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Commentary :: Human Rights
How God Comes to the World
24 Dec 2007
God who is not necessary for the world is more than necessary as love. The community of God is a model for human community. Persons and the world interesting in themselves are made more interesting. A world without transcendence and mystery is often static and one-dimensional.

Between Polar Bear and Elephant: On the 70th Birthday of the Theologian Eberhard Jungel

By Richard Schroeder

[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 50/ 2004 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

A theologian, particularly a renowned theologian like Eberhard Jungel, is best appreciated when we ask what he has to say about God. His shortest answer is: God is not necessary because God is more than necessary.

That God is necessary assumes persons convinced a proof of the existence of God is possible and necessary and conversely failure of the proof of God is evidence of God’s dispensability.

In contrast, Jungel claims the proposition God is not necessary as a theological proposition whose truth should be considered, not contested.

The thesis of God’s worldly non-necessity can be understood as a basic attitude of the modern age. When Laplace explained his system of planets to Napoleon and Napoleon asked about God’s place in this system, he replied: Sir, I don’t need this hypothesis to understand worldly things without recourse to God. The famous etsi dues non daretur is in no way inevitably atheistic. When Hugo Grotius insisted natural law was valid even when one assumed – what certainly may not be assumed without the greatest sin – that there cannot be a God or that God does not bother about worldly affairs, he in no way committed this sin himself but rather praised the gift of the law and its peace-making power.

That God is not necessary is a true theological sentence because the human conception of God as a (necessary) supplement to the world is a fundamental misunderstanding. The person and his or her world are interesting for his or her own sake. The God conceived as necessary is not the free God surprising us. This is crucial in the Christian faith. This surprise is called revelation in the Christian faith. God makes persons interesting for their own sake interesting in a new way. This is central in the Christian faith.

“God as the Mystery of the World: On the Theology of the Crucified in the Conflict between Theism and Atheism” (1977) is Jungel’s main work. God is the mystery of the world because God is invisible (no one has ever seen God, Joh 1,18) and reveals his identity by coming to the world.

Jungel was occupied with imagining God in his dissertation “Paul and Jesus” (1967). The historical-critical research of the New Testament emphasized the difference between Jesus of Nazareth who had proclaimed the coming of God’s reign and was executed and Paul who preached Jesus’ death as God’s reconciling act and justification of the sinner. An unbridgeable discontinuity seemed to stand at the beginning of Christianity. The proclaiming Jesus became the proclaimed Christ. In this study on the question about the origin of Christology, Jungel compared the Pauline doctrine of justification and Jesus’ proclamation as two language events that agree in announcing the eschatological (final) love and affection to humanity. After studying with the Bultmann students Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling, he proposed in his second book “God’s Being is in Becoming” (1965) a bridge to Karl Barth’s theology by surprisingly interpreting Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity as a contribution to the hermeneutical discussions of the Bultmann school that only encountered each other after common beginnings in dialectical theology as a polar bear encounters an elephant.

With Paul, Jungel understands human acts corresponding to God’s love and affection as faith, love and hope. We do not have ourselves which is not a deficiency. This is expressed in both human acts and God’s love. In faith, the experience of not having oneself is an anthropological kindness. Letting oneself go is the liberating experience of God as the mystery of the world. The Bible calls sin the refusal to let go.

Only forgiveness enables one to know this.

The Christian faith is not an instrument for world explanation or a condition of the possibility of experience and therefore is not necessary but is an experience with experience, namely in light of God’s love. This makes conscious persons out of possessors. Liberated persons understand their liberation as becoming – having nothing and possessing all things – namely in the diversity of God rich in relations who neither forces nor seduces by devious means. God is love, not necessary but more than necessary; persons liberated by love become ever more human. The book ends with these sentences. Eberhard Jungel was 70 on December 5.
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