Often the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted and many times misquoted.
Usually the misquotation is simply, “God is dead.”
Though this is usually the extent to which Nietzsche is quoted, it is misleading and utterly distorts the what he was actually saying in context of the full quote.
Here is Nietzsche’s full quotation,
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? –The Gay Science, Section 125
This quote is a devastating judgment on his present-day culture at large and on the individual’s who claim to be peoples of faith. Instead of commenting on the existence of a deity, Nietzsche is providing commentary on his current culture’s state of faith in a deity.
Nietzsche was commenting on a few things with this quote:
1) He was living in a culture that was experiencing a movement of religious artificiality and hypocrisy. Many in Nietzsche’s day were claiming to believe in God, but in practice, God made little to no difference in the actions and lives of those who were claiming this belief. It was solely lip service.
2) Nietzsche is repulsed by such artificiality and dishonesty, and penned these words to effectively say that he isn’t a participant in this artificial lifestyle. He rejected all forms of deism and theism.
3) Nietzsche was also being a bit anticipatory, I believe, when he said, What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent, implying he is fully expecting a kind of excuse or some sort of religious movement to take place, stemming from these calloused religious people, as a sort of restitution for their spiritual deadness. Nietzsche could have been expecting a sort of revival as an attempt to recover at least a face value piety where everyone would be jubilant and churches would be full and there would be a season where people in those “religious” communities and culture would do great things in the name of God to bring their religious stock back up to a place at which they would then become complacent and slowly slide back into religious nominalism.
What is the take away of this for Christians?
1) We should be aware of our tendencies to say that we are followers of Christ and yet not reflect Christ in our speech, actions, attitudes and relationships. In other words, we shouldn’t be hypocrites. We do affirm we are still sinners and will continue to sin until we have restored, glorified bodies, but we should not will ourselves to sin; we should not intentionally be hypocritical, which is the issue I think Nietzsche is dealing with: intentional and careless hypocrisy on the part of the religious community. If you profess to believe in God, live accordingly. If you won’t live accordingly, stop professing to have belief in God. The people who profess belief and live like devils “have killed him (God)” with their nominalism, as Nietzsche sees it, noting that Nietzsche himself is an atheist. Believers cannot be pleased with only having God’s “shadow loom” instead of being full of the presence of God himself. This is why we should be diligent about our walk with Christ, hence why we need much devotion to Scripture-reading, prayer, and church fellowship. Real Christians cannot be nominal Christians (Christians by name only; no real faith). Though we affirm that salvation is by faith alone, our works are outward evidences of that faith. Plus, it isn’t a very good apologetic to a watching world when “Christians” (saying that in such a way to guard against non-believers who think themselves to be believers) say they are following Christ but are actually living like devils with no regard to the will of God and the Word of God. As in Nietzsche’s case, it is no surprise he was put off by such artificiality.
2) There is nothing we can do to “make up” for our lack of passion and piety. Either we have it because we are born again in Christ or we don’t. We cannot, as Nietzsche stated, invent “games” or festivals or partake in activities that on the face presume to glorify God in order to make up for our lack of devotion. Either we will abide in Christ because we are true believers (nuance is permissible because all Christians go through seasons where such passion is hard to exhibit whether it be due to crushing personal circumstance or what have you, but still abide nevertheless), or we will not abide at all because we are not “of the Vine” (John 15). Let us not put on a facade of high spiritualism, it does us no good. Instead, being rooted in Christ, let us be passionate about His great gospel, and be devoted to sharing it with others.
God is, in fact, not dead. Though some who say they believe in God act as if He was dead, those who actually believe in Christ live in a way that testifies He is alive now, and forever more.