God Has Died: A Brief Good Friday Reflection

Who was the guilty?  Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee.
I crucified thee.
-stanza 2 of the hymn Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended?

On Good Friday, Christians observe the death of God.  Yes, such a blanket statement maybe misses the clever metaphysical minutia that allow Christians to maintain God the Father did not die on the cross, or that prevent God the Father from suffering, or that tend to otherwise designate with righteous fervor the indissoluble connection between Good Friday and the following Sunday morning.  Still, there is an important way in which Good Friday can be said to be an observance of the death of God, a lens that colors Good Friday not as metaphysical, but as moral.

Friedrich Nietzsche, c. 1875

A moral view of the death of God is the impetus for Nietzsche’s parable The Madman: “God is dead.  God remains dead.  And we have killed him.”  Far from being a disinterested philosophical attack on the possibility of God’s existence, Nietzsche focuses not on how God could die, but what the death of God would look like.  For him, it would look like a world in which tragedy gets the last word.  Imagine a world in which suffering and horror are not given meaning by subsequent redemption, but fester as ever-growing and ever-deepening sores on the body of humankind.  That is the world in which God is dead, and this Good Friday, 2017, has seen parts of our world embody that kind of death (as Meg Stapleton Smith’s post earlier this week hauntingly illustrates). 

The death of God is an indictment of Christians who claim that God lives: if your God lives, why do you proclaim God’s death in your own lives and societies?  Why do you steal food from the hungry, water from the thirsty, and clothing from the naked?  Why do you build prisons rather than visiting those imprisoned, and abandon those in need rather than welcoming the stranger?  How can the God of Jesus Christ live if those who take his name continually put his life’s work to death?

This death is the death Christians behold on the cross.  On Good Friday, Christians observe Christ’s death, and not as innocent bystanders.  Christians are morally implicated in Christ’s death by every action and system that harms any of “the least of these” that Jesus identified with himself in Matthew 25.  No amount of anticipation of Sunday morning can wipe away the gravity of crucifying the most vulnerable.  In fact, any anticipation of Sunday morning can easily fall into an excuse to minimize, gloss over, or even ignore Good Friday afternoon.  No, for Friday at least, God is dead, God remains dead, and we are the murderers.  Just as Christ reckoned with death itself before the work of redemption was finished, so Christians, this day, must reckon with our own death-dealing itself before the gift of redemption can be completed.

Christian worship today ends in silence, and for a powerful reason.  Who can speak when the evil of this world, and our participation in it, kills God?