“God is Dead:” Who Said It?

  NOTE: This is a re-blog from December, 2009.

Most of us have heard the phrase, “God is dead,” and we’ve probably even heard some say we’re living in the age where that mindset is prevalent.  Though many enemies of the gospel have said similar things throughout history, the penman of ’God is dead’ is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (d. 1900).  I’ve read parts of Nietzsche before, including selections from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Ecce Homo, and Twilight of the Idols.  Nietzsche is an animal as far as writing goes; you don’t just read it and “get it.”  It takes time and patience – and the help of excellent books like The Shadow of the Antichrist (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) by Stephen Williams.

I agree with Carl Trueman’s assessment of this book: “Williams offers both an exposition and response to Nietzsche which combines trenchant criticism with appropriate acknowledgment of the fact that Christians have much to learn from careful reflection on this most insightful of anti-Christian polemicists” (from the WTS bookstore site).

In case you’re interested, here’s the context of the in/famous ‘God is dead’ phrase.

“The madman – haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly, ‘I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’  Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter.  ‘Has he been lost, then?’ asked one.  ‘Did he lose his way like a child?’ asked another.  ‘Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to the sea? Emigrated?’  Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other.  The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.  ‘Where is God?’ he cried; ‘I’ll tell you!  We have killed him – you and I!  We are his murderers.  …Hasn’t it got colder?  Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? …Do we still hear nothing of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God?  Do we still smell nothing of the divine decomposition? – Gods, too, decompose!  God is dead!  God remains dead!  And we have killed him!’”

Later the madman goes into churches singing aeternam deo and singing “What then are these churches now if not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”  (Williams, p. 118-119).

This selection comes from Nietzsche’s Gay Science (“gay” as in the older meaning of the word): God is dead, the tomb is the church, and Nietzsche (labeled himself) the antichrist.  If you’ve read some Nietzsche, and want a great book that wrestles with Nietzsche written from a thoughtful Christian perspective, grab William’s Shadow of the Antichrist.  It isn’t a quick, light read, but Williams interacts with those who influenced Nietzsche (‘Dionysus,’ Schopenhauer, and Wagner for example) as well as others who help illumine the study of Nietzsche (Barth, Bonhoeffer, Dostoyevsky, among others) to give the reader a pretty thorough picture of the man who said “God is dead.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on ““God is Dead:” Who Said It?”

  1. Surprised to see nobody has reviewed this on Amazon.com. Thanks for giving us the actual context from Nietzsche of the “God is dead” soundbite. Could you also give us one, or two examples of how Williams interacts with Nietzsche ?

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  2. I remember reading about the post WWII theologian who popularized, God is Dead. Eisenhower said, I didn’t even know God was sick (a joke). This attitude really infected my Dad coming back from WWII prison camp. I don’t think he ever totally recovered from GID and neo-orthodox Barthian doctrines. We talked about it a few times before he died. I think Reformed preaching before WWII was too sentimental to protect him and his fellow soldiers from the arbitrary brutality of war. He tried to return to church, but his heart had been blasted from him.
    It’s an important topic in our history.
    Paul Austin

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