Monday, May 29, 2006

A Series on Gottes Sein ist im Werden

Thanks to a suggestion by Kevin Hector, I plan on taking the readers of this blog through Eberhard Jüngel's best theological work, God's Being Is in Becoming. I say "best" because this is his most well-written, compact, and profound piece of dogmatic theology. God as the Mystery of the World is a work of genius and full of deep insights, but it is also long and disjointed at times. God's Being Is in Becoming also elaborates upon the central features of Barth's theology in a way that remains perennially important for theology to (re-)consider--perhaps now more than ever. His central thesis is that God's being "in-and-for-himself" is God "for us." To begin this series, I will quote from his 1964 foreward to the first edition.

Forward to the First Edition

The title of this book may be off-putting. However, I ask you to read it carefully. It is not a matter of the ‘God who becomes’. God's being is not identified with God’s becoming; rather, God’s being is ontologically located.

The rather unusual title may at least claim to have the advantage that it does not try to grasp God’s being from what is familiar. At the same time it draws attention to the fact that much that is familiar should be grasped in a new way – above all, what is meant by 'becoming'. Naturally – or better: in the understanding of faith – the becoming in which God’s being is cannot mean either an augmentation or a diminution of God’s being. Evaluative categories like augmentation and diminution are in any case best to be kept away from the concept of being, if we are not once again to be required to think of God as the summum ens and thus as supreme value. But the God whose being is in becoming can die as a human being! ‘Becoming’ thus indicates the manner in which God’s being exists, and in this respect can be understood as the ontological place of the being of God. …

Theologically, what we call ‘becoming’ should be understood in its fundamental ontology as a trinitarian category. According to this, God does not leave his present behind him as a past in order to proceed towards a future which is strange to him; rather, in his trinitarian livingness he is ‘undividedly the beginning, succession and end, all at once in His own essence’. And so the title of this book tries to indicate what might be called the axiom of the Christian doctrine of God. (xxv-xxvi)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Might I ask an honest question - is Jüngel a great thinker yet a poor writer? Or is it that he is so intelligent (or even, lets say, creative and new) that he's difficult to understand?

Solly said...

He's German, Nuf sed.

D.W. Congdon said...

Jüngel is not a poor writer by any means. I find his writing incredibly provocative and stimulating. Of course, he is an even greater thinker, but the two are not mutually exclusive in his case. He is difficult to understand because of the density of his prose, his use of philosophical and theological concepts, and specifically his use of language adopted from Hegel and Heidegger -- two of the most difficult writers ever to walk God's good earth.

I would say he is definitely creative, but by no means "new." There are definitely new elements, such as the "analogy of advent," but these are borne out of careful considerations of past concepts from Barth and other thinkers -- in this case, the analogia fidei.

If you find particular aspects difficult to understand, please post your question as a comment in my "Questions about Jüngel" post. I will try to answer them as best I can, though I am no expert and can only profess to have a beginner's understanding of Jüngel's theology.

Shane said...

"If we are not once again to be required to think of God as the summum ens and thus as supreme value."

Does this statement imply that God is not the highest being or value? If he isn't, I would certainly like to know what is higher.

"The becoming in which God’s being is cannot mean either an augmentation or a diminution of God’s being. . . God does not leave his present behind him as a past in order to proceed towards a future which is strange to him; rather, in his trinitarian livingness he is ‘undividedly the beginning, succession and end, all at once in His own essence’."

Becoming means coming-to-be something. Becoming implies either and accidental or a substantial change. For example, I am standing, then when I sit down, I come to be seated. I change one of my accidents, namely posture. Substantial change is more serious, for me to die means that, finite & contingent thing I am, I cease to be. I go out of being, I no longer exist, I cease becoming.

If God is "'undivididely in the beginning, succession and end, all at once" (which he is), then how can there be possibility of becoming in him? If God is outside of time, experiencing it as an eternal instantaneous moment ("all at once"), then within the temporal realm which we inhabit it can seem that God 'changes' (takes on flesh, becomes wrathful, changes his mind), but that this isn't really what is happening to God in himself. As far as i understand it, the scholastics were simply following the Fathers in this line of thinking.

When you claim that there is becoming in God, I worry that what you are claiming is that the limited human temporal perspective exhausts the content of God's existence in himself. It seems to me that this leads to enormous theological problems. If God in himself and in totality goes out of being, then God is finite, contingent, mutable, i.e. just another immanent entity. This isn't what you are saying is it? Let's make the question simpler, does God the Father also 'die' in the death of Jesus? If the answer is yes, then who raised Jesus from the dead? (I think the Scriptures will also force you to say that it is the father who raises the son, cf. Acts 3.15; 4.10; 1 Thes. 1.10) If you answer that the father does not die in the incarnation, then is there not something of God which does not enter into immanence in the incarnation?

I am not sure how to give a greater christological precision to the death of Christ. Since i am stepping way outside my field of expertise, I will bow to the superior judgment of the theologians here but I have an idea.

Perhaps since Christ is one person in two hypostases it is possible to say that Christ truly dies insofar as his person is dissolved in the destruction of the human hypostasis. The divine hypostasis, being divine, does not die, but is radically incomplete during the three days in the tomb. God the Father resurrects Christ by regenerating his human hypostasis and reuniting the divine hypostasis to it. In this way, God experiences the loss of death without dying himself. Such as loss does introduce suffering into the Godhead, by means of the communication of the two hypostases in Christ. However, this is not strictly speaking a 'change' for God in himself, since he exists in eternity, "all at once." Thus, self-appropriated pain, loss, division and death are experienced in the Godhead eternally, i.e. without the Godhead ever going out of being. (If the Godhead goes out of being, at the very least you can say that it isn't eternal)

Ben Myers said...

I agree -- I reckon Gottes Sein is his best and most profound book. My own first encounter with this book was quite revolutionary (even though at the time I didn't understand most of it!).

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