Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 7)

Significance for Christian Practice
Nietzsche is certainly good at reminding us that if God does not break into human experience then we are hopelessly lost. Nietzsche shows us what the antithesis of Christianity looks like. Nietzsche is correct, if God is dead, “if atheism is true, there is no moral accountability for one’s actions… If life ends at the grave, it makes no difference whether one lives as Stalin or as a saint.”[1]

Apologists need to show people the world as it is, and existentialists like Nietzsche can do a good job at shaking us awake to the realities of our broken world. Ironically, understanding Nietzsche could help people become “poor in spirit,” a prerequisite to the Kingdom of heaven. Through, the dark and dooming picture that Nietzsche paints we can see our existential need for God. Thus, understanding Nietzsche’s philosophy can actually be helpful for Christians.

Nietzsche and the existentialists are right that we cannot (currently) have the harmonious world that we all desire.[2] However, Nietzsche and his heirs cannot account for humanities intense desire (Sehnsucht) for harmony and peace (shalom). How and why do we (at times) experience and enjoy things that are profoundly joyous?[3] Why do we have the desire to expand those experiences when they are meaningless? So, we see that Nietzsche cannot account for the laws of nature, meaning, and our innate longing (Sehnsucht). However, the Christian faith can.

If there were more space it would also be helpful to explore how studying Nietzsche can help us confront the “new atheism.”[4] For example, though it makes no sense, modern man, even with his rejection of truth, prizes acts of kindness (at least in theory) and will jump up in judgment if a Christian does something that they deem wrong (although, “wrong” does not exist). Actually, there are many other things we could look at.[5]

The Apostle Paul basically says that if Christ has not been raised then let us do whatever we find to do, let us “will to power.” If God does not exist or is not known then we as individuals are alone and decide and make our own way (whether “eating or drinking” [1 Cor. 15:32] or whatever). However, if it is true that Christ has been raised from the dead, then we are to labor heartedly unto the Lord (v. 58). Again, ideas and beliefs have big consequences.

Through a reading of Nietzsche we can see that apart from God we have no solid footing; our morality is as shifting as sinking sand. Apart from the solid foundation of a God who speaks, our morality sinks into the dangerous bog of subjectivism. However, thankfully, the truth is, Nietzsche is dead; God is alive and well.


[1] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 493.

[2] “Christianity refuses to say that you can be hopeful if you are basing your hope on evidence of change for the better in mankind” (Francis A. Schaeffer, Trilogy [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990], 46).

[3] Actually, “In his Untimely Meditations, for example, Nietzsche, too, traced philosophy and religion to a ‘metaphysical need’ as its undeniable motivation, but he changed his view later on” (Salaquarda, “Nietzsche and the Judaeo-Christian tradition,” 98).

[4] Morality, regardless of if some people think it is true that it benefits society or not, what if I do not care about society, what if I just care about myself and fulfilling whatever sick desire it is that I have? How can you say that is truly morally wrong (what is truth anyway and what should I care of society?!)? Or if by some “blessed mistake” we evolved and have morality, are not we free to “evolve” past it, and do whatever our inner urges prompt us to do? That is the direction Nietzsche went, and though I think he was wrong, I think he was honest at this point. I think the new atheists put a lot of spin on what they say. Yes, it is true that people may not need God to be good, they do need God if they want other people to be good. If there is no God then it is just your word against mine, and what if I am bigger and stronger, and what if I disagree with you? You may not want me to take your car, your girlfriend, and do whatever I want but, in the final analysis, if that’s what I choose to do and I can get away with it, then there is nothing really wrong with it. Nietzsche shows us that the old adage, “It’s fine, just as long no one get’s hurt” is wrong if God is dead. If God is dead, then it is fine even if someone gets hurt. The morality that rules the apes is essentially what rules us if God is dead, the most powerful enforce the rules (sometimes the apes might rise up together and kill an especially abusive ape but even then another ape will rise up and enforce his subjective will). So, if we say that morality is subjective and absolutely at the will of the powers that be, then yes we all have morality. But, if that is all the morality we have then our morality is ever shifting and under that system we could have pedophiliacs enforce their brand of morality and there would be nothing wrong with it. If there is no God and thus no transcultural transtemporal morality then truly all things are permitted. No matter how moral the new atheists are, they have no grounds, except their subjective (and judgmental) judgment to think something is wrong (including parents teaching their kids about miracles; why prize “science” or “advancement” or whatever?).

[5] It would be interesting to look at how “Will to power” is the opposite of the Christian ethic. Jesus Himself humbled Himself and His “will” in submission to His Father’s will.

See also eternal recurrence. Whether or not Nietzsche held to a literal eternal recurrence I am not sure; however, living as though it were literally true would make sense if his philosophy of no God and no morality were true. It would be akin to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, then let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” Or, Paul could have said, “If God is dead then let’s live as though this day will reoccur over and over again. Let’s care nothing for morality, let’s enjoy whatever pleasures we find to enjoy.”

Christians also have reason to seize the day, to live with vigor and passion, but it is based on the decisiveness of this life. Christ rose from the dead in space and time, as many historical accounts attest to, contra Nietzsche, and this changes everything. It means that the Kingdom is an upside down Kingdom, it means the meek, not the mighty, shall inherit the earth. It means Nietzsche’s thoughts on slave morality were wrong.

Christians are right to not just live for this life because this life is not all there is; as we all seem to sense (cite various writings and the idea of Sehnsucht).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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