Let’s say that the New Atheists are right: there is nothing “supernatural,” no “miracles,” and certainly no invisible god(s) interfering with the “laws of nature,” as the scientists say. Let’s say that the dead stay dead, no matter what your Sunday School teacher may have told you. Does that spell the death of God?
It certainly spells the death of a powerful God. If we imagine God to be an even-more-powerful Emperor – an odd image for anyone who worships a man crucified by the Empire – then those pesky scientists could certainly force us to abandon our God altogether. If there was a Zeus-like deity on the loose, brimming in supernatural power and overriding nature at will, then surely the scientists would’ve been forced to admit it by now. But alas, they have not. Rest In Peace, Strong God.
But what about a weak God? In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul talks of God’s “weakness,” a kind of powerless power deployed by a Crucified God. What happens if we carry this counter-intuitive notion a bit further than the apostle? To what could we compare a “weak God”?
Imagine (or better, remember) an unarmed black boy gunned down in the streets by law enforcement. On one hand, to state the obvious, the victim is powerless; he is dead after all! What could be less powerful than a dead person?!
But on the other hand, this is a powerful image, a memory capable of inciting protests and riots, of inaugurating the beginning of the end of the police state. A dead black boy, unjustly murdered, has the potential to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Though dead, he cries out to us for justice. You can hear him, can’t you? What could be more powerful than a dead person?!
Note that the dead black boy doesn’t derive his power from anything “supernatural.” His weak power doesn’t disprove the scientists’ axiom that what is dead stays dead. In that sense, there is nothing miraculous at play here.
But who can deny that the black boy’s “resurrection” is a miracle? His death has the potential to change the world as we know it. The boy doesn’t have the power to force anything upon anyone – he is dead, remember? – but who can deny the presence of a peculiar kind of power, a “weak” or even “foolish” power, as Paul might say? To argue whether or not the boy is “real” (in the sense of being a literal, living organism in the world) is to miss the point, to dodge the judgment and opportunity for repentance that he grants us.
Here, I see a path to God through New Atheism. New Atheists (with their very old talking points) kill a Zeus-like deity who controls (or “allows”) nature, the God to blame for genocide and cancer, the God of power. Good riddance! Perhaps now we can pay more attention to the God who warms hearts and threatens well-worn patterns of injustice, who calls to us from dead bodies in the street, whose weak power could re-create everything if (and only if) we would become its body in the world.
Compared to the Emperor-God that New Atheists “disprove,” the God I am advocating is very weak – as weak as a peasant crucified by the Empire! But remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
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+Shoutout to John Caputo’s The Weakness of God, which inspired this post.