Monday, September 11, 2006

God and the Crucified

"European Christianity hsa considered itself capable of thinking of God in his being as God without thinking of him simultaneously as the Crucified... the perfection of God required by the law of metaphysics forbade imagining God as suffering or even thinking of him together with one who was dead. This prohibition and its alleged reason are seen, however, from the perspective of the word of the cross, to be the basic aporia into which European theology has blundered" (GMW, 39).

This may be one of Jüngel's most crucial insights (pun intended!), but he gets it from the Lutheran tradition, so he can't claim it as coming to him ex nihilo. He also rightly qualifies the social and continental location of theology he is criticizing, not necessarily because the criticism can't be levied against theologies in other places, but because he is mostly in dialogue with the European theological tradition.

He goes on to state that "faith in the crucified One as true God and the theological consequences of this faith do not merge easily and without difficulty." You can say that again. This is a constant challenge, danger, aporia. Nevertheless, naming the aporia goes a long way towards addressing the issue. At least the lack is now known. It has been diagnosed.

Thinking God together with the crucified is what leads Jüngel to understand God as not simply "necessary" (the traditional metaphysical understanding of God in relation to the world), but rather as "more than necessary". This is a metaphysical way of saying what can be said more precisely and yet less clearly as "God is not God without humanity." Or at least God does not desire to come to Godself without humanity. If this saying confuses you, then see, you've already started not thinking of God together with the crucified, because isn't the crucified human?

5 comments:

D.W. Congdon said...

I agree with you up until you state that "God is not God without humanity." I do not think Jüngel would agree with this, nor would Barth. The reason is that this creates a necessary relation between God and creation, and as Jüngel asserts repeatedly, the relation between God and humanity is one of freedom, not necessity. God freely chose to create the world, to reveal Godself in Jesus, to establish us as new creatures in our justification, etc. God taking the form of humanity in Jesus Christ is also a free decision. Without this decision, God would still be God. The incarnation of Christ was an act of sheer grace. Now in light of that we must indeed understand who God truly is out of the "humanity of God," but we must always realize that this is a free, not necessary, act of God.

Clint said...

I may not have stated this well enough, but I'd argue that you have misunderstood what Jüngel means by "more than necessary." It may be free, but what exactly does your hypothetical thesis entail other than a return to a metaphysical abstraction, God could have freely chosen not to create humanity, but didn't. That isn't the God we know in Christ. The God we know in Christ we do not know apart from Christ.

Freedom is a peculiar kind of freedom in God's divine economy, and not unrelated to this, but I sense your comment as a pulling back from the radical critique Jüngel is levying at European theology (including Barth).

Thomas Adams said...

In my estimation, Jüngel's assertion that "God is more than necessary" does not mean that "God is not God without humanity." Instead, it's another way of formulating Jungel’s three-part thesis that:

(a) Man and his world are interesting for their own sake.
(b) Even more so, God is interesting for his own sake,
(c) God makes man, who is interesting for his own sake, interesting in a new way.

That God is “more than necessary” implies man can live in the world “as if there were nor God.” But this is only possible because “God has created man as the one elected for love,” as thus “man is what he is for his own sake. For one is loved only for his own sake or not at all. In this regard the difference between God and man is in the fact that God can create what then as something created is loved by its creator for its own sake, whereas man, although his love is creative in a certain sense, does not first create what he loves. If then man is the one elected for love, he is what he is in a relationship to God which is determined by freedom. This relationship could only be diminished by any talk of the necessity of God for man.”

To say that "God is not God without humanity" is to reintroduce necessity on the part of God. There is no doubt that God has elected humanity, but precisely because this was done out of love, there can be no talk of necessity.

If it’s any help, I wrote a post about this topic last March. You can find it in my archives.

D.W. Congdon said...

Clint,

I think there are a couple ways to ammend your statement so that it coheres with Jüngel's theology.

(1) "God cannot be thought outside of God's coming to humanity." Here we connect theological ontology to theological epistemology. God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ means that our knowledge of God is dependent upon and focused in the particular, concrete event of the cross. We cannot think about God apart from this divine event in which God identified Godself with a human person.

(2) "God chooses to be God with humanity as a human person." Here is how I would reformulate your original statement to correspond with Jüngel's theological ontology in God as the Mystery of the World. Jüngel makes the bold claim that God's being is in coming, a statement that goes beyond his explication of Barth's ontology of being-in-becoming. To say that God's being is in coming is to state that God goes from God, as God, and returns to God; this means that God's economic activity in relation to humanity and the world is somehow constitutive of God's own being. This is a rather radical claim, and here I would question some of the potential conclusions Jüngel opens up.

But one thing I know for sure is that God's being-in-coming is entirely out of God's free love and is not necessary in any way. God is "more than necessary"; God is entirely self-determining. The coming of God is God's free decision for the sake of humanity. Jüngel would not support the ideas of process theology, which make God's involvement in space and time one of necessity. Such thinkers make God's own being necessarily wrapped in God's activity in the world, such that God is dependent upon the creaturely realm. Jüngel extricates himself from all process thought by insisting on God's independence and freedom, but we must always remember that we are not speaking of an abstract freedom-from but always the concrete and relational freedom-for.

In this regard, I think your concern is right. You may or may not be aware of the Molnar-McCormack debate over "grace and being," but I think you and I both stand with McCormack, who insists on understanding the freedom of God as freedom-for creation, election, salvation, etc. Molnar wishes to stress the immanent Trinity apart from the economic reality of God's involvement with humanity, and thus he tends toward an abstract freedom-from in which God could have chosen otherwise than to create, elect, etc. But in following McCormack (who follows Jüngel), I also insist, as they do, that God is never dependent upon those with whom God interacts. God is always and entirely God apart from creation. Freedom-for is still freedom, and not some necessity in which God cannot be God apart from humanity.

Clint said...

I'm not thinking so much of process thought (actually, I never think of process thought), as I am of the communicatio idiomatum, and the way Christ radicalizes the how we think of God. I will continue to ponder what you've written here (great reflections), but somehow I think they are arguing from ontology more than Trinity.