by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Is God Dead?” This was the title of the cover story for the April 8, 1966, edition of Time magazine when I was a junior in high school and Time was the most influential weekly periodical in the United States. The article began with these words:
“Is God dead? It is a question that tantalizes both believers, who perhaps secretly fear that he is, and atheists, who possibly suspect the answer is No.
“Is God dead? The three words represent a summons to reflect on the meaning of existence. No longer is the question the taunting jest of skeptics for whom unbelief is the test of wisdom and for whom Nietzsche is the prophet who gave the right answer a century ago.”
I was reminded of this shocking and provocative article from more than 50 years ago while reading the 2017 book, “The Benedict Option.” The author, Rod Dreher, believes that American culture is lost and hostile to orthodox Christianity. He is convinced that we need a new St. Benedict to inspire the development of vibrant communities where Christianity is lived with authenticity and fervor in order to preserve the truth of the Gospel during a new Dark Age of unbelief.
In making the case for an unbelieving culture, Dreher cites the decline in church attendance and the large number of millennials who profess either atheism or identify themselves as spiritual, but not religious. This nonreligious spiritualism is a new paganism, where God is not the God of revelation who makes himself known to us, but a god or gods fashioned in our own image to re-enforce our own desires.
Dreher quotes from the 1992 book, “The Ethics of Authenticity,” by the contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor, who wrote: “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God.” Dreher adds his own assessment that even many of those who claim to believe in God act as if God is dead. Dreher states: “We may deny that God is dead, but to accept religious individualism and its theological support structure, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, is to declare that God may not be quite dead, but he is in hospice care and confined to bed.”
In other words, if our belief is in a god who is essentially indifferent to the choices we make, the existence of such a god has no real bearing on our lives. The worldview of modernity is to make human beings their own gods. In this universe where everyone is god, there is no objective truth nor are there any moral absolutes to which everyone is accountable. We each can have our own view of what is true and good.
Tragically, when we attempt to eliminate God, in effect to assassinate our creator, we become alienated from our true self. We become confused about things as fundamental as the meaning of marriage, gender identity, the sanctity of life, the proper care for our planet and even the definition of love.
Our futile effort to satiate with material things our hunger for God leaves us spiritually starving. Time magazine was correct about one thing: How we answer “the God question” determines whether life is absurd or has meaning.
What does Easter say to us about God’s response to the cultural chaos ensuing from confusion about his existence? Easter reminds us that, as Christians, we believe in a God who died, but who is not dead.
God created us in his own image and gave us, among all his creatures, the unique gift of the freedom to choose the good or to reject it. God’s response to our rejection of his love is not to abandon us to dwell in the darkness created by our rebellion but rather to shower us with mercy.
God comes to rescue us from sin that masquerades as freedom but in reality enslaves us to our disordered cravings. God comes to save us from the most devastating fruit of our rebellion — the tyranny of death that robs life of meaning and purpose.
The method of this rescue was not to use his almighty power to force us into submission to his will, but it was to become one with us in all things but sin. Like a special operations soldier dropped behind enemy lines, Jesus entered fully into our humanity, enduring unspeakable suffering because of our sin.
Jesus performs the ultimate and most daring of rescue missions as he submits himself to death at the hands of sinful men. In so doing, Our Lord broke the stranglehold of our disobedience by embracing the will of his Father and thus grasping on to the source of life itself. On Calvary, Jesus defeats humanity’s twin enemies, sin and death, by extending mercy from the cross and walking through death to life.
Jesus made himself a bridge for us over the troubled and chaotic waters of sin and death, providing us with a pathway to freedom and life. Jesus is the light that shattered the darkness of unbelief.
A world separated from God and his love is a land of darkness and gloom. Jesus pierced the darkness with the light of the Gospel. We believe in a God who died but is not dead, and who continues to animate the lives of his disciples with the truth, beauty and power of his Gospel.
God is alive! Jesus is risen! Alleluia!