The Death of God & the Law
This article is from Law and Liberty, Chapter 21, by Rousas John Rushdoony, a Reformed scholar and brilliant writer of the last century. Dr. Rushdoony was the founder of Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization devoted to research, publishing, and to cogent communication of a distinctively Christian scholarship to the world at large. His son Mark continues to publicize and distribute Rushdoony’s work through Chalcedon. We are grateful to Chalcedon for permission to publish this book serially, chapter by chapter. Visit Chalcedon’s website here.
Meaning Beyond Historical Time?
A new movement with deep roots within the church and in our present humanistic culture is the Death-of-God school of thought. Its leaders are insistent that the God of Scripture, the God of orthodox Christianity, is dead and meaningless. Thomas J. J. Altizer, a leader in this school, has written, in his study of Mircea Eliade and the Dialectic of the Sacred, that “God has died in our time, in our history, in our existence. Insofar as we live in our destiny, we can know neither a trace of God’s presence nor an image of his reality. We must acknowledge, therefore, that if God has died in our history, then insofar as the church has become Christendom, insofar as the church has entered history, it has become a corpse—as Kierkegaard knew so deeply; and all traditional theological meaning, all our inherited religious meaning, is in process either of dissolution or of transformation.” For Altizer, nothing supernatural can be real, true, or historical; therefore, by definition God cannot exist. According to Altizer, “‘historicity’ means a total immersion in historical time, an immersion that is totally isolated from any meaning or reality that might lie beyond it.” In other words, only that which is completely human is real, and only that which is completely divorced from any supernatural meaning is historical for Altizer. This means that if we believe in God and are governed by His word, by a meaning beyond history, then we are not truly historical, nor do we have historicity!
A Silent God?
Altizer, an Episcopalian teaching in a Methodist school, is not alone in his thinking. Leslie Dewart, a Roman Catholic philosopher teaching at St. Michael’s College of the University of Toronto, has written on The Future of Belief. For Dewart, it is wrong for us to say that God has being, that He exists. The truth about God for Dewart is that He does not exist. Dewart wishes to retain the idea of God without the existence of God, to call the reality-beyond-being but not to allow Him to be real and alive. Dewart wants to talk about God, and he has written a book to tell us what God would have man become, but Dewart’s god is by definition a silent god, and therefore Dewart must speak for him!
This is the end result of the Death-of-God school of thought: it gives us a silent god and loud-mouthed philosophers who are the voices of this dead god who is beyond being. The Death-of-God school denies that there is a law founded on God’s word, because they deny that God can speak, and the only true world they allow, the voice of historicity, is one wholly immersed in time.
The Voice of True Historicity
Now these philosophers are quite sure that the voice of true historicity is speaking. In fact, they are quite sure they are speaking for it. The voice of this true historicity, this new god of being, a god who is only human and has no law outside of himself, is best expressed in the modern state. The state becomes the vehicle through which the new god, united humanity, finds itself.
Another leader of the Death-of-God school, William Hamilton, writing on “The Death of God Theology” in The Christian Scholar1declares that he looks forward to the return of God, but it will not be the God of orthodox Christianity. We must “define Jesus in the world,” that is, find Him in the social order in a new world, a united humanity.
New God, New Man
The voice of the new god becomes, therefore, the voice of the new man, the purely “historical” man, that is, the man who says there is no God and no law which as any power over him except the law of man. It is a denial of any absolute law, any absolute right and wrong, in the name of pure “historicity,” that is, being totally guided by the feelings of the moment and by time.
The State Substitutes Itself for God
The modern state is working towards this requirement; it is seeking to be purely “historical” in this existentialist sense. The modern state is denying Christianity and adopting humanistic law. It is affirming itself as the only true source of law. The modern state denies that there is a God whose law is mandatory for all nations, who must be obeyed lest He bring judgment on the nations. The consequence of modern humanism is that the state substitutes itself for God. As Irving Howard observed in The Christian Alternative to Socialism, “The exaltation of humanity results in the deification of the personification of man’s collective power—government. And so, in our time, the substitution of government for God goes on apace.”
The Death-of-God school is in reality a statist school of thought which could be better termed a War-on-God school, because this is its motive and purpose.
Not only true Christianity but also true law is declining in our world today because the roots of this movement are so basic to our culture. They are humanism in its essence, the substitution of man for God as the sovereign and the lawgiver.
The Basic Fallacy
The basic fallacy of the Death-of-God school is that its wish is father to its thought. It wants God’s death; therefore, He is dead. Unfortunately for them, God is very much alive, and His power undiminished and unchanged. God’s law operates in the world in two basic ways, among others. The first basic operation of God’s law in man’s life and world is as blessing. If God’s law is obeyed, man is blessed. The law then is productive of life to man, because as St. Paul declared, the law “was ordained to life” (Rom. 7:10), and it offers life for the obedient faith, both in time and eternity. We are told that it is God’s requirement that we obey, “that thy days may be prolonged, and it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Deut. 5:16). Moreover, the Scripture declares,
- And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.
- Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.
- Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
- Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.
- Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.
- The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.
- The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
- The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways.
- And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.
- And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
- The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
- And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them:
- And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. (Deut. 28:2-14)
- Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.
- Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
- Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.
- Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out. (Deut. 28:15-19)
God’s Law Operates by Blessings and by Cursing
This, then, is the first major form whereby God’s law is operative in the world, by blessings. The second major form of God’s operative law is cursing. God curses and blights every disobedient person and people and brings them to judgment. According to Scripture, But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Most people fight shy of the idea of a curse, but it is impossible to bless without cursing. To reward righteousness requires punishing evil. And the true God is the God of Scripture, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who blesses and curses. And He shall prevail, “the same yesterday, today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). The real question is not as to whether God is alive or dead, but rather, it concerns ourselves. Where do we stand in terms of His word, law, grace, and calling? Under blessings, or curses?
William Hamilton, “The Death of God Theology,” The Christian Scholar, Spring, 1965, XLVIII.
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