On April 8, 1966, the cover of Time magazine asked in bold black letters, “Is God Dead?” The lead story described the work of several theologians who no longer held to traditional concepts of God. They were alike in concluding that the God of our fathers had not survived the dawn of evolution and birth control.
The debate that followed wasn’t as much about God as it was about us. We were in the middle of a turbulent decade. Our world was changing. An unpopular war in Vietnam was prompting bumper stickers that said, “Question Authority.” Science and technology were improving our lives and making us less aware of our need for a supernatural God.
Other reasons some believe God is dead. Challenges to the traditional view of God multiplied in the decades that followed. Not all were secular. Consumer fraud in religious broadcasting subjected the God of the Bible to public ridicule. Promises of “blessings for dollars” associated the name of Christ with “get rich quick” or “get thin fast” scams. Most recently, evidence of clergy abuse surfaced in the public media. With these reports came stories of victims, who, because of their abuse, no longer considered the God of the church a live option.
Those enlightened by science or disillusioned by religious leaders, however, are not the only ones talking about the death of God.
The Bible also talks about the death of God. The God of the Bible was so deeply moved by the harm people do to one another that He actually chose to die because of it. At a moment in time, the eternal God closed His eyes and stopped breathing. Under the weight of the wrongs of the world, His body fell limp and lifeless. At that moment, God was dead—not just in the perception of others, but in real time and in an actual place.
In making this claim, the Bible goes far beyond the cover and pages of Time magazine. Instead of asking, “Is God Dead?” the theology of the Bible leaves us with a mystery that is beyond human comprehension (1 Timothy 3:16). The second person of a three-in-one God became a real man to die a real death for us (John 1:1-3,14; Philippians 2:5-11).
As this unparalleled drama unfolds, physical death was not our God’s greatest sacrifice. Even before breathing His final breath on a Roman cross, He endured the hellish darkness of spiritual separation from His Father in heaven. As the skies darkened in the middle of the day, His anguished cry echoed through the halls of heaven and history: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46 NKJV).
According to the Bible, our Creator endured such an agonizing death to come to our rescue.
What the death of God tells us about ourselves. Those of us who are inclined to think of ourselves as victims, rather than offenders, might conclude that Christ’s death probably says more about the evil of others than about ourselves. We can always point to someone we think gave us an excuse to respond in an unloving way.
We get a different picture, however, when we look more closely into the suffering of Christ. If the Bible is right, He didn’t die just for someone else’s sins. He died for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). The pain He endured says volumes about the extreme nature of our own need (Romans 3:10-20).
Anyone who wants to be included in Christ’s death must admit that in God’s eyes our own wrongs rise to the level of those who violate federal law with capital offenses. The extent of His sacrifice says that without His intervention we would still be condemned lawbreakers, without hope, and waiting on “death row” for what the Bible calls “the second death” (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:14).
How the death of God can help us find a new life. The Scriptures offer no hope to those who refuse to believe Christ suffered for them. The Bible offers a whole new life, however, to those who believe that Christ lived and died as their substitute. Like persons who enter a witness protection program, those who find refuge in Christ take on a new identity. Their troubled past is hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). They assume His name. They receive His Spirit and become temples of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).
Those who allow the Spirit of Christ to be seen in them are an antidote to the opinion that “God Is Dead.” Their happiness and tears become a quiet showcase for the love and joy and peace of a God who is alive and reaching out to others through His people. No one does this perfectly. But few things are needed more than imperfect, troubled, grateful people who are growing in their willingness to let Christ live His life through them (Romans 8:11).
How can we come to that surrender? We can begin by watching Jesus our Lord move through the Garden of Gethsemane to the center page of human history. On the way, He groans, “Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done.” Then in the middle of a howling mob, on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, He willingly endured the eternal weight of our sin and death—for us.
Father in heaven, we never want to stop thanking You for the price You paid for us. Yet we are so easily distracted. Please help us this day to renew our gratitude for Your Son’s death. Please use the surrender of this moment to let His life, and Yours, be seen in us today. —Mart De Haan