Well, after about a month hiatus, i am finally getting to restart my doctrine of God overview again. Usually i leave projects like this behind after some time off, so i’m pretty proud of myself to get going again. So far i have looked at Karl Barth, and have commented on Paul’s Tillich’s methodology. Without further ado, lets jump back into the text being used for this adventure by Veli-Matti Karkkainen (hereafter abbreviated VMK).
This section of viewing Tillich will start with one of his most famous (and controversial) quotes: “God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Threfore, to argue that God exists is to deny him (132).”
Obviously, if this quote means what it looks like on the surface, then this discussion doesn’t belong in this particular post. However, as VMK points out “To unpack this compact sentence, we need to be aware of the fact that here–as often–Tillich uses terms in a technical sense, specifically, in the technical sense he himself defined (132). With that in mind, lets define a couple key terms for Tillich:
1) Essence is the potential, not-actualized perfection of things.
2) Existence, however, describes something that is actual, “fallen” from essence (132).
So with this understanding of Tillich’s terminology, it becomes evident that Tillich isn’t an atheist, but rather is saying that God existence is qualitatively, wholly different from any created being. This leads Tillich to hold such a radically transcendemt view of God that he must conclude (according to VMK) that if God were part of existence (as Tillich defines it), there would be a need for another God a “God above God,” which Tillich wants to avoid (132).
One further note on this section before analysis. We have to remember what Tillich’s goal is in his theology, which is to be apologetic, to answer the concerns of modern man. This concern, Tillich believed, was found in the philosophical field of ontology.
Tillich perceived that modern man’s central concern was over the threat of non-being, non-existence. Essentially, modern men and women feared death constantly, and wanted to find a way to overcome the threat of “non-being” for good.
However, for Tillich, and to tie back into this post, assurance that “non-being” could be ultimately and permanently overcome required that God couldn’t be finite in any way. He must be completely beyond any form of human existence, so that he could never cease to be. If God did cease to be, he couldn’t save us from our non-being. Hence, the famous Tillich descriptions of God were “the ground of being,” and “being itself.”
Since this post is extremely long, let me offer just a few reflections:
1) The security Tillich found in a radically transcendent view of God is interesting to me. Given the times that Tillich lived in, could this not also serve as protection from the idea that God wasn’t “heavily involved” in the events of Tillich’s time?
2) Along the same lines, many of Tillich’s underlying concepts and motivations find a kindred spirit (in my mind at least) in Reformed thought. Both positions share: A central concern for God’s transcendence, the problem of the “unknowability” of God or the “mystery” regarding knowing God, and the problem of meaningful speech about God (more on this in my next post). What strange bedfellows these two (Calvin and Tillich) make!
3) The Platonic influence here is hard to miss if you are used to looking for it. The existence-essence (false?) dichotomy of Tillich’s thought seems to be a direct descendent of the Platonic dualism between body and spirit. This leads to me to my final question: is such a dichotomy inevitable when we purposely let an alien philosophical framework serve as a filter for understandg the Biblical, three-in-one God? Tillich is very open about using ontology as the gateway to knowing what needs, but does letting man’s worries set the agenda eventually warp the Bible’s answers? I have been ruminating on this for quite a while, and i’m starting to think so, thanks to this book.
Any corrections, opinions, qualms, ideas on any of this?