Tuesday, 28 August 2007

God is Dead

God is dead. This is the popularly misunderstood proclamation made by Nietzsche. Does Nietzsche really mean that a transcendent entity that created the universe and continues to take an interest in the daily lives of human beings is now pushing up the daisies in some cosmic graveyard? No. What Nietzsche does mean is that the idea of a God who does these things is dead. He means that the traditional concept of God as a disembodied mind in the sky is no longer valid. The progress of science and civilisation will no longer permit such an entity, he insists.

And for this, I thank him. However, it leaves us with an interesting conundrum. Suppose that not only is this God dead, but that it was never really alive in the first place. If the disembodied mind in the sky never really existed in the first place, then we must wonder what God actually is.

The short and simple Christian answer is that God is love. This doesn't mean that God is a being that does only loving things. Rather, this kind of statement is similar to the one that says, “Rover is a dog.” That is, the first thing is defined by the second thing. The second thing is the essence of the first thing. To get a grasp of what God is, you must first get a grasp of what love is.

I will intentionally repeat myself here. Love is not the meaningless word that we use for various other things we are too lazy to mention. Love is not in the sense that I love (enjoy) ice cream. It is not love in the sense that I love (am infatuated by) a new romance. It is not love in the sense that I love (feel good about) doing good things. Rather, it is love in the sense that it is a verb for which the lover is only the agent, and in no way the recipient. It is love in the sense that the one doing the loving forgets about the self and takes action for the sake of the other. It is somewhat synonymous with self-sacrifice, charity and altruism.

Understand that this is love, and now re-read the short answer: God is love. The act of love itself is the essence of God. The act of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other is the essence of God. This is a mode of being that transcends the physical while firmly planted in a physical universe. God is transcendent in that love cannot be grasped, but God is physical in that love is only real when it is enacted in time and space.

This idea is not at the edges of Christian philosophy, awaiting a compatibility test with Biblical texts. Rather, it is near and dear to the heart of the Christian writings. God, a transcendent entity, was manifest in the life of a person called Jesus and is now manifest in the group of people who follow Jesus. The difference between this and Judeo-Christianity is the rejection of the implicit metaphysics of Judaism and classical theism. The metaphysics of the universe that must be consistent with the physics of contemporary research insists that a transcendent God cannot interact (exist) unless the transcendent essence of God is an action.

So what is God? God is love, enacted in our midst through selflessness, altruism and charity.

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