In the 60s of the previous century God was declared dead by theologians like John Robinson. They did so following Nietzsche and in the wake of the Second World War and the successful secularization of our Western civilization. God is no longer. God is absent. The empty space that needs to filling. While one could wonder why such a statement would be made by theologians, it makes sense that those with at least the pretense of professional knowledge about the great Absentee would be the first to speak out. Yet one wonders why they would proceed to undo their own livelihood. The need for job security should have kept them from declaring the undeclarable.
God as the great Absence. This meant a tremendous break with the past. Christian theology has always emphasized that God not only exists, but is present. Without God there would be no world to exist. God has not only created the world, but is the world’s sustainer. In this sustaining, God is present. God is omnipresent. This means that there is no place where God is not. The entire universe is permeated by his presence. This is what Christian theology has always asserted. This present God has made himself known in a most intimate and loving way in the person of the man Jesus Christ. He lived a human life in a human body. His hands had a healing touch and his words were the nourishment or a starving humanity. In Christ, God is with us. This is what Christian have always believed.
This is all great, but didn’t those who questioned God since WWII have a point? What can one say about God and humanity in the shadow of the human flesh devouring murder machines of the nazi regime? God did not stop the killing of six million Jews. What does divine providence mean here? The secularization of our Western culture has, in part because of the tremendous technological progress of the last 200 years, left little room for the idea of God. God belongs to religious discourse, something different and separated from the public and political realm. The religious belongs to the realm of the speculative, the emotive, the inward, the unreasonable, the mythical and unscientific aspects of human existence. There is no room for a public faith that joins hands in the effort to build the world of tomorrow. Without God all seems well. There is no need for theological departments. Theologians find themselves without subject matter for their theologizing.
Is theology still possible at the eve of God’s extinction? Do theologians compose psalms of lament after God’s demise and departure? Or is there fervor and excitement about new possibilities in a godless world?
A lot has happened since the 60s. The idea of human progress has made way for a sober realization that God’s death has unleashed a darkness for which the Holocaust might only serve, if anything, as grim evidence. The idea of and belief in God has proven rather resilient. It’s apparently not just the gullible and crazy that continue to believe in God. Scores of theologians and philosophers have pointed out the philosophical priority and existential necessity of God. Postmodern thinkers have for their part deconstructed the ability to prove or go beyond God.
Whatever the answer might be, the immense sufferings of millions in the 20th century shows that the old positivistic propositional statements about God’s whereabouts no longer suffice. Where is God? has become an important theological locus for today’s humanity. Thrown back at its own muteness and God’s silence, we must rethink the presence of God.