Is Friedrich Nietzsche right, is God dead? What is the impact of such a belief?
Funerals are incredibly sad occasions. The loss of a loved one can be traumatic and the consequences can be absolutely devastating. The devastation is compounded when it is a child that loses a parent—the consequences can be life altering and extremely difficult to overcome. When a small child loses a parent he loses the protection, the provision, and in many cases, one may argue, the child has lost the hope of a brighter future. The child is left with an enormous void. The proverbial empty chair at the dinner table can be very depressing. Although sometimes a child is fortunate enough to be given a second “mom” or “dad,” sometimes, the void is either never filled or it is done so with a poor substitute.
Allow me to draw a parallel between the void felt by a child when they lose a parent and the void left by a society that has lost God. I wish to use this analogy in order to posit that if we can imagine the terrible loss and its consequences in the life of a child, we must imagine it is infinitely more devastating to suffer the loss of God; to live as if God is dead.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher born in 1844. He died in 1900 at the age of 56. He was raised in a Christian home where his father and both grandfathers were pastors and preachers. However, in 1864 at the age of 20 he abandoned his faith and became an atheist. At that point he began to build his life upon a philosophy of despair known as Nihilism (from Latin meaning nothingness). One of his most famous works The Gay Science includes the infamous “Parable of the Madman.” It is there that we hear him speak of God’s death. It is a powerful parable that I will share it with you. But before I do, I must make a preliminary clarification.
As I write this, I want to make it clear that I’m borrowing the figurative language of Nietzsche in referring to the “death” of God. Please understand that Nietzsche himself was not advocating the sudden death of an existing God, but rather the philosophical death of the idea of God, a being which he considered non-existent. Because I firmly believe in the existence of Almighty God, eternal, and sovereign as described in the Bible, I speak figuratively of “God’s funeral” in order to argue that the consequences of living as if there is no God are absolutely devastating, hence the title, “The Aftermath of God’s Funeral.”
PARABLE OF THE MADMAN
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 seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”
Unlike many of the new atheists, Nietzsche was honest enough to admit the utter chaos that results when one lives life as if there were no God. Allow me to highlight three devastating consequences in the aftermath of God’s funeral. First, if there is no God we lose the meaning of life in an ultimate sense. Second, if there is no God we lose our moral compass. Finally, if there is no God we lose all hope.
- IF THERE IS NO GOD WE LOSE THE MEANING OF LIFE IN AN ULTIMATE SENSE.
Atheist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre was another honest atheist who followed his philosophy to its natural outworking. In his book on existentialism Being and Nothingness he writes, “Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal… It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.” Without a transcendent purpose, we are left with only temporal meaning which sadly fails to meet our needs and expectations. A life without ultimate meaning is a dreadful existence indeed.
Some would say that ultimate meaning is found in loving our children. Although there is great value in that, and it does provide temporal meaning, it proves to be ultimately unsatisfying because of its temporal nature. Our mortality has a devastating impact on that pursuit. Please don’t attack me as insensitive—this IS NOT MY VIEW! This is what we are left with when we live as if there is no God. By removing the eternal—everything is condemned to the sphere of temporal. Others would argue that meaning is found in achieving our dreams. While dreams are important, they too prove to fall miserably short in providing ultimate meaning. We either live life chasing dreams that we never reach, or we achieve our dreams only to find that being a professional athlete in the NFL or the NBA fails to deliver the sense ultimate meaning we sought. We find that reaching the economic bracket we dreamed of wasn’t what we anticipated. Any doubt that what I’m saying is true is dissipated by the recent wave of suicides among the rich and famous. My heart goes out to all of those families that have been devastated.
Albert Camus, an atheist and existentialist as was Sartre, uses the Myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor of the futility and meaninglessness of life and goes as far as acknowledging the tragedy of it. It is the endless cycle of Sisyphus who has been condemned by the gods to role a heavy boulder up a hill only to watch it roll right back down when he reaches the top and he must start all over again. Camus states, “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”
To claim that we assign meaning to our lives is to argue as Camus does in The Myth of Sisyphus, that happiness is found in meaninglessness! He writes, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
How can Sisyphus be happy?
If there is no God, it is only natural to wonder about the purpose of the human struggle! Why get out of bed and face another day of trouble, pain or turmoil? If at the end of all of our struggles we cease to exist and become part of the cosmic dust of the universe, what makes life worth living? Do you want to know how Camus begins the opening paragraph of his book on The Myth of Sisyphus?
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
A world without God is dark and chaotic. I think Nietzsche captures it perfectly,
“How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?”
Without God we lose the meaning of life in an ultimate sense. In addition…
- IF THERE IS NO GOD WE LOSE OUR MORAL COMPASS.
Please understand me on this vital point. I AM NOT POSITING that an atheist cannot live a life of moral integrity. I know many that do. As Josh Fults puts it, “It is true, that without God, man can still live a moral lifestyle, but without God, man lacks a point of reference or a place to anchor his morality. The standard for morality becomes self-referential.”
In other words, morality will find its basis and justification in each individual. Frank Turek is on point when he says that, “Without that unchanging objective standard, all moral questions are reduced to human opinion—nearly seven billion human opinions.”
That, my friends, presents quite a number of problems.
The question then becomes, whose morality is correct? Without God, as a transcendent authority above man, morality becomes subjective, with each individual determining what is right or wrong in their own eyes. Dostoyevsky was right when he affirmed that, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”
Man becomes his own “god,” his own ultimate authority and thus can decide for himself what constitutes good moral behavior. I will not delve into moral relativism today, but suffice it to say that while it is theoretically possible, it is pragmatically impossible and intolerable. It is impossible to live life as a moral relativist and be consistent. Nobody is a moral relativist when it comes to their possessions, their loved ones, or their pet peeves. Under such a system, one cannot accuse a rapist or child molester of any wrongdoing, for each is his own ultimate moral authority in deciding what is right and wrong. At best other men can impose their morality on the rapist and subject him to punishment only by exercising brute force. Without God we lose our moral compass and are left with a moral compass determined by the strong and forced upon the weak. I agree completely with G.K. Chesterton’s wise observation,
“it is impossible to live without contradictions when you live without God. The moment you condemn something you have to assume there is some standard by which to condemn it. The modern day rebel has no standard left because he has rejected everything.”
Furthermore, when we remove God from society, the price to pay is socially devastating. If there is no God, than we lose the very foundation of human rights. The founding fathers understood this. Listen to their carefully crafted words in their Declaration of Independence from Britain,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” [emphasis added]
What happens when God is ousted from his position in the document? The declaration is completely emptied of all meaning.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The removal of God is the removal of the CREATOR and with it we throw out man’s intrinsic value as well! Without God we are no longer a SPECIAL CREATION made in the Image of God, but rather the product of random chance and natural unguided processes that never intended us to be the end product. We are no more valuable than the animals, the trees, or the rocks, since all are the results of the same random unguided processes. Without God we must ask, who or what endows us with these unalienable rights? Further, why are they unalienable? Without God we lose the foundation for EQUAL RIGHTS!
Without God we lose the meaning of life in an ultimate sense. Without God we lose our moral compass. Finally…
- IF THERE IS NO GOD WE LOSE ULTIMATE HOPE.
We have all heard the expression, “Life is hard and then you die.” I think you would agree with me that there is an awful lot of truth to those words. If there is no God, what is the best we can hope for? The Hedonist may tell you that pleasure is what we hope for. They believe that our hope is to find more joy than sorrow in this life. But sadly, we live in a world where the vast majority of people do not enjoy the life they live. In addition, those that do find pleasure in this life realize it is not enough! It is never enough! And for billions of people in this planet, there are far more tears than there are smiles.
If there is no God, what is there to hope for? Others may argue that our hope is found in leaving a legacy to our children and future generations. While that is a noble idea, it too proves to be beyond our grasp. Our children too will die, as will their children, until ultimately there won’t be a single living person on our planet. What happens to the legacy then?
Without God, what does the future hold? There are a number of theories out there, but all of them share a common end: life on earth will cease to be! Some argue that the Sun will eventually run out of energy and our planet will become an ice ball unable to sustain life. Others argue that we will eventually be hit by an asteroid and all life on earth will be destroyed. Still others argue that we will eventually deplete the planet of all food and water and all living organisms will die out. Modern genetics has found that we are genetically degenerating at a rate that will eventually render reproduction impossible and that will be the end. I’m sorry if I sound like a “Debbie Downer” but NOBODY envisions a bright future for humanity in any ultimate sense. That is of course in the absence of God.
Without God we lose the meaning of life in an ultimate sense. Without God we lose our moral compass. And Without God we lose ultimate hope.
What does life look like without God? We don’t have to speculate—sadly we just have to observe what atheism has led to. Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize winning Russian Historian and former prisoner of war, in a very sobering and realistic evaluation of the devastation he witnessed in Communist Russia said,
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century.
Nietzsche himself predicted that the 20th century would be the bloodiest in history, if people were to espouse the belief that there is no God. How true indeed!
Allow me to present an alternative state of affairs. We don’t have to live life as if God is dead because He is not! As Mark Twain would have said it, where he a theist, “Rumors of God’s Death have been greatly exaggerated!”
ULTIMATE MEANING IN LIFE, ULTIMATE MORALITY, AND ULTIMATE HOPE CAN ONLY BE FOUND IN A TRANSCENDENT GOD—OTHERWISE ALL MEANING, MORALITY, AND HOPE ARE INEXTRICABLY DEPENDENT ON MORTAL MAN AND WHEN MAN DIES, SO DO THEY.
That is what makes the Gospel so powerful. Not only because it is true, but because God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ—walked among us—died on a Cross for our transgressions and then CONQUERED DEATH. In doing so, Jesus gave man the ultimate meaning of life—one that could not be buried with him. In doing so, Jesus gave man the ultimate moral code—love God and love one another—as he did and while that brought death—love also conquered death and rose again. In doing so, Jesus gave man the ultimate hope—as he has risen from the dead—so too shall all who believe in him!
- LIFE DOES HAVE ULTIMATE MEANING!
- We were created by God to be his children. (Here we find ultimate meaning)
- We were created by God to LOVE Him and each other. (Here we find ultimate meaning)
- We were created by God to carry out his perfect plan. (Here we find ultimate meaning)
- We were created by God to spend an eternity with Him. (Here we find ultimate meaning)
- THERE IS A MORAL COMPASS THAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN IN OUR HEARTS!
- We live in a world with moral absolutes and everybody knows it.
- We live out our morality in a simple yet powerful maxim—LOVE GOD & LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
- We live in a world that has suffered first-hand the consequences of disobeying God’s moral code.
- THERE IS HOPE!
- Death is not the end!
- God has provided a way for us to live eternally.
- Our hope is not a fantasy, it is not wishful thinking, it is not a delusional self-deception—NO our hope is real because in Jerusalem there is an empty tomb that once held the body of our savior—Jesus Christ; but He is Risen!
What’s your choice today?
Is it going to be Christ or Nietzsche?
Is it going to be the God who is alive or the Nietzschean god who is dead?
Will you choose a life of meaning or one of meaninglessness?
Will you choose a life of moral chaos or one of moral order?
Will you choose a life full of hope or one full of despair in the absence of hope?
THANKS TO THE CROSS OF CHRIST—WE CAN CHOOSE A LIFE OF MEANING, MORALITY, AND HOPE!
1 Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus—a philosophical essay he wrote in 1942. Chapter 4: “The Myth of Sisyphus.”
3 Ibid. Chapter 1: “Absurdity and Suicide”
4 Josh Fults Blog. http://joshfults.com/2012/07/31/the-consequences-of-killing-god/ Accessed 09/07/2014.
5 Frank Turek. Stealing from God. (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2014). Pg. 98.
6 Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1880). This key phrase appears word for word in Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 4 (“A Hymn and a Secret”). Confirmation of the quote is argued for extensively by atheist Russian scholar Andrei Volcov (a hostile witness) in the article titled, “Dostoyevsky Did Say It.” Found in the atheist website Infidels.org as follows, http://infidels.org/library/modern/andrei_volkov/dostoevsky.html
7 G.K. Chesterton, as quoted by Ravi Zacharias. “What happened after God’s Funeral?” Audio CD
8 “Men Have Forgotten God” – The Templeon Address (World copyright ©1983 by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn; translator: A. Klimoff.)
Dr. Juan Valdes is a bi-lingual speaker for Reasons for Hope (English and Spanish) and the senior pastor of a Spanish-speaking congregation in Miami, Florida. He has taught Theology, Bible and Apologetics at the seminary level in both English and Spanish and speaks regularly across the country and internationally at Pastor’s Conferences, Youth Conferences, Apologetics Conferences and local church events. Juan, his wife Daisy and their children, Juan Elias and Jessica serve in multiple areas of ministry in Miami, Florida.