If I ever succeed in writing a book that’s even half as theologically precise as Eberhard Jüngel’s God’s Being Is in Becoming, I will die a happy man. 1 This book is an incredibly dense work of theology. With a precise eye for detail Jüngel interprets Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity in a profound and intricate way, all the while with a concise style any writer would be wise to emulate. Though because it is such a dense book, it is at once an incredibly difficult book. Though this is not exactly due to Jüngel’s style (though that’s probably also the case), but because of the subject at hand: the doctrine of the Trinity. If anywhere in theology there is required careful precision and complexity, it is here.
I am about two-thirds of the way through the book; so far I’m enjoying it immensely, and I’m looking forward to the final section. When I was reading (slowly) today, as I tried to grasp the concepts Jüngel was trying to bring forth from Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity, one point in particular struck me that I want to briefly quote and discuss here. That is, the notion that, “God corresponds to Himself”.
God Corresponds to Himself
The interesting thing about this phrase isn’t just how profound it is (though it is) and how important it is for understanding the Trinity (which it is), but the fact that for Jüngel, this phrase sums up the entirety of Barth’s project in the Church Dogmatics. He writes that the entire Dogmatics is basically an interpretation of this idea! So it is important to understand what he means by it and how it relates to the Trinity. But first, we’ll quote Jüngel for context:
“…God’s being ad extra [externally, for us] corresponds essentially to His being ad intra [internally, in Himself] in which it has its basis and prototype. God’s self-interpretation (revelation) is interpretation as correspondence. Note: as interpreter of Himself, God corresponds to His own being. But because God as His own interpreter (even in His external works) is Himself, and since in this event as such we are also dealing with the being of God, then the highest and final statement which can be made about the being of God is: God corresponds to Himself.
“Barth’s Dogmatics is in reality basically a thorough exegesis of this statement. Once it is not understood as an attempt to objectify God, but as an attempt to grasp the mystery of God where it is revealed as mystery, then this statement implies a movement which, over and above brilliance and diligence, makes possible a dogmatics of the stature of the Church Dogmatics. The Dogmatics is a brilliant and diligent attempt to reconstruct in thought the movement of the statement ‘God corresponds to Himself.'” 2
What does Jüngel mean by “correspond” here? He further states,
“That God corresponds to Himself is a statement of a relation. The statement means that God’s being is a relationally structured being.” 3
This is, for Jüngel, another way of explaining God’s self-relatedness. This self-relatedness is God’s distinction, the distinction of God in three modes of being.
In other words, here we have the doctrine of the Trinity, not abstractly, but concretely related to the world. This idea that God is the one who corresponds to Himself is another way of saying that God is the one God who reveals Himself in His Self-revelation (Jesus Christ). The fact that God reveals Himself is for Barth the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. He writes, “One may sum up the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity briefly and simply by saying that God is the One who reveals Himself.” 4 For Barth, this phrase works out into God’s three modes of being:
“God reveals Himself. He reveals Himself through Himself. He reveals Himself. If we really want to understand revelation in terms of its subject, i.e., God, then the first thing we have to realize is that this subject, God, the Revealer, is identical with His act in revelation and also identical with its effect.” 5
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in revelation is God the Revealer, God the revelation, and God the effect of revelation; but since God is this in revelation, God is this in Himself. Therefore, this is the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. That God reveals Himself through Himself as His own self-interpreter, means that God is the Triune God.
And this is what Jüngel is getting at. That “God corresponds to Himself” is another way of saying that God is who He is in His self-revelation. God’s being in revelation corresponds to His being in Himself. This point dictates the whole of the Church Dogmatics as Barth thinks in Trinitarian and Christocentric terms through the whole of God’s acts in election, creation, reconciliation, and redemption.
This is an incredibly complex subject, but Jüngel is precise in his work. This notion that God corresponds to Himself is important for Barth’s theology, and for Trinitarian theology as a whole. It is fascinating that Jüngel calls this the idea which Barth is working with in his entire Church Dogmatics, but the more I think about it the more I think he is right.
Take, for example, the doctrine of election. For Barth, election is God’s self-determination in Jesus Christ to be God for us; election is Jesus Christ. God says “Yes” to Himself and that “Yes” is echoed in our humanity in Jesus Christ. That God corresponds to Himself here means that God’s act in Jesus Christ for us corresponds to God’s act in Himself. God therefore is the God who from before all time determined to be our God, to be for us in Jesus Christ. The revelation of Jesus Christ as God for us corresponds to the being of God for us, the God who from before all time determined to be our God. This is why, for Barth, election must be Christocentric: Jesus Christ is the object and subject of election, the electing God and the elect human being.
There is much to think through in regards to this idea, as it is a tremendously potent idea, but for now I wanted to show how it relates to Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity, which permeates the whole of his Dogmatics. Jüngel’s book is incredibly dense and full of insights into the being of God. I’m excited to finish reading it, and for a long time after continue thinking through these ideas.
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