The Gay Science: Terrifyingly Accurate Prophecy From 19th Century Atheist

The Gay Science was written in the late 1800s by Friedrich Nietzsche – the man who is credited with first popularizing the phrase “God is dead.” Within the larger work, is the Parable of the Madman. There are many speculative interpretations. Here I will add my own understanding – my comments will be in parentheses within Nietzsche’s story. In short, I believe that Nietzsche prophetically and accurately captured the inevitable fallout from an atheistic worldview. I believe Nietzsche is the madman, whether he knew it or not. The accuracy of his presentation makes it difficult to not conclude that Nietzsche knew what was coming -what has come.

The Madman

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter (notice the crowd is already aggressively atheistic). Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed (as someone who draws much ire from modern atheists, I can’t help but note the accuracy of this mocking presentation – the mob mentality and mockery are precisely what I tend to experience when atheists get ahold of my material and I am certainly not alone. The berating is worse for the untrained Christian).

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The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you.We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers (Here Nietzsche simply acknowledges that, at least within their own minds, God had been reasoned away- killed by their conclusions. He then goes on to describe the absurdity of such a conclusion. In short, how can the creation have the power to wipe away the Creator). But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? (Now the madman begins recognizing the consequences of being unanchored in the Creator. The Bible says that God’s very word sustains creation, holding it together. If God is dead, then creation itself will come unraveled, untethered to its design). What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? (Philosophically, without God, life is meaningless. Nietzsche was honest about this reality. A Godless world is an empty one without cause or purpose). Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? (What a powerful declaration! The murderer of murderers- the one who kills God. But then what? What are we left with? Who can comfort us in our pain and our sin. There is no longer an eternal hope. It died with God. No forgiveness for sins. It died with God. We are left in our own depravity and loneliness a Creatorless creation – an uncreated creation – a Fatherless generation). What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? (Here Nietzsche begins to acknowledge the need for a savior. We are all murderers in our own right. We kill with our anger, with our words, and with our minds, if not with our hands. If God is dead, who can save us? Not one is good. Not one is worthy of the title of savior, save for God Himself. And we have rejected Him, killed Him, thus cutting ourselves off from the provision of salvation). What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (The madman recognizes the self-deism that accompanies atheism). There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.” (It is no wonder that the slogan for the secular humanists is “Good without God” – a philosophical absurdity (read this to understand why you can’t be “Good Without God“). If God is dead, we must deny our own sin, because we are left hopeless, without a savior.)

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(At last, the madman acknowledges the prophetic nature of his message. The atheists, the people have not seen what he has seen. They can’t see it. They cannot recognize why they need God. They can’t see that in killing God, they have doomed themselves.) Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves(Nietzsche leaves no doubt of accountability. It is the atheist who is responsible for what will come, though they cannot see it).

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?” (God is dead to the world, the Church made irrelevant – the final resting place of an old way, which is now rejected by the culture at large. Consequently, though Nietzsche does not make this declaration here, it is the Church, where the world has relegated and buried God to, that provides a final sanctuary from the darkened and Godless world of the atheist.

Final Thoughts

Ironically, Nietzsche went mad himself, just a few years after writing these words. Bedridden he would sign letters “The Crucified One” and at times recite Scriptures that he had learned in his youth. Much like Hosea’s life served as a prophetic presentation of God’s relationship with the harlotry of Israel, Nietzsche’s life represented the insanity that flows from atheism, leads to nihilism, and results in madness. His words were a warning over a century ago – his life an even louder cry. No matter how hard modern atheism works to deny the reality of its worldview – the death of God in the mind of man is the death of man in the mind of God. When we choose to cut ourselves off from God, we reap the harvest of that choice. Nietzsche failed to heed his own warning. My prayer is that you and your loved ones will not make the same mistake.

Where once the madman came to warn the mockers of their murder, the mockers are now the madmen murdering themselves. We have cast off our ethical anchor and are floating freely in a sea of death. Nihilism and atheism go hand-in-hand. The former follows the latter. Any attempt to divorce the two is an act of sophistry not rationality. We live in a world that rejects God. We are untethered to purpose, have no foundation for morality, and no hope of salvation. The Church, viewed as archaic and irrelevant to the murderers of God, is ironically enough the last place to find God, the hope of heaven, and sanctuary from an eternal insanity. 


WHAT DO YOU THINK? Was the madman prophetically predicting the inevitable loss of identity, purpose, and morality that accompanies a Godless worldview? Leave a comment below and share to get your friends in on the conversation.

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*Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887)  125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]

4 Comments
  • Rachel Shields
    Posted at 03:28h, 20 June Reply

    If that doesn’t chill our heart, stop our breath, and motivate us to leave all aside in our efforts to speak the truth to a desolate world, I don’t know what will.
    Great comments, Chris!

    • admin
      Posted at 22:32h, 09 August Reply

      Thanks Rachel!

  • Lydia Fedorov
    Posted at 06:57h, 22 October Reply

    This has moved me so profoundly, I cannot express it in words. I have attended church my whole life but feel an emptiness. I know something is missing. I know I need to set everything in my life aside and put God first, above everything. Your website is such a blessing and comes at a time when I am searching for His purpose in my life. I write this with tears flowing, up since 3:00 a.m. reading your website. May the Lord bless your ministry.

    • admin
      Posted at 10:00h, 25 October Reply

      Wow. Thank you for the kind words Lydia.

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