Where you take a deep, under the hood look at why the doctrine of God’s self-existence is as practical as the latest surgical technique.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
Those words were written by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book The Gay Science over 100 years ago.
Many believe Nietzsche and those words heralded in secular atheism.
In the 1960s this atheism peaked in the “death of God” movement…a movement that quickly blossomed in pulpits and the press…but sunk just as fast.
The scope of this movement can be judged from its four best-known advocates: Altizer, van Buren, Hamilton and Vahanian.
A Short but Sensational History of the Death of God
In a 1966 Time article called Toward a Hidden God, Emory professor Thomas J. J. Altizer said, “the transcendent God of the Bible had died when he became Jesus, whose incarnation made God man for all time.”
By contrast, Paul van Buren, who fought the God-is-dead theologian label despite his book The Secular Meaning of the Gospels and article “Christian Education Post Mortem Dei,” gloomily conlcuded that any talk of God is worthless. Language that could not be empirically proved, through the five senses, was meaningless.
In an essay called “Thursday’s Child,” theologian William Hamilton argued that after the death of God, all we have left is love.
While Altizier, Van Buren and Hamilton proclaimed the death of God with emotion, sociologist of religion Gabriel Vahanian calmly explained why God’s death was even necessary: our idea about God is the product of primitive Christianity’s encounter with Greek philosophy.
Many critics complained that this movement did nothing more than reduce Christianity to just another kind of Jesus-inspired humanism. Next to Barth’s 14-volume Church Dogmatics, the theology was really thin stuff. And because of it’s shock value, it died off quick.
Yet the question remains: Did God really die?
The Single Attribute That Separates God from All Other Beings
The short answer is no, God did not die. On the other end of the stick, we have this: God was not born.
The fact is, no one made God. He’s always been. He’s always existed. He simply is. This is the essence of God’s self-existence: he was never born, will never die and will always exist.
To say that God is self-existent is to say He has “aseity.” He is “from himself.”
Classical theologians refer to aseity as the thing about God that makes him God. Aseity separates him from other beings. He is the Supreme being. We are the human beings.
You and I can suffocate to death. Starve to death. Drown to death. You and I can catch the bird flu and die. We can suffer from a stroke, cancer or mental illness. But God cannot. He will neither die nor decompose.
Self-Existence Means Perfection and Power
The Catholic Encyclopedia frames aseity this way: “The nearest approach we can make to a definition is to call Him the Actus Purus. It is the name God gives to Himself: ‘I am who I am”, i.e., I am the fullness of being and of perfection.”
In other words, He is the being who is “from himself.” The being who cannot die, but simply exists. Augustine said, “Not only has God his own essence…but he is also his own existence.”
“His presence in the world,” says John Frame in the article Divine Aseity, “is an implication of his universal power and authority. Wherever we go, we cannot escape from him. God’s presence is inescapable, unavoidable, and therefore not dependent on the will of creatures.”
Why God Is Necessary for Man’s Existence
Furthermore, we get our life from God. We are dependent on his existence. We are dependent on his life. We are contingent beings. He is a necessary being.
A necessary being is a being on which the ground of all other beings exist but needs no other ground for his own being.
Charles Hodges said, “The first argument to prove that the world as a whole is not self-existent and eternal, is that all its parts, everything that enters into composition, is dependent and mutable.”
God is independent and immutable. He is changeless.
And He is necessary because we are contingent. We depend upon something else to survive. Speaking to the men of Athens Paul said in Acts, “He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else…. For in him we live and move and have our being.”
In other words, if we exist, something like God has to exist.
The Unthinkable Thing about God
Some argue that the universe is eternal. However, the universe cannot be eternal since it is running down. It is mutable: Snow melts. Mountains shift. Stars explode. Everything is subject to change and disorder.
God, however, is eternal and changeless. He is the being that has power in himself.
John Calvin in his Institutes said “From the power of God we are naturally led to consider his eternity, since that from which all other things derive their origin must necessarily be self-existent and eternal.”
He is the being that cannot not exist. He exists independently of humans, time and matter.
Physicists tell us the universe is made up of time and matter. Who made the universe? God made the universe. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
He made the universe because he is outside and independent of the universe. Psalms 90:2 says “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
And if God made the universe, he existed before the universe.
But Who Created God?
Like an inquisitive 3-year old, the skeptics favorite question to the cosmological argument is, “So who created God?”
The answer can’t be God created himself. Nothing can create something. For something to create itself would be that it would have to exist before it existed. And that is absurd.
God is the uncaused Cause of all else that exists. He exists pure and simple. Novation said “God has no origin.”
But we have origin, which makes it necessary for something out there to not have origin. Namely, the First Cause.
Why We Must Think about God’s Self-Existence
Thoughts about God means thoughts about a being without a beginning or an end. Thoughts about humans means thoughts about beings with definite beginnings and definite endings.
It’s hard to think about God.
We prefer to think about how to build a 40 foot slip for our 40 foot boat. Or how to pay to have our noses sculpted.
However, thinking about the self existence of God, as A. W. Tozer pointed out in Knowledge of the Holy, is essential, “because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”
That means we will never know anything about ourselves until we understand something about God.
For this reason the self-existence of God is not a, “dry wisp of doctrine, academic and remote; it is in fact as near our breath and as practical as the latest surgical technique.”
Meditating on this humbles us. Our own inadequacy, smallness and sinfulness emerges as we contemplate God’s greatness and glory. And in the end, all the problems we have would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God.
Christianity Hangs on God’s Self-Existence
In fact, Christianity pivots on the thought that God is everything and man is nothing. That is why man has always struggled throughout the centuries with Christianity.
God gave us moral choice. And one of our first exercises of that moral choice was to deny God and assert ourselves. But the assertion of self over God and the suppression of the knowledge of God is rebellion and sin.
Christianity is, therefore, the story of God redeeming a rebellious people. And it rolls back to God being our self-existent Creator.
To speak of God dying, absent or non-existent is to speak of a monastic religion…a religion obsessed with humankind, injustice and self. A decomposing and dying self.
Back to Nietzsche
On January 3, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown. Seeing a horse whipped, he ran to the animal, threw his arms around its neck, then collapsed to the ground.
From there it was all down hill–asylum and all–until late August 1900 when he suffered and died from his third and final stroke.
It is dreadful when we assert another man’s ideas over God. When we do, we find ourselves relying on a broken, narrow and wicked mind. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that that level of anxiety, depression and suicide is steadily rising in our nation.
The history of man in every civilisation is the steady decline of man. He’s always rebelled against God, denied His existence, and even outright tried to kill him…which is nothing more than suicidal.
That’s why we need the security that comes with knowing God, and what He is like. Seek him then, and be at peace.
**Part of The Nature of God series.**