death threats, ostracism and at the center of much hate.
Dr. Hamilton died this past February 28, 2012 at the age of 87.
While I can’t comment specifically on Dr. Hamilton’s version of the “Death of God”, I can comment on some other versions of the Death of God in Church History, specifically Bonhoeffer’s. And, I imagine, that Hamilton probably shared a similar sentiment with Bonhoeffer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the well-known Christian martyr of Nazi Germany during WWII. He’s also the beloved author of two widely praised books called, “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together.” And yet he’s been heralded as an innovator of immanence, as developed in his other books, specifically his “Letters and Papers from Prison”.
Pastor Bonhoeffer writes “that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur (as if there is no God).
The “Death of God” for Bonhoeffer isn’t akin to atheism as one might immediately assume.
It’s a God immanent, not a god transcendent.
It’s a death to the god of the gaps.
It’s a death to the “opiate of the masses”.
It’s a death to the “deus ex machina“.
It’s the rejecting of the god above us who can miraculously solve all our fears by offering a hope of heaven.
Voltaire stated, “If God did not exist, we would have to invent him.” It’s the rejection of the god we invent as a crutch to take us out of this world of pain, sorrow and sin.
Bonhoeffer believed in God.
His was a God that is taking action through us, not one who is taking all our action and goodness out of this world.
It is the broken God of the cross imbued by the world’s sin, not the God of glory, imbued by power and holiness, riding in on a white horse for our rescue.
It’s a God who has been stripped of power, stripped of influence and subjected to the pains of the world.
The God who suffers with us.
The God who feels our pain.
It’s a rejection of a god of all certainty for the One who doubts … who pleads, “Why have you forsaken me?”.
It’s Jesus on the cross.
In forsaking the God above, we have the freedom to love below. Bonhoeffer’s idea was this: In killing our invented god, we become useful to the world.
It’s slippery, I know. But the idea is that our man made (often transcendent) god takes all of our love and good deeds out of this world. If we are to be any use in this world, that transcendent god must die, according to Bonhoeffer. And he must be replaced by Jesus … the dying God who so loved the world. When we realize the God is immanent in the world, we invest our lives in our neighbor and not necessarily in heaven. It’s that whole “in as much as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me” idea that’s harder to live out when we see heaven as a trump card for all our problems.
What part of your god must die?