The Death of God

These days a large part of the world is celebrating the death and resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son – an incarnation of Himself. And this year, on Good Friday, when listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the St. Matthäus Church in Berlin, for the first time I could feel what this means – the death of God.  The sadness, and the feeling that comes when “Now you’re on your own…”

No more guardian in the sky, the death of the Transcendent Protector – the loneliness of incarnation and the inevitable end it brings…. Embodied life, the interlude between bodiless eternities before and after…

Original by Marcin Wasiolka, edited by Mushin

It’s not that I do actually believe in the literal happening of the Cross and all that the Christian Myth claims as Real and True. I don’t. Actually I think we cannot take anything as being literal – ever. What strikes me, rather, is how central to our culture is this most basic pattern of the suffering and death of God – and His resurrection. But that’s an addition I can make intellectually. What I felt during listening to Bach’s music was the deep, deep sadness and grief and finally the acceptance of His death…

And an interpretation arose in me that tells me that the death of all that is God to me needs to happen, and actually did happen during those 3 1/2 hours.  And I thought of Nietzsche and his proclamation that “God is dead!” And the immense drama that is there. And I thought that maybe as humanity something similar is happening to us – the Old Gods are dying, and their death deeply affects and saddens us.

The death of a god is nothing new in the history of religion, I think. Osiris comes to mind or Tammuz. But the death of the Only Begotten Son of the Deity claiming to be the highest and actually only real god… Well, that gives it an absolutist twist that allows someone like me to understand, or rather feel something about the human condition that I haven’t measured out in my soul before. Deep in our Western culture Divine Death is anchored as an actuality that, even if one believes in the resurrection 3 days later, might be part of how come we are as we are and do as we do.

We could go into a discussion about sin, and the ecclesiastical explanation for why all this happened – but this seems to be the behavior typical when facing something we don’t want to see – we escape into explanation and interpretation. We seek the signs for hope – and the Christians give us hope with their belief in the Divine Resurrection. Yet, it is alright to let the shock enter us, we can allow the rumble of the thunder to shake us.

So my Easter wish for you is that the primordial image of God’s Death may initiate you.

And may You be resurrected time and again…

Addendum April 5:

I’ve come across paragraph in the book I’m reading (Alone with the Alone, by Henry Corbin) that put the above sketched experience in an interesting light.

If the cry “God is dead” has left many on the brink of the abyss, it is because the mystery of the Cross of Light was long ago done away with. Neither pious indignation nor cynical joy can alter the fact. There is only one answer, the words that Sophia, emerging from the night, murmured in the ear of the pensive pilgrim circumambulating the Ka’aba: “Can it be that you yourself are already dead?” The secret to which Ibn ‘Arabi and his companions initiate us impels those whom that cry has shaken to the depth of their being to recognize what God has died and who are the dead. To recognize this is to understand the secret of the empty tomb. But the Angel must have removed the stone, and we must have the courage to look into the bottom of the tomb if we are to know that it is indeed empty and that we must look for Him elsewhere. The greatest misfortune that can befall the shrine is to become the sealed tomb before which men mount guards and do so only because there is a corpse in it. Accordingly, it takes the greatest courage to proclaim that it is empty, the courage of those able to dispense with the evidence of reason and authority because the only secret they possess is the secret of love that has seen.

Maybe because I’ve been shaken to the bone by the Death of God and blessed with standing alone in the ‘god-less’ landscape that I saw after my tears dried, that I considered – circumambulating around the center of my core – Sophia’s words as actually directed at me: “Can it be that you yourself are already dead?” And then, regarding myself to be the tomb into which God’s dead body was taken, looking, looking on Sophia’s behest, I see that it is empty. The Old God, the One speaking in parables, the One that the religion is built around, the literal One and Only God has died, the Highest Authority… and now the tomb is empty. An Angel rolled away the stone and when I look there is no-one there.