How We See the World · Interfaith Thoughts · Paul Tillich · Reality · Theologians

Paul Tillich – Ground of Being

Excerpt :


“Existence – Existence refers to what is finite and fallen and cut of from its true being. Within the finite realm issues of conflict between, for example, autonomy (Greek: ‘autos’ – self, ‘nomos’ – law) and heteronomy (Greek: ‘heteros’ – other, ‘nomos’ – law) abound (there are also conflicts between the formal/emotional and static/dynamic). Resolution of these conflicts lies in the essential realm (the Ground of Meaning/the Ground of Being) which humans are cut off from yet also dependent upon (‘In existence man is that finite being who is aware both of his belonging to and separation from the infinite’ (Newport p.67f)). Therefore existence is estrangement.”

“Although this looks like Tillich was an atheist such misunderstanding only arises due to a simplistic understanding of his use of the word existence. What Tillich is seeking to lead us to is an understanding of the ‘God above God’. We have already seen earlier that the Ground of Being (God) must be separate from the finite realm (which is a mixture of being and non-being) and that God cannot be a being. God must be beyond the finite realm. Anything brought from essence into existence is always going to be corrupted by ambiguity and our own finitude. Thus statements about God must always be symbolic (except the statement ‘God is the Ground of Being’). Although we may claim to know God (the Infinite) we cannot. The moment God is brought from essence into existence God is corrupted by finitude and our limited understanding. In this realm we can never fully grasp (or speak about) who God really is. The infinite cannot remain infinite in the finite realm. That this rings true can be seen when we realize there are a multitude of different understandings of God within the Christian faith alone. They cannot all be completely true so there must exist a ‘pure’ understanding of God (essence) that each of these are speaking about (or glimpsing aspects of)….”

“… However in many cases his theology has been misunderstood and misapplied and this most notably with his statement that God is beyond existence (mistakenly taken to mean that God does not exist). Tillich presents a radically transcendent view of God which in fairness he attempts to balance with an immanent understanding of God as the Ground of Being (and the Ground of Meaning) but fails to do so. In the end, as we cannot speak of the God above God we cannot know if any of our religious language has any meaning and whether ultimately the God above God really exists. Certainly, according to his ‘system’, we cannot test Tillich’s ‘God hypothesis’. However an interesting dialogue may be had between Christian humanists who posit that God is bound within language and does not exist beyond it (e.g. Don Cupitt) and Tillich who posits that our understanding of God is bound within language yet presumes (but cannot verify) that God exists beyond it.”(Grenz/Olson p.124)

2) Tillich’s refusal to prove God.

Tillich believed that God was such an exalted concept that the attempt to prove was to deny him. He refused to try and prove God but merely asserted his being. I feel that this is a holdover from the days of Frederick Schleiermacher (see experience argument) and is based upon the origins of modern liberal theology in phenomenological attitude. I disagree with that approach. The great theologians of the Greek Orthodox church also said that God was on the order of being itself, and that stands as the basis of all Western thinking about God in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I therefore choose not to accept it. Making arguments to prove that there is a God, whether successful or not, is often the best way to stimulate thinking about God and to refine one’s theology. But I must acknowledge that while I am drawing upon the thought of Tillich, I am also going counter to one of the basic principles of his theology.

3) Being and God.

Tillich sees a fundamental connection between being and God. This connection is primarily phenomenological in nature. We can see the same idea expressed by Gabriel Marcell in the Existential argument. When we ponder the nature of being we come up with the answer of God.

God is ultimate reality. God is the first, and highest and only necessary thing that exists, and thus, had God not created, God would be the only thing that exists. Could one somehow ponder a universe in which God had not created, in which God was all that was, one might well ask “what is it to be in this universe where there is only God?” In such a universe the only conceivable answer is “to be is to be God.” In that sense God is Being Itself.


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