“God is dead,” said German philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietszche. 138 years since Nietzsche first published this phrase in his 1882 collection The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, also translated as “The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding”), many are still captivated by his uncompromising criticisms of the traditional morality and religion of the society to which he belongs at that time. His conventional philosophical ideas and his social and political devotions associated with modernity are what he is also best known for.
Nietzsche’s statement on the death of God can be the subject of much debate and interpretation from time to time, but he may have a point when he was referring to something other than this bold statement of him ignoring the existence of a deity. As an atheist, Nietzsche may not have meant to say about the idea of a God who actually died, but he could have meant that the Age of Enlightenment in Europe was what was killing God. The Age of Enlightenment, according to him, has eliminated the possibility of God’s existence.
That was Nietzsche’s idea. But we can also have our idea of a living God that Nietzsche claimed to be dead. He is a spiritual being without a body or physical parts. He is the God of creation, who models all things from nothing, and transcends all aspects of our physical world. And yet he wants to talk to us and be with us.
But where can we find him? How can we be able to see him? How can we know for sure that we can come into contact with him? Does he have a name, what is it? If we can’t see God, how do we know that he is at work in our lives? These questions have puzzled humans since the beginning of his revelation to us.
God has revealed himself to us in many ways from the beginning. He revealed himself to Moses in the form of a burning bush and with a voice that spoke the most holy name of God: I Am Who Am. He revealed himself to the Hebrew people through the laws and the prophets. God revealed himself to Laban the Aramean in the form of a dream, telling him to be careful not to say a word to Jacob, good or bad, and many more.
All of these different means of God’s special revelation to us can be found in the Bible. But the Bible is more than just keeping track of the different aspects of God’s revelation to us; it contains additional truth not revealed by other sources. In that sense, the Bible is not only about keeping track of the different aspects of God’s special revelation to mankind, but also about the special revelation itself.
These days, God reveals himself through his Church as we patiently await the return of Christ in glory at the end of time. God in Christ continues to live and speak in and through the Church that he has established here on Earth with Peter, the first Pope, and making himself visible to us in that Church. The sacramental life of the Church has its roots in Emmanuel, who is Jesus Christ. He is “God is with us”, and among us–the Word of God made flesh.
In the same way that the invisible, eternal, and spiritual Word of God came among us and took flesh and blood to be one of us, the Church has maintained its sacred role of continuing to extend the presence and work of Christ in our world through the equally visible means of the sacraments. It was Christ himself who instituted the sacraments, as external or visible signs, to give grace. The visible Church is, in itself, a sacrament that serves as the living continuation on Earth of its divine founder.