What can it mean to say that God the Son of God died this afternoon?
Non-being is strictly incoherent. We can indicate it, but only as we might indicate a square triangle. When we refer to non-being, there’s nothing actually there to which we might be referring. There is nothing we can say about non-being, except that there is absolutely nothing we can say about it; for there is nothing to it, about which we could say anything. It’s not quite correct to say that it has no properties or characteristics, because it isn’t an item in the first place. It has no ontic hooks upon which properties or characteristics might be hung.
So it isn’t conceivable. It cannot be brought to mind. And this is not a limitation only of our finite creaturely intellects, but of logic: for there is nothing in non-being that any conceivable intellect could bring to mind. Not even God can imagine what non-being is like. Certainly, then, non-being is not possible.
Since non-being is impossible, it is necessary that something exist. Thus in the state of affairs prior to the existence of any and all contingent things, there necessarily exists a necessary being. [When I began to write this post, I didn’t set out intending to stumble upon an argument for the existence of God; but one thing I have learned about metaphysical reasoning is that it almost always ends up entailing the existence of God].
And once a being exists, it cannot somehow un-exist. It can stop becoming, stop recurring, so that it no longer perdures. But it cannot go on from being to achieve non-being. Facts are everlasting, and immutable. And as we have just seen, you can’t get a state of affairs in which there is no God. So God is an immutable fact.
God can’t die, properly speaking. What, then, again, can it mean to say that God the Son of God died on Calvary?
The death on the Cross must have been God’s primordial, eternal and necessary act of difference from non-being; i.e., of being. Dying, God encountered total nothingness. But the outer surface of nothingness, which is the inner surface of his own being, beyond which he does not exist, is not permeable; no one can get there. So he bounced off it, as it were: dying, he could not but effect his eternal act of being. His Resurrection then is at one with his actus purus, his primordial act of self-constitution.
The deletion of God is not non-being, but God. The negative of God is God. When God dies, the product of the process is God.
The death of God on Good Friday is not then really possible. As actual, simple and eternal, God cannot anywise die. As man, however, Jesus the Galilean can die. His Godhood cannot die; but as having been perfected by his Godhood, the sacrifice of his manhood is ipso facto rendered perfect – i.e., and among other things, omnicompetent:
O God heavenly father, which of thy tender mercie diddest geve thine only sonne Jesu Christ to suffre death upon the crosse for our redempcion, who made there (by his one oblacion once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifyce, oblacion, and satysfaccyon, for the sinnes of the whole worlde … – Book of Common Prayer, 1549
It is not then the death of Jesus qua God that opens to us the Gate of Heaven, but the death of Jesus qua man. God had to materialize in order to rescue fallen matter, and to begin the repair of our depraved cosmogonic inheritance. It was that crucial step that, as infinite, no mere creature could take. But once God had perfected matter in Jesus, then the death of his manhood could suffice to make ontological compensation for the whole of the Fall, and rescue the entire Creation from its dire consequences.
For, when God perfected the body of Jesus, he perfected the cosmos; and when the perfect body of Jesus died, the cosmos died; for the cosmos is an integrity. There are in it no islands anywhere. The perfection of Jesus is the perfection of Creation in toto. The rabbis say somewhere that one perfect tsaddik is enough to redeem the whole world. Christ is the tikkun olam.
In the order of eternity, the whole victory is already won. In the order of time, it will of course take a while for all of us to cross over. It’s a long journey; best get on our Way.