After Easter: Jesus As the End of God
The death of Jesus Christ has been an occasion for theologians and philosophers to speculate about the end of God. With Jesus’ death on the cross, God died and this is the end of God’s story. Jesus is the end of God. But then there is Easter. It is part of the narrative of Jesus Christ and as such cannot be ignored. Resurrection belongs to this narrative. Death of God theologians have trouble integrating this into their theologies.
However, even on the basis of the resurrection we ought to conclude that Jesus signals and acts out God’s end. Here is how this works. In this short piece, I will first side with the theologians and philosophers who have concluded that religion has ran its course and that after its demise, can only signal God’s end. Then, I will argue, that when we abandon self-constructed God-talk we open ourselves to understand the true meaning of God’s end. In Jesus, we find the true meaning of this end.
Well, we have come to the end of God, or better: we need to come to the end of God. If all we have is talk about God, belief—inert belief, that is—in God, analyzing of God, we may think we are in touch with God. But we aren’t. If it is true that we need to talk right about God—which I believe to be necessary—we can only come the end of God. Only God’s end will be the start of a new understanding of who God is and what God’s ends are. The end of God means three important things.
A God in Our Image
In the first place we cease our incessant talk about God. Who God is, where God is, why God made the world, why God allowed for evil, and doesn’t interfere, etc. Simply put: we stop talking about God. This is the end of God. The end of our God-talk, our constructs, our indubitable proofs of God, our letting God be in the space that we create for God with our language and our interpretations. The end of God is the end of gods in our image. The God of our constructive power will have to cease. The God of the Christ has to begin.
While believing we have God at our disposal through our imaginary tools of modernist precision (historical exegesis, linear interpretation, and talk about ‘what the Bible teaches’), we have actually taken God’s freedom away and come to a human understanding of what exactly God is allowed to think, say, or do. We have done so with the best of intentions, but God has been muffled. What we have claimed to be the defense of God against the bulwark of secularization and liberal thought has often only contributed to the end of God as much as the actions of those who would like to deny God’s existence. This end of God must be undone by the ending of this God of our construct and imagination.
At Our Wits End
Or perhaps we could and should rather say that only when we have come to the end of ourselves we are open to God’s end. Abandoning our own constructs of God is not something that happens easily and automatically. It’s not merely an intellectual insight. Rather, we need to hit the wall of our own finitude and run aground in our own self-sufficiency. Our constructs of God do not live up to reality and ultimately leave us bereft of security and comfort.
This is very painful and frightening. But it must happen. When our hands are empty and the world is lost on us and we to the world; when our life comes to a grinding halt and we have no power to go on; when the God we call on remains silent, then we have come to our end. And so we say: this is where it ends. But it is also where it begins.
Jesus as the End of God
When we consider who God is, we say that God is the one who has shown Godself in the person of Jesus. God has come to us in a human body, the body of the man Jesus Christ. All that we can know or say about God we learn by looking at Jesus the Christ. The biblical narrative that preceded Jesus is one prelude to the incarnation and what has come after it, is its outworking all the way to its ultimate fulfillment. All God-talk about who, what, and where God is, becomes mute in view of Jesus.
All ontological investigations into God and all epistemological endeavors to get at God come to a halt in the light of Jesus’ presence. Jesus is all we need to know about God. We look at Jesus and see how he loves, heals, cares, provides. He gives his body for the other. He gives and loses his life. His human bodily life. This is the end of God in the body of Jesus. The end of God in Jesus Christ is our end. He died that we might live and give our lives for the other. God’s end is our end. How can we not go that path Jesus went? Our only speaking of God can be about how this God of Jesus can be made manifest through us.
Making Ends Meet
The only theology that we may speak of, therefore, is one that speaks ethically. Only where God’s ends and our end meet is speech about God justified. This end is in this world. For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son. Jesus came in a human body into our creaturely existence in order to redeem, heal, reconcile, renew.
“Embodiment is the end of God’s path.” This was one of Bonhoeffer’s favorite quotes. It summarized the journey of his own theology from the centrality of God’s presence in Jesus Christ to an affirmation of this world for which Christ has come. This world, our creaturely reality, lives in the hope that it will be renewed. In Christ God says Yes to the world, to our bodies, to our creaturely reality. Behold the face of Jesus. The face of one coming to renew the world and usher in the end of God.
Jesus is the end of God. And so are we!
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