Death of God
With apology to self (to self because I meander this for myself as part of contemplating where the hell I am in life, not for any reader) for the typical wandering that ensues, I press “PUBLISH” anyway.
Today is “Holy Saturday” of the so-named “Holy Triduum” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Day, the Day of the Resurrection. To me, HS is an interesting day to contemplate that theologians in their [our] smoky mist of lofty haze actually know nothing. What they [we, because “theology” means “discussion about God, a word about God, study of God” and we become theologians ourselves when we -- deign or dare -- to enter the discussion whether it’s with a spouse, as Linda and I sometimes do, or in Sunday School class or Tuesday morning Bible study] do (sorry about the lost antecedent, but that’s why I added the bold brackets) is speculate, argue, debate, agree, and mostly disagree. I say “disagree” because those who “do theology” with me generally disagree with me altogether. And I say “do theology” because theology is not a shiny product like a new Buick, it’s a process more like what goes on in the Buick assembly plant. Thank God theology is not a product, because if it were, it would be the Deacon's Masterpiece, that one horse open shay.
A theologian from my seminary tradition would assert that, given the promise “where two or three gather in my Name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Matthew 18:20) God comes present in and as the theological discussion itself. (Rather intimidating, eh?, and you don’t even have to invoke the Trinity or open with prayer, God simply comes present, so mind your language)*. In my observation and experience and reading, professional theologians, those who write the books and textbooks and argue back and forth with each other in lofty language and various tongues, most notably German and English, and whose essays printed in journals nobody reads but themselves and whose books are bought only by seminarians who can be compelled to buy them, speculate boldly, with much confidence, even arrogant bluster. It may also be with wisdom, but (Hebrews 11:1) it’s still speculation, and it’s faith not knowledge. So don’t feel blown out of the water by any pompous theologian.
Why do we do this, why do we do theology, why do we like to talk about God? I don’t know. One of my favorites, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834),who wrote that within each of us is “a sense of the infinite,” might say that our penchant for doing theology is the spark of the divine.
So then, Holy Saturday and the Death of God, eh? Theologically, on this day, God is dead. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, died yesterday on the Cross and today lies dead in the tomb. Were you there, had you been there, to roll back the stone on Holy Saturday, you would find a dead body lying in cold darkness. For Christians, that dead body was/is God. I’m trying to avoid being trite or simplistic, God is dead. Not so much in the Altizer & Hamilton sense, but in the stone cold dead body sense. Anyone who has, as I have many times, gone into the viewing room at a funeral home and gazed on the embalmed corpse of one once known and loved laid out in a casket knows the horrific realization that “that isn’t him.” I still visit Greenwood Cemetery about once a week, still drawn there by old feelings of loving friendship even though I know that wasn’t them that I buried, because I had that sickening realization before the lid was closed and we followed the hearse to the grave where I said the words. It’s the same with the theology of Holy Saturday: God is dead. God -- isn’t. Then the dawning: who’s in charge? Why are those stars still twinkling? Who will hear my prayer? Abandoned. No, not abandoned, we did this to ourselves; it’s more like having killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.
Yes, Sunday is coming, and Sunday solves it theologically, but that doesn’t answer the total stillness of Holy Saturday. We are forbidden to say Mass on this day, why? I reckon because the Mass takes us to Calvary, which is over and done, but it’s more than “respect for the Holy,” it’s that today there’s nobody to hear, come present, bless and consecrate.
Is this nonsense? Everything I write and say I castigate as “my nonsense” because I realize that it‘s all speculation, contemplation, that I have chosen to be, as Steve Jobs said, “trapped by dogma, living with the results of other people’s thinking” ... letting “the noise of others‘ opinions drown out (my) own inner voice.” So, Holy Saturday: God is dead? Or, was dead that sabbath day and right through until that early dawn of the First Day of the Week when the women came to the tomb?
What does this mean for me, to me? For spiritual observance, this is a day when, until the sun goes down this evening, there is no one to hear my daily devotions or answer my fervent prayers. What about Brannon today? Well, closet transubstantiationist that I may suspect myself to be (the Body of Christ; the Blood of Christ), still and all I do know that we are not really there, Christ is Risen and God is Alive. I am neither Marcellus Gallio nor Demetrius, nor the Beloved Disciple. I may be more like Malchus. But this is not Jerusalem that Passover Sabbath of AD 33, I am not there, and God is not dead, I am simply remembering and commemorating and trying to live into it. Was God dead that day? I wasn’t there, I don’t know. I’m contemplating, speculating. My mind may say no but my heart says yes. It’s not knowledge, it’s faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) It’s part of the Mystery of Faith, which I find untenable, but I can preach it.
* Invariably, this takes me to a 1970 Spring morning at sea off Vietnam when I stood on the flight deck and watched as our Marine helicopters landed and tough Marines carried terrified little Vietnamese children to our ship’s hospital below decks, where our wonderful Navy doctors, plastic surgeons, would work to repair some of their horrific war wounds. A missing cheek, half a nose, ear gone, a stump for a hand, a mangled foot, and my heart prayed that no one would say “Oh my God,” or “Holy Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” and bring God present to see what our war did to his little folk. It was my first living sense of the Good Friday trembling rage of God the Father as he beheld what we had done. That line in one of Martin Bell’s stories about The Great Silver Wolf when Nenshu the messenger comes to report and the Wolf takes in the reality: “The boy had been crucified.” What I learned over the next several weeks, beside witnessing the skill of our Navy doctors, was that Marines aren’t as tough as I had thought, coming up with teddy bears and such for the little children. I guess you had to be there.