God is Dead

It’s Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the tomb. They killed him yesterday. God is dead.

How can this be? There are three possibilities:

  1. Jesus is just a guy.
  2. There is no God to begin with.
  3. Death is something other than what we took it to be.

No God, no world. We have a world, so 2 can’t be true. Not to mention the fact that by the definition of God, God exists necessarily. Strictly speaking, 2 is inconceivable; actuality as such contradicts it.

Nor does 1 quite work, for the Resurrection falsifies it. Guys like us don’t raise themselves from the dead.

So, death is something other than what we took it to be.

Notice that what died yesterday was the animal body of Jesus. Of either of his two natures, only the body of his human nature is dead. On the cross, the soul of Jesus of Nazareth was disintegrated from his body. He descended then to Hell, and harrowed it, releasing from it the souls of all the righteous dead, and raising them to new life in Heaven. He *resurrected* them. He reintegrated their souls with their bodies (it does not signify, for my purpose here, whether in the order of our cosmic time the general resurrection is dated at the eschaton, or now; for, in eternity (wherein all things happen), the eschaton is now).

Apparently, guys like us can rise from the dead.

That doesn’t mean that Jesus is just a guy who, because death is not what we took it to be, happened to raise himself. Guys can’t raise themselves. Guys can’t even arrange for their own next moment of life. Those moments just arrive, they are somehow provided. We can destroy them, but cannot create them.

Jesus is different. He’s not just a guy like us. Of all the guys that ever were, he is the only one who can raise himself. That’s one way we can tell he is God.

If God didn’t die, but only his human body, then does it really make sense to say that Jesus died – and that, in his death, he performed the perfect sacrifice that covers all creaturely sin?

Yes. When Jesus died, he went through just what all men do when they die. His soul and body were disintegrated. He died just as much as every other human victim ever has.

And in his human nature he lives as all of us, thanks to him, now may.

God is dead. Thanks be to God.

15 thoughts on “God is Dead

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  4. Some Calvinist theologians appear to have a problem with speaking of God dying in the crucifixion. R. C. Sproul, for example, in order to avoid saying that God perished in His eternal being, which would obviously be a heresy, denied that the Second Person of the Trinity died on the cross and asserted that it was only Jesus’ human nature which made the atonement, thus becoming guilty of another heresy, Nestorianism. I addressed this in my last essay at Throne, Altar, Liberty and in an upcoming essay will address the general tendency of a certain kind of Calvinist to treat the doctrines of the seventeenth century Synod of Dort as being of greater importance than the teachings of the councils of the undivided church.

    • Well, it is rather terrifying to think of God dying. Tricky, too. It quickly gets all tangled up in Christological complexities. But really it comes down to a proper anthropology. Once you recall that the living human is an ensouled body, and that death is the process of disintegration of soul and body, it becomes much simpler. Qua death, the death suffered by the soul of the Logos on the Cross is just like any other human death. It’s just that the human who died on Calvary had a soul with both human and divine natures. Both these natures suffered death on the Cross – i.e., suffered the disintegration of the soul in which they were united from its body.

      That’s a lot different from saying that the soul of Jesus, or the life of the Logos that was his life, somehow winked out of existence for a moment. That’s clearly a heretical notion – and, indeed, an inconceivable, to boot. It is no wonder that the Arians and Nestorians had a problem with it.

      But death is *not* a process wherein the soul winks out of existence. Once you remember that, the difficulties vanish.

      There is then also of course the worry that comes along with any mention that the soul of Jesus suffered in its divine nature. That smacks of theopassianism, ergo of patripassianism. Divine suffering would seem to contradict the immutability of God.

      But this seeming is due to our natural tendency to think of the life of God as proceeding for a time before the Incarnation and its sequelae, changing thereat, and then proceeding for a time afterward. It is this misconstruction of the life of God that gives rise to theopassianism and patripassianism. In fact, the life of God is not proceeding through time. It does not consist of a series of discrete adventures, that each change it. Rather, time is proceeding through the eternal life of God, which is a single moment. As a single occasion, it cannot change – a single thing cannot be more than one single thing. The Incarnation and Passion then are not changes in God, but aspects of the one moment of his life.

      This is why ikons of Eden show YHWH walking in the Garden in the resurrected body of Jesus. YHWH is *always* Jesus.

      If God did not suffer the Passion in any way, then *he has no idea that it has happened;* he is not therefore omniscient, nor then therefore is he God. Nor by the same token was he involved in it, at all; so nor were we redeemed by it.

      No divine suffering, no Christianity.

  5. There still remains the problem of the fundamental unintelligibility of an atemporal subject having temporally indexed experience. It’s a circle I’ve never been able to square.

    • It’s a problem that applies to experience as such. Observe the different regions of your visual field, that have different characteristics. How is it that you are able to bind phenomena with different spatial indices into a single occasion of experience?

      We take such binding for granted, but that doesn’t mean we understand it. We feel as though it is explained by the convergence of causal lines on our mind, to which we assign a spatial locus of its own. But this assignment is a specious heuristic, a handy approximation. The locus of an event can be determined only ex post. Only actual things, that are already done becoming and are concrete and definite, can have definite characteristics such as location in respect to other actualities. An occasion of experience is not then by itself located, but only by some other. The spatial index to which we assign ourselves in the current moment of experience is in fact the index of our immediately prior moment of experience, now complete and in the past, which we are prehending and enfolding in this current moment along with the rest of our actual world.

      Thus the causal lines that converge on the mind are not converging on a spatially indexed subject. They are converging on an entity that is not yet located in a world.


      How is any Many integrated in a novel One? How are disparate things able to have relations – *any* sort of relations? How are causal lines able to converge in the first place? How can 3 be half 6?

      This is the circle you are trying to square when trying to understand how the Eternal One can have temporally indexed experience. I doubt it can be done. I doubt by the same token that you can understand how you can have spatially indexed experience. Understanding per se presupposes intelligible relations among disparities. What is understanding, really? What is a togetherness of disparities in experience, in which we apprehend their mutual fit or similarity or so forth, and settle into that delicious Sabbath rest of comprehension?

      Is this not to ask what being is? How to answer?

      To contemplate this mystery for any sustained period is aweful, dreadful, beautiful, holy. It is to worship.

      One last thing. Eternity is not in contradiction to time. If it were, then – eternity being prior to time – there could be no such thing as time. This means that there is no contradiction between God’s eternity and his active participation in history. God can have temporally indexed experience even though he is not himself temporally indexed. This is no more mysterious – or less – than the fact that we can have spatially indexed experiences even though we are not in the moment of experience yet spatially indexed.

      • Thank you for reminding me of our differant metaphysical commitments. Christians tend to hold to a substance ontology that posits the independent existences of a subject and an object whereas, as a Buddhist, I hold that subject, object and act of perception are merely notional constructs about an indivisible point instant of consciousness. This of course excludes the possibility of an atemporal subject, any subject having only a notional and not substantial existence.

      • Ah, yes, of course. I’m curious, though: if things are all notional, then so are their relations, including their logical relations. How then can the notion that things are all notional anyhow be so as to be true (rather than merely notional)? I’m not expressing myself very clearly, but I hope the difficulty I notice is clear enough.

  6. I’ll give the classical Buddhist answer. The world has two aspects: 1. The atemporal realm of principal, i.e. the metaphysical preconditions for the possibility of anything in the phenomenal world or, more concisely, formal and final causality. This eternal realm is the proper referent of the word Buddha, or, as Griffiths says in his On Being Buddha: The Classical Doctrine of Buddhahood, “Buddha is, metaphysically speaking, simply identical with all atemporal states of affairs.” and 2. The beginningless and endless realm of becoming that functions according to the imminent power of formal and final causality. And so we’re left with a not unfamiliar image of the world in which the Real is transcendent and eternal, while that which suffers change is at best “a moving image of eternity.” Metaphysically orthodox philosophy presents similar pictures wherever it’s developed by critical and rational men for the simple reason that it’s true.

    The classical epistemologists hold that the only source for our knowledge of non-empirical states of affairs is Buddhavacana (the revealed word of Buddha).

    • Fascinating. If I understand you properly then, the only difference then between classical Buddhist and classical Christian metaphysics would hang on their different assessments of the reality of the 10K things. Christians all take the 10K things to be real (and, what is more, intended to a maximum of reality, the final end of Creation being in the Christian view a plenum replete with a plethora of superbly real entities – a krasis completely fulfilling the Receptacle), whereas I take it that Buddhists would lean toward the assessment that that they are completely irreal.

      Perhaps there is some further wrinkle to the Buddhist assessment of the 10K things that I do not understand, for it would seem that the 10K things simply *cannot* be irreal, simpliciter. The ratio of any finite quantity to infinity is indeed tantamount to zero. It is approximately zero. Yet no approximation to zero is quite exactly zero.

      A moving image of reality then is not nothing, period full stop. Either it is itself an aspect of that reality, or it absolutely is not, at all.

      A notion – i.e., a gnotion – is what is known in an act of knowing. No real act, no knowledge, nothing known, no notion. So even notional existence supervenes upon some substantial act, as an aspect thereof.

      All acts are given in and by the Eternal, to be sure; by the Eternal Word. But they are indeed thus given, no? Otherwise, there is given no Word of enlightenment, nor anyone to hear it, or be enlightened thereby.

      There must then be some further wrinkle to the Buddhist metaphysic. I am anxious to hear about that, if you would be good enough to share it with us – or to point us to a source where we can learn of it.

  7. I’ll begin by quoting scripture on the relationship between the one substance (here called the Matrix of the Tathāgata, i.e. the Tathāgatagarbha) and the apparently multiform world:

    “Therefore, O Lord, the Matrix of the Tathāgata is the foundation the support, and the substratum of the immutable elements which are essentially connected with, indivisible from the Absolute Entity, and unreleased from Wisdom. At the same time, this very Matrix of the Tathāgata is also, O Lord, the foundation, the support, and the substratum of the worldly elements that are produced by causes and conditions, which are by all means (apparently) disconnected, differentiated from the Absolute Essence, and separated from Wisdom.” (Śrīmālādevīsiṁhanāda Sūtra, The Scripture of the Lion’s Roar of Queen Śrīmālā)

    There is one substance (one real) variously called Buddha, Tathāgatagarbha, Dharmadhātu, Emptiness (Śūnyatā), Nirvāṇa, etc. All phenomena are partial manifestations or appearances of this one real. The falsity of the perceived world lies in our habitual reification of a point instant of consciousness into substantially separate beings called subject and object.

    Here is a little explanation of the relationship of the Absolute and the phenomenal given by Dr. McGovern in his study entitled An Introduction to Mahāyāna Buddhism:

    To be sure Mahāyāna is, philosophically at least, monotheistic, and at the same time it is Pantheistic in teaching that the divine and the universe are indivisible, though with the Panentheists Mahāyāna asserts that the Universal Buddha is far more than the sum-total of existence. The fundamental difference is that according to Mahāyāna the essence of the Divine remains unchanged throughout all eternity, and the basic nature of one phenomenon is exactly the same as another, though the mode of expression or manifestation may be widely different.

    For further study I would suggest two works by Paul Griffiths, a Catholic Philosopher/Theologian who also knows Buddhism well enough to be intelligently critical of it. The first is a paper, Buddha and God: A Constrastive Study of Ideas about Maximal Greatness, The Journal of Religion, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Oct., 1989), pp. 502-529. The second is his book On Being Buddha: The Classical Doctrine of Buddhahood.


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