“We must become the prayer”: an anonymous missive on the pastoral task after the death of God

Note from the editor: You may recall, gentle readers, a previous anonymous missive published here at DET. The full title of that post was “‘Jesus was a failure: an anonymous missive on the possibility of faith in the modern world.” That same anonymous author has once again been in touch to submit a second missive, which you will find below. It is a powerful re-conception of pastoral work after the death of God. Consequently, we have once again decided to publish the piece in accordance with the author’s wishes. – WTM

There is only one Messiah who redeems us from the irony, the travail, and the
limitations of human existence. Surely he will come. He is the Angel of Death.
Death is the true Messiah and the land of the dead the place of God's true
Kingdom. Only in death are we redeemed from the vicissitudes of human existence...Only
death perfects life and ends its problems.
- Rabbi Dr. Richard Rubenstein

Public Domain,
via Wikimedia Commons

We're all alone. There's no one up there listening to the prayers we utter. There's no one guiding history to a final and ultimate telos. The mythical construct in the sky we lift our hands to in the middle of a particularly moving church service will never come in glory to fix this broken world. He may have somehow been meaningful for the Israelites when they were enslaved in Egypt, but this god stopped being relevant the second he turned a deaf ear to the cries of the Jews in Germany's death camps.

Legend has it that, on a cell wall in one of these camps, an inmate had scribbled the words, "If there's a god, he will have to beg my forgiveness." I don't know if this is historically accurate or not, but it's nonetheless true. If there's a personal, relational deity, he will be subject to the judgement of all those who died with the unanswered question on their lips, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" These cries find an echo in today's refugees. Ships full of bodies, huddled masses, adrift in strange waters; people without a place to rest their heads because of the "first-world's" greed. These agonized voices either evaporated into the air or were ignored by the deity in heaven.

But this deity doesn't exist -- not anymore, anyway. We live, as the above-mentioned rabbi would say, in a "silent, unfeeling cosmos." God isn't a being with whom we can have a relationship, even if we wanted to. God is the power we have to create meaning in this meaninglessness, that which helps us come to terms with the annihilation of our consciousness and turn our attention to our neighbors, to the poor and the oppressed. Praying to this god is futile from the very beginning.

The problem is that the people I counsel and preach to expect me to also ascend the mountain and tabernacle with the divine on their behalf. And though it's not something I can continue to affirm and believe in, it's not something I could denounce to my congregation. For the people I shepherd, coming to church and sharing struggles and joys with their peers is something, if not the only thing, that orders their lives and gives them meaning. Far be it from me to be the one who takes that away. Standing in a pulpit, offering up prayers to a god I no longer believe in, became an act of love, albeit a painful one. Jesus tells us to take up our crosses, but what good are they if we don't crucify ourselves on them?

Dying to my own ego and narcissism is what enables me to love the people who have been entrusted to me. Isn't that what Jesus wanted to teach us anyway? When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, saying "thy kingdom come, thy will be done," they assumed they were making the world a better place by petitioning the deity for the establishment of a supernatural kingdom on earth. If we dispose of the deity, there's only one option left to us: we must become the prayer. And not like those modern-day Pharisees who loudly heap up money before the whole world in order to justify their oppressive acts. No -- we are to withdraw into anonymity and serve the world without the want of recognition and glory. We are to preach the gospel with our lives and slip quietly back into the nothingness from whence we came. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, died so that we may live this kingdom cry. Our submission is his victory and his reign.


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