Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday 2008: The Death of God

God is Dead: Nietzsche

"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!" As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. "Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto." Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still traveling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves." It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: "what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"

God Lives!

God cannot die in His Divine Nature. But He can die as Divine Person through His human nature. Actiones sunt suppositorum. One cannot kill God. But God can die as a divine Personal act by willing to die through His human nature. Cardinal Newman says: “Nor did He die, except by an act of the will; for He bowed His head, in command as well as in resignation, and said, `Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit;’ He gave the word, He surrendered His soul, He did not lose it.” He went on to say: “God was the sufferer; God suffered in His human nature; the sufferings belonged to God, and were drunk up, were drained out to the bottom of the chalice, because God drank them; not tasted or sipped, not flavored, disguised by human medicaments… What He suffered, He suffered because He put Himself under suffering, and that deliberately and calmly. As He said to the leper, `I will, be thou clean;’ and to the paralytic, `Thy sins be forgiven thee;’ and to the centurion, `I will come and heal him;’ and of Lazarus, `I go to wake him out of sleep;’ so He said, `Now I will begin to suffer,’ and He did begin. His composures is but the proof how entirely He governed His own mind. He drew back, at the proper moment, the bolts and fastenings, and opened the gates, and the floods fell right upon His soul in all their fullness…. `They came,’ (Mark) says, `to the place which is called Gethsemani; and he saith to His disciples, Sit you here while I pray. And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and He began to be frightened and to be very heavy.’ You see how deliberately He acts; He comes to a certain spot; and then, giving the word of command, and withdrawing the support of the God-head from His soul, distress, terror, and dejection at once rush in upon it. Thus He walks forth into a mental agony with as definite an action as if it were some bodily torture, the fire or the wheel.”[4]

Cardinal Ratzinger:

“Should we not turn to see that …Holy Saturday stands liturgically in the Church’s year, is particularly close to our day and is to a particular degree the experience of our century” On Good Friday our gaze remains fixed on the crucified Christ, but Holy Saturday is the day of the `death of God,’ the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him. `God is dead and we have killed him.’ This saying of Nietzsche’s belongs linguistically to the tradition of Christian Passiontide piety; it expresses the content of Holy Saturday, `descended into hell.’”

“This article of the Creed always reminds me of two scenes in the Bible. The first is that cruel story in the Old Testament in which Elias (Elijah) challenges the priests of Baal to implore their God to give them fire for their sacrifice. They do so, and naturally nothing happens. He ridicules them, just as the ‘enlightened rationalis’ ridicules the pious person and finds him laughable when nothing happens in response to is prayers. Elias calls out to the priests that perhaps they had not prayed loud enough: ‘Shout louder, Ball s indeed a god. But perhaps he is deep in thought, or has gone out; or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up!’ (1Kings 18, 27). When one reads today this mockery of the devotees of Baal, one can begin to feel uncomfortable; one can get the feeling that we have not arrived in that situation and that t he mockery must now fall on us. No calling seems to be able to awaken God. The rationalist seems entitled to say to us, ‘Pray louder, perhaps your God will then wake up.’ ‘Descended into hell;’ how true this is of our time, the descent of God into muteness, into the dark silence of the absent.

“But alongside the story of Elias and its New Testament analogue, the story of the Lord sleeping in the midst of the storm on the lake (Mark 4, 35-41) we must put the Emmaus story (Luke 24, 13-35). The disturbed disciples are talking of the death of their hope. To them, something like the death of God has happened; the point at which God finally seemed to have spoken has disappeared. God’s envoy is dead, and so there is a complete void. Nothing replies any more. But while they are there speaking of the death of their hope and can o longer see God they do not notice that his very hope stands alive in their midst; that ‘God,’ or rather the image they had formed of his promise, had to die so that he could live on a bigger scale. The image which they had formed of God, and into which they sought to compress him, had to be destroyed, so that over the ruins of the demolished house, as it were, they could see the sky again and him who remains the infinitely greater.”

God is Hidden in Plain Sight

Insert here the experience of John the Baptist who preached thundering the visible presence of divine justice in the world. While in prison, he heard nothing. He sent messengers to Jesus: “Are you he who is to come or should we look for another?” The response of Christ: “The mute speak, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and blessed is he who takes no scandal in me.” The point is that Christ has been present all along, hidden and silent, but in act.

The same holds for the Kingdom of God. Those without eyes to see or ears to hear overlook him and it. “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11, 20). “Jesus is the Kingdom, not simply by virtue of his physical presence but through the Holy Spirit’s radiant power flowing forth from him. In his Spirit-filled activity, smashing the demonic enslavement of man, the Kingdom of God becomes reality, God taking the government of this world into his own hands. Let us remember that God’s Kingdom is an event, not a sphere. Jesus’ actions, words, sufferings break the power of that alienation which lies so heavily on human life. In liberating people, they establish God’s Kingdom. Jesus is that Kingdom since through him the Spirit of God acts in the world.”[6]

The deep epistemological reason for the absence of God in the 20th, and now 21st century, is the hegemony of positivism, the acceptance of only one kind of experience, that of the external senses, and the non-discovery of the self and the experience of the self as gift. God can only be discovered experientially by the conversion of the self from the visible to the invisibility of being gift to the other, and therefore experiencing Being on a different horizon and in a different key. To experience being as the self in the act of transcendence of obedience and service is to experience the God whom the self images. This is the major recovery that has to be made in this century, and it is the task of the new evangelization.

At the moment, God is dead in our consciousness. He may be there conceptually, but not consciously as “presence” because we are not experiencing giftedness and thoughtfulness to others as social ethos. However, if we make that gift, He will rise early on Sunday morning and appear to us after appearing first to His Mother. We will know it by the joy that begins to be aroused in us.

[4] John Henry Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion,” to Discourses to Mixed Congregations in A Newman Treasure 200-201. Ibid 202-203.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” (1990) 224-225.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 34-35.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Beautiful reflections for the Triduum. The Tomb is Empty - Happy Easter!