Mirror Gods

On the question of the attributes of God

"In recent centuries, instead of asking whether God exists, people have started asking whether it is a good idea for us to continue talking about Him, and which human purposes might be served by doing so – asking, in short, what use the concept of God might be to human beings."

Richard Rorty

"God as a moral, political, scientific working hypothesis has been abolished, overcome; but so has the philosophical and religious working hypothesis (Feuerbach!). It is part of intellectual honesty to drop this working hypothesis or to eliminate it as far as possible. [...] Thus our coming of age leads us to a true realisation of our situation before God. [...] The God who allows us to live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we constantly stand. We live before and with God without God."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"The first humility is to know neither 'God' nor his 'will' ..."

Jean-Luc Nancy

1. Speak of God

The blog post by Elio Jaillet "Théologique du genre de 'Dieu'. Politique de la liturgie" [The Theo-Logic of "God's" Gender. Politics of the Liturgy] takes up the discussion about a gender-equitable liturgy, in which political-ethical demands and ecclesiastical-theological traditions clash controversially. The following considerations follow on from this. The focus will be less on the substantive debate about the gender of God and more on the underlying question of the significance of God's attributes for the understanding of and relationship between God and faith. What role does the image of God play in faith and how does one determine the other and vice versa? What is at stake when certain qualities are attributed to God and other attributes are denied? Important follow-up questions must be excluded in the following - for example: How does the theological gender dual in the ecclesiastical debate about a divine gender relate to the anthropological de-binarisation of gender in current political-legal discussions? Why is gender being profiled in the question of God at a time when gender as an anthropological characteristic is becoming increasingly questionable? How does the church debate on the gender of God position itself in the face of increasing criticism of problematic attribution policies?

If, according to the Christian understanding of the Church, God is really and truly present in the present, then it must be possible to speak intelligibly about this in the respective present. If God's present self-communication could not be articulated, it would be neither real nor present. However, the thesis exposes itself to the imposition that Karl Barth pointed out: "As theologians, we are supposed to talk about God. But we are human beings and as such cannot speak of God. We should know both our ought and our can't and thereby give God the honour." The divine claim to his worship is upheld by recognising the irresolvability of this tension. The grammar of the demand "We should [...] give glory to God" refers to a structure of action in which subjects ("we") do something ("give glory") with or in view of an object ("God"). The questions about the subjects who give God the honour, about the activities of worship and about who is to be worshipped as what are not only answered differently to this day, but also controversially.

Barth's dialectical tension has an inverse physical point: as little as God is absorbed in the world, so little can he be recognised, perceived, experienced and known outside the conditions of creatureliness (= worldly personhood). This requires an encounter - in the broadest sense - that cannot be replaced by a cognitive concept or theoretical realisation.

2. The conflict between faith - church - theology

The place of the current debate about the gender of God is as unclear as the theological concern: Is it (1.) about the gender of God institutional power of definition ("the God that the churches proclaim is male, female, non-binary, gender-neutral, -fluid or -diverse") or (2.) a theological controversy ("from an exegetical, church-historical or theological-systematic perspective, the biblical or Christian God is male, female, non-binary, gender-neutral, -fluid or -diverse") or (3.) about a Faithconflict ("I/we believe in a male, female, non-binary, gender-neutral, gender-fluid or gender-diverse God")? Although the question perspectives are not unrelated to each other, they belong to different practices: (1.) As a controversy about the constitutive content of faith, it is about the ecclesiastical confession with which the church stands or falls (status confessionis). (2.) As a theological dispute, the questions are aimed at scientific clarifications within the framework of the doctrine of God, which from a Protestant-Reformed perspective only have constitutive significance for the church in a few cases. (3.) As a conflict between different beliefs about God, the unity of the social church community is at stake. The topos "God" forms in (1.) the point of reference and the corporate identity of the institutionalised church in public, in (2.) the object of academic discourse and in (3.) the counterpart of personal and communal faith. The meaning of the concept of God corresponds to specific functions: In (1.) the understanding of God should justify the social relevance and the public mission of the institutionalised church, in (2.) it should make a theological concern plausible and discursively connectable and in (3.) it should confirm one's own faith and be able to agree with one's own faith. The question of God thus responds to assumptions of identity, rationality and faith that are fundamentally self-evident, because: (1.) A church can define itself through an understanding of God without it being scientifically and theologically plausible and recognised by all believers. (2.) An understanding of God can be defended theologically and argumentatively without it being adopted by a church and shared in faith. (3.) A personal belief may be linked to an understanding of God that neither agrees with the Church's proclamation nor is confirmed by theological doctrine.

Conflicts are dealt with from different perspectives and at different levels. Familiar conflict management, according to which disputed personal or communal convictions are dealt with rationally and discursively on a methodical-theoretical meta-level in order to subsequently implement or apply the results institutionally, is standard in many spheres of society - above all politics and ethics. However, this strategy is only suitable to a limited extent for religious conflicts, because they typically involve a category that is unknown in other areas of society: "God", "deity", "higher being", etc. This creates a subversive discourse. This introduces a subversive principle of discourse which, in cases of doubt, is given priority over other principles (mutual respect between the parties to the dispute, preference for the better argument, reciprocity, impartial judgement, de-escalation, tolerance, consensus, etc.): "One must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) Obedience to God, which is demanded by the clausula Petri, is one of the foundations of the church's mission (martyria) and the basis of Christian discipleship (obligation of conscience, right of resistance), but is not a (necessary) criterion of scientific theology. Therefore, the localisation of ecclesiastical-theological controversies remains notoriously blurred and the scope of rational conflict strategies (discourse, consensus, democratic principle) inevitably limited. Under the condition that "the church is the time, the place and the social community of the proclamation and transmission of the faith of Christian people", the transitions between theological knowledge, ecclesial authorisation and identity as well as authentic faith are necessarily precarious. This does not deny the possibility and urgency of a critical theological examination of the faith proclaimed by the Church and professed by the faithful. But academic theology does not define the proclamation and confession of the church any more than the church and faith define the criteria of academic theology.

Theology - as a rational discourse about God in the broadest sense - not only cannot justify, but also needs no justification for what a believer receives, challenges and experiences in their faith. Conversely, faith turns the usual time and space assumptions of theology on their head, insofar as it is experienced as a confirmation of God's this-worldliness - as opposed to his otherworldliness in the assertion of his absence or non-existence. At first glance, it appears to be merely a case of swapping this world and the hereafter, which results from the erroneous positioning of eschatology at the end point of a timeline. Instead, the reverse is true: it is not God who has left his creation and retreated to an afterlife, but his creatures who have made themselves at home "beyond Eden". But the real misunderstanding lies deeper. It consists in the assumption of a this-world/that-world dualism of two spatially separated worlds, in which one exists in and the other beyond time, but whose boundaries are permeable to a limited extent under certain conditions. A kind of commuter God would come from the world beyond to appear sometimes visibly (Gen 32:31), sometimes invisibly (Ex 33:20) in the world on this side, would later spend a few decades there as a citizen of the earth in the form of his son (John 1:14) and would finally delegate his flying visits from the beyond to this world to his spirit (John 14:26). The apocalyptic hope "But we wait for new heavens and a new earth according to his promise, in which righteousness dwells." (2 Peter 3:13) would then be the final replacement of the world of this world by the world of the hereafter and the church of this world would be a transcendental carousel that exposes its theologies and teachings to a symptomatic here-and-now threshold hoax.

Against this two-world turbulence stands Jesus' exclamation on the cross, entirely in this world, coming from paradise, not new, but recognisable in faith: "It is finished" (John 19:30). The theological The hereafter then reveals itself as a religious imitation of the divine precept of this world. In the covenant with his creation and the subsequent confirmations of the covenant with his people and his church, God localises himself in his this-worldly creation. God's faithfulness to this world does not reveal itself from a hereafter into this world. He is not only fully who he is, but also fully where he is. "God dwells in time, he does not move in space, because he is the space in which we move." The otherness that the Reformers and the Reformed theology of revelation have always emphasised does not refer to a divine pendulum diplomacy, but to the unfolding fullness (in time) of creation (in space) (otherwise creation would only be a trial balloon or the dress rehearsal before the actual premiere). The present tense view is found both in Isaiah - "See, I am creating something new, it is already sprouting, do you not recognise it? Yes, I am laying a path through the desert and rivers through the wasteland." (Is 43:19) - as well as in Paul - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, this is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, new things have come into being." (2 Cor 5:17). In the first case, it is a matter of "seeing" the new coming into being; in the second case, it is a matter of recognising the new that "is". God does not encounter his creation in some intermediate sphere removed from time, but in his corrupted creation "from paradise".

The shift of the present into the future and the switch from the indicative to the future tense in the history of Christianity resulted from the abandonment of the early Christian expectation of the near future (parousia). However, the justification is based on a double misunderstanding of expectations. On the one hand, expectations are never in the past or in the future, but always in the here and now. On the other hand, the "certainty of expectation [... is] the precondition of every certainty and incomparably more important than the certainty of fulfilment. Those who know what they can expect can tolerate a high degree of uncertainty as to whether their expectations will be realised." The relativisation of the expectation of the imminent return of Christ relates exclusively to the certainty of fulfilment and not the certainty of expectation, which depends entirely on the faithfulness of God and his promises. The conditional relationship between expectation and fulfilment cannot be reversed. Faith and the church are based on the certainty of expectation and cannot rely on the certainty of fulfilment, because fulfilment lies with God and means the end of faith and the church. The difference relieves us from praying the world and the church back to health and allows us to see realistically that God "has not protected millions of people despite their prayers and hopes because the signs of [auf das kommende Reich Gottes] have not been erected in them". Faith means holding on to the expectation expressed in prayers and hopes against the certainty of fulfilment and even in the face of the physical and tangible experience of the exact opposite.

Faith, church and theology are linked by the Christian "expectation" and address "certainty" in different ways: (1.) Christian faith is the reason not only for the expectation but also for the certainty, (2.) the church as an institution has tasks to fulfil that live from the expectation but do not go hand in hand with it, and (3.) theology reacts to discursive expectations of rationality and plausibility that exist independently of the expectations that concern its subject matter. For all three perspectives, the common expectation cannot be secured by speculation about its fulfilment. The certainty of expectation of the Christian faith is based exclusively on the faith gifts of certainty and hope, which cannot be replaced, reinforced or confirmed by anything other than faith itself.

3. Faith – trust – believe

Basically, faith does not need theology and theology does not need faith. Faith communication and theological reflection are different practices, like eating a meal and studying a recipe. It makes a categorical difference whether a person believes in a male god or in a female goddess (faith), or whether this person believes that the name YHWH and the Trinitarian God refer to a male or a female entity. There is no causal relationship between the "belief in ..." and the "belief that ...". Both language games use the same word, but follow a different grammar. The "belief in ..." forms the reason for statements about the "belief that ...", but what is believed does not provide a reason for believing that and in whom.

The linguistic form of "belief in ..." is confession ("giving God the glory"), that of "belief that ..." is rational-argumentative discourse. The mixture of both practices is the reason for the intensity of many inner-church and -theological conflicts. Statements about what a person believes are aimed at something different from statements about who a person believes, and again at something different from statements about who a person believes in. The three references to belief stand for two possible relationships: Whom a person believes (trust), they can either express with their "belief in ..." (faith) or with their "belief that ..." (believe). The first variant is found in the Reformation formula "fides et fiducia" - the unity of faith and trust - while the second variant is based on shared convictions, attitudes or opinions (solidarity, substitution, representativeness). Trust forms a kind of hinge between the alternative beliefs. Although trust is risky per se - what you see is what you get, what you don't see gets you - a distinction can be made between justified and groundless trust. In the case of justified trust, the reasons lie on the side of the person, body or institution that is trusted ("... because the church is committed to minorities", "... because party X is in favour of climate protection/party Y is in favour of a rigid migration policy"). In the case of gratuitous trust, on the other hand, the motives for trust are entirely on the side of the person who trusts (John 20:29: "Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe!"). With gratuitous trust, all "I trust because ..." explanations remain trapped in the person who trusts ("Here I am, I can't help it. God help me, Amen!").

The characterisation of the groundless trust of Christian faith as a form of subjective self-reference is grammatically correct, but factually incomplete. This becomes clear in a short digression by Ludwig Wittgenstein: "Suppose someone were a believer and said: 'I believe in a Last Judgement', and I said: 'Well, I'm not quite sure about that. Maybe'. You'd say there's an abyss separating you and me. [...] If you ask me whether I believe in the Last Judgement or not, in the sense that religious people believe in it, I wouldn't say, 'No, I don't think there will be such a thing'. [...] And then I declare 'I don't believe in ...', but that's why the religious person never believes what I'm describing. [...] I can't say it. I can't contradict that person. In a sense I understand everything he says - the words 'God', 'separate' and so on. I understand I could say, 'I don't believe in that', and that would be if it means I don't have those thoughts or anything related to them. But it doesn't mean that I could disagree with it. [...] These controversies look very different from normal controversies. The reasons look very different from normal reasons. [... A person who believes in a religious sense has] rather what is called an unshakeable faith. And this will show itself not in arguing or appealing to the ordinary kind of reasons for believing in the rightness of assumptions, but rather in the way it governs his whole life." The faith of the believing person does not consist in what the unbelieving person can deny from their perspective. The contrasting statements about belief and non-belief use the same terms, but are not symmetrical. For Wittgenstein, the asymmetry consists in the "unshakeable belief" that the believing person has in contrast to the unbelieving person (an unshakeable belief in the non-existence of God would be extremely strange).

This is where the distinction between justified and groundless trust comes into play, which has an analogous structure: The question of trust and the question of God coincide in that the respective controversial positions cannot agree on their reasons because the disputing parties do not actually hold opposing positions in the first place (the "not" in the statement "I do not believe that ..." is a deception by grammar). The belief of a believing person that God exists has nothing to do with the denial of this proposition by a non-believing person. And the reasons for trusting a person, entity or institution are completely irrelevant to a believing person's trust in God. Belief, which is completely determined by what is believed, cannot be reversed, because it would be meaningless to claim that unbelief is completely determined by the non-existence of what is denied. In the same way, justified trust cannot dispense with reasons and, conversely, groundless trust cannot be made plausible or reinforced by additional reasons. The unbelieving person does not believe the opposite of what the believing person believes, and the person who justifiably calculates their trust has no reasons to do the same as the person who trusts a person, authority or institution without reason. In both cases, what Wittgenstein calls an "unshakeable belief" does not belong on the level of (discussion about) reasons. In the context of religious belief, reasons do not concern the person's faith, but the plausibility of what the person believes in. Religious belief can have reasons, but it cannot be based on reasons because it is not the result of a person's own choice.

4 God as concept and exclamation

Jean-Luc Nancy begins his short essay My God! with the question: "How can one speak of God (parler) without addressing God (s'adresser )?" Barth had answered the theological Gretchen question - above - with the worship of God. It is striking that the theologian has nevertheless created a huge work, while the philosopher is content with just a few paragraphs. The imbalance reflects not only the different professions, but also different concerns. While Barth surpasses the ability not to speak of God with the will to speak of God, Nancy consistently takes his initial question further, which "consequently leads to the question [führt]"As soon as you turn to God, can you still speak of him?" At first glance, this exaggeration clashes with the biblical exhortation: "Always be ready to give an answer if anyone asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15) How is the church supposed to fulfil the task of "being ready to give an account" if it cannot say anything about the one who is its reason, its being and its hope? Of course, the clausula Petri also applies here, that in case of doubt the Church must obey God rather than the scepticism of a philosopher. At the same time, the church cannot avoid the philosopher's questions, provided it takes the biblical mandate to "stand ready to answer" at its word.

The challenge had already kept the entire history of the church and theology on tenterhooks when Friedrich Daniel Schleiermacher came up with the brilliant idea of separating statements about the attributes of God from God himself: "All attributes that we ascribe to God should not denote something special in God himself, but only something special in the way of relating the absolute feeling of dependence to him." However, this "reflex of divine causality in the mirror of pious consciousness" risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because the biblically attested self-revelation of God in the history of his creation remains stuck in a revelatory consciousness of mental impressions. Barth, on the other hand, insisted: "God is who he is in the act of his revelation." This is not yet an answer to the question of God's attributes, but merely an indication of the grammar of possible answers. The biblical statements about God's attributes are - in Christian Link's words - "inherently anchored in the hymns and prayers of Israel, i.e. in doxology". For this reason, "we, too, initially take them as the basis of the hope that we place in the common history of Jews and Christians: This is how God may and must be spoken of when his Spirit moves this history, when we hope that it is he who 'will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with justice' (Ps 9:9; 96:13)."

The attributes of God do not belong to the language game of "true" or truthful theological statements about God, but to the language game of doxological speech - more precisely: to the expectations with which people pray to God, praise him, ask him, accuse him, quarrel with him and - in whatever way - "give him the honour". Nancy's quintessence goes in the same direction: "That's why I suggest 'my God' as a more appropriate formulation for the name 'God'". Like Link, the philosopher also argues in favour of dispensing with statements about God because "God" does not exist as a grammatical object (reference) to which properties can be attributed (predicated). The concept of God belongs exclusively to the speech act of invocation, in which a subject ("my") addresses "God". The possessive pronoun "my" does not denote a possession ("my bicycle"), because God is not an object in the world, but a belonging ("my birthday"), in which the pronoun and the term are mutually dependent (the birthday of me can only exist as my birthday). Nancy illustrates his proposal with Meister Eckhart's dizzying plea in his sermon 52 "On the Poverty of Spirit": "Therefore I ask God to take me away from God".

Nancy's interpretation is difficult in various respects. However, his criticism of the concept of God can already be found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's habilitation thesis Act and Being from 1931 and reads: "The nature of being of revelation can only be determined in relation to the person. 'There is' only being, the given. It is a contradiction in terms to want to find an 'there is' beyond the existing. In the social relation of the person, the static concept of 'there is' is set in motion. There is no such thing as a God who 'exists'; God 'is' in relation to the person, and being is his personhood." For Bonhoeffer, the existence of God is not an epistemological or ontological question, but a Christological and ecclesiological one: "That is why the Protestant concept of the church is conceived as a person, i.e. God reveals himself as a person in the church. The church is the final revelation of God as 'Christ existing as a church', ordained for the last days of the world until the return of Christ." Bonhoeffer defines the "being of revelation" in the church of Christ in three ways: As (1.) a continuous event that (2.) concerns the existence of human beings, it can (3.) "be conceived neither as something existing, objective, nor as something non-existent, non-objective." While Nancy allows God and Creator to be mutually merged, Bonhoeffer identifies the revelation of God in Christ with the Christian community (the modal, not temporal "final revelation of God").

It follows from this: The invocation "My God!" and God's address "My creature!" form the two sides of one coin and cannot be divided between two (dialogical) subjects, "so that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the point of Paul's confession: "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2:20) God allows his creatures to believe through himself in them. Paul's realisation closes the above-mentioned disharmony between the grammar and the matter of groundless trust as subjective self-reference. Christ is the subject of the faith of the person who believes in him and trusts him. This is not a theological and/or anthropological determination of a being and its characteristics, but the mode of creaturely existence in the actuality of the invocation or - as Nancy paraphrases - the "breakthrough of my detachment" and the "opening".

5. The god without attributes

The question of God's attributes may have been dampened by the previous considerations, but it is neither answered nor settled. There is at least one theological context in which the divine attributes are undeniably at stake: theodicy. It is therefore all the more surprising that, despite the violence and horror that characterise current events, the question of how God can (inactively) allow these evils and hardships to occur does not arise. Even the churches move more or less directly to the question of the perpetrators and victims of war and destruction. The long boom in philosophical and theological attempts to defend the omnipotence, goodness and justice of God in the face of human experiences of violence and injustice is clearly over. The classic formulation of the theodicy problem comes from Epicurus: "Either God wants to eliminate evil and cannot, or he can and does not want to, or he cannot and does not want to, or he can and wants to. If he wills and cannot, then he is weak, which does not apply to God. If he can and does not want to, then he is envious, which is also alien to God. If he is unwilling and unable, then he is both unfavourable and weak, which is also not God. But if he is willing and able to do what is only fitting for God, then where do the evils come from and why doesn't he take them away?" Gottfried-Wilhelm Leibniz's large-scale attempt to answer these questions in the wake of the Lisbon earthquake (1755) that shook Europe was elegantly refuted by Immanuel Kant, fiercely mocked by Voltaire's "Candide" and rejected by Arthur Schopenhauer as a "bitter mockery of the nameless sufferings of mankind".

The epistemological resolution of the theodicy question was achieved because the enormous successes of modern science and technology meant that the dock could be occupied anew. The shift from fateful dangers to calculable risks meant that what had previously been attributed to God could now be attributed to human responsibility. The invention of responsibility relieved theology of the defence of its images of God. At the same time, the idea that "God could be the culprit" became increasingly obsolete because the world's accounts were done without him. Experiences of good are no longer considered an indication of a loving God and experiences of evil no longer cause people to doubt this God. The shift from the theodicy question of the victims to the responsibility of the perpetrators had fundamental consequences. Today, disasters and catastrophes are regarded either as natural causes (natural disasters, causes of illness) or as consequences of actions that can be attributed in principle (self-inflicted accidents, reactor accidents, violent crimes). This does not mean that the victims have disappeared. However, they are no longer powerless subjects afflicted by fate, but become victims of identifiable persons, groups, institutions and structures. This is accompanied by a shrinking of the world's possibilities, because the previously overflowing abundance of possible causes and explanations is reduced to the single alternative scheme of "natural causality" or "intention to act" or "consequence". The residual fate not captured by this is privatised as personal luck and bad luck.

Since humans have occupied the original perpetrator role of God, the victim role has become precarious. The "modern" victims can no longer, like Job, fight for their justice before God, appease the gods with sacrificial rituals or express their powerlessness in psalms of lament. Instead of arguing with a God they perceive as unjust, they protest against their circumstances and take their case to court. Instead of sacrificial rituals, there is an endless spiral of violence in which the roles of perpetrator and victim change periodically. And lamentations are at best still sung in hospital when medical therapies fail and assisted suicide is rejected as a way out. The degrading aspect of human relations of domination, such as colonialism, is not that the deplorable situation of the oppressed and colonised is completely ignored, but that they are denied their right to fight for themselves and become the subjects of their grievances. The victim role of the oppressed is doubled by their powerlessness in the face of those who confirm their deplorable status with their compassionate behaviour.

Because God is taken out of the game, all good and evil falls directly back on people as the perpetrators. The moral attributions are made directly and are no longer played out via a deity. There is no doubt that mass protests and legal disputes in court are far more efficient than wrangling with and complaining to God. If one takes one's fate into one's own hands, the prospects can be predicted. In contrast, appealing to God is completely incalculable from a consequentialist perspective. Renouncing God reduces the complexity of the world because the good can then be declared as unassailably good as the bad can be declared as indisputably evil. The world without God becomes normatively clear and correct because a binary morality confirms one's own intuitions and prejudices much more efficiently than a divine authority whose standards no one knows and whose side it will never take and, worse still, whether it will take a position at all.

Part of the biblical God is that he deconstructs himself as soon as he is conceptualised. The gap of divine presence in withdrawal was traditionally bridged by ascribing genuine or uniquely perfect qualities to God: Omnipotence, omnipresence, love, goodness, justice, reconciliation, legal authority. Because these are human attributes, they probably do not apply. But this is irrelevant because the absoluteness of the attributes does not represent a gradual or linear increase in the characteristics that are also attributed to people at a reduced level. It is not only about the attributes attributed to God, but also about their exclusive quality, which is absolutely unattainable and unsurpassable. There is no transition from the good God to the good people. God is also the end of all comparatives. Normative concepts of God traditionally mark the greatest conceivable difference between creator and creature. From a normative perspective, they form inverse mirror images of a reality that is perceived as defective and deficient at one point in time. They are fuelled by human hopes and longings for peace, justice, reconciliation and wholeness. Normative images of God entrust God with everything that those who create them fail to do. The strength of the image of God is revealed in the impressiveness of human failure.

Normative images of God have the eminent ethical effect that they consistently reject all claims to absoluteness of contingent moral standards of good and evil. Before God, all creatively good can only be relatively good and creatively evil only relatively evil. Final judgements are reserved for God alone. That is why Christians around the world pray for an end to violence, for peace, for the protection of victims of violence and for the liberation of hostages, enslaved and oppressed people. That is why they pray for blessings for the rulers and soldiers, for a peaceful and just end to conflicts. And that is why they do not pray for military victories and for the destruction of opponents and enemies. The Christian message counts on reconciliation in life. Corpses cannot be reconciled and cannot live in peace.

While the gap in the divine presence resists any reconciliation of God with human morality, functional images of God (Bonhoeffer: "gap fillers") conversely endeavour to overcome the constitutive incommensurability. From a functional perspective, human moral concepts are reflected in God and his attributes. The concept of God is normatively positivised and - at least in the church and theology - becomes the legitimising authority of one's own moral worldview. However, the justified criticism of instrumentalisation weighs less heavily than the constructional error of such moral mirror gods: the "concept of God, once functionally defined, virtually demands to be replaced by equivalents, because it has the peculiarity of only being able to fulfil its function as long as it is not defined by them". The emphasis on God's presence in withdrawal - "I will be who I will be." (Exodus 3:14) - is directed precisely against his functionalisation. Moral criticism is at the centre of the biblical prohibition of images.

What does this mean for the initial question of God's gender identity? The Solomonic exegetical finding, "Even if the editors of the biblical texts and some theologians dislike it: Yhwh had a Paredra, the goddess Asherah, also known as the "Queen of Heaven"", is unlikely to resolve the conflict. Because it is not about the biblical God and his attributes, but about (church and theological) politics with images of God. The justified criticism of a patriarchal appropriation does not belong on the political level of the Bible (which reflects the patriarchal culture of its time of origin), but of the biblical message, which emerges precisely where people call upon God and "give him the honour" in all conceivable forms.

The God without attributes is the God of unimagined possibilities. "But if there is a sense of reality, [...] then there must also be something that can be called a sense of possibility. Those who possess it, for example, do not say: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but they invent: This could, should or ought to happen here; and if you explain to him that something is the way it is, then he thinks: Well, it could probably be different. So the sense of possibility could be defined as the ability to think everything that could be just as good and not to take what is more important than what is not." The life principle of Ulrich, the protagonist in Robert Musil's novel The Man Without Qualities, also has a theological point: "The possible, however, includes not only the dreams of people with weak nerves, but also the not yet awakened intentions of God."


This text was machine translated and briefly checked before publication.

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Frank Mathwig

Frank Mathwig

Prof. Dr. theol.
Beauftragter für Theologie und Ethik

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