Jungel – God as the Mystery of the World (Part II)

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Eberhard Jüngel’s God as the Mystery of the World is a remarkable book, ranging impressively from constructive appropriations of the theologies of Hegel and Bonhoeffer, particularly their understanding of the incarnation, to theological evaluations of atheism in Nietzsche, Fichte, and Feuerbach, and to masterly and original theological insights on the analogous talk of God (which he carries out adroitly in conversation with Barth), all while trying to avoid a simplistic dichotomy between theism and atheism. Perhaps the only real weakness in the book is that it’s missing a discussion with, or even mention of, Altizer, given that so much of its contents centre around discussing the meaning of the death of God. Jungel also represents one the finest example of constructively building of Bonhoeffer’s theology in the Barthian tradition, which seems to some degree to have ignored some of Bonhoeffer’s more radical insights (although I realize there are somewhat different schools of thought regarding how one should interpret Bonhoeffer’s corpus, particularly his famous Letters).

Although this is becoming something of a platitude in prefaces to my posts, I would like to note that this book is peculiarly difficult to summarize, although, to be fair, this is probably due as much to my poor skills of summarization as it does with Jüngel’s distaste for succinctness. As an example of Jüngel’s work, I want to isolate a small section where he discusses Nietzsche and Paul together on his chapter of the unity of perishability and God.

Jüngel speaks of this antithesis between the metaphysical conception of God, which cannot think God as anything other than totally apathetic and immutable and cannot, consequently, think of God as crucified. Paul’s understanding of God, Nietzsche astutely realized, was not a continuation or a mere revision of the God concept understood thusly. It was its complete negation, deus, qualem Paulis, creavit, dei negation (205).  The “God” who Paul creates as the crucified one, the God who is the sole source of discussion in the apostolic literature, is a God who confounds the wisdom of the world. As Jungel writes, “For Paul, the Crucified One is weak, subject to death” (206).  This thinking of God as weak – of linking perishability with God – was not a source of sorrow for Paul. On the contrary, this is the centre of the gospel, the source of joy and rejoicing. Jungel notes that, for Paul, there is one phenomenon that does not see a contradiction between power and weakness: love. (One could, consequently, read God as the Mystery of the World as a commentary on the statement “Deus caritas est” from John’s Epistle). “It is the unity of power and weakness, and such is certainly the most radical opposite of the will to power which cannot affirm weakness. Pauline ‘theology of the cross’ (theologia crucis) is, accordingly, the most stringent rejection of all deification of self-willing power” (206). For Nietzsche, even if this God was true he could not believe in him (ibid).

This robust logic understanding of the incarnation, the logic of which Jüngel outlines with the help of Nietzsche, Paul et al, is for me the most impressive part of Jüngel’s work. Jüngel has no fear of exploring the consequences of the death of God. Few are the theologians who truly pursue the logic of the incarnation to its end.

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