I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about ontology and ethics as a topic for the thesis requirement of my master’s degree. An essay by Eberhard Jungel, “Humanity in Correspondence to God”, and Johnny Cash’s rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” have been more than inspiring. Here, I’ve combined quotes from Jungel’s essay with Cash’s video. I believe the two to work well together driving home the point that when we see the Cross, we realize that all that we have been building up for ourselves is dirt and that we’ve fashioned mud idols (in the likeness of ourselves) to validate ourselves. Thus, the subsequent desperate cry of the stony heart turned flesh, shocked into life by the exposed Love of the Cross: “if I could start a million miles away, I’d keep myself, I’d find a way” (powerfully demonstrated by Cash’s video).

“…the universality of the creator must make us, as those who are open to God, being who open themselves to the world and to ourselves. The eschatological new being, by reference to which theology decided what ought properly to be called human being, is that man in whose historical existence God defined himself and, in the act of his self-definition, also defined us: the man Jesus. It is fundamental to a Christian understanding of God and humanity that we neither advance a view of humanity on the basis of a preconceived understanding of God, nor advance a view of God on the basis of a preconceived understanding of humanity–even if it be humanity’s indefinability. Rather, judgments about God and humanity can only be made on the basis of one and the same event. For Christian faith, this event is God’s identity with the life and death of the one man Jesus, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….For the category of the ‘image of God’ is identical with the historical name Jesus Christ. The person called by that name is humanity in correspondence to God” (132).

“On the basis of the actuality of this one man who corresponds to God, it is true that the humanity of all human persons consists in corresponding to God. This one man is essential for all. The Christian faith relates all persons to this one man, however, not only ontologically but also existentially, for unlike this one man, all other human persons do not de facto corresponds to God. There had to be a new man, so that humanity could attain its end. But this new man does not exist in correspondence to God solely for his own sake. Rather, in his being a decision is taken about all, in that this one man who corresponds to God brings into that correspondence all who do not correspond to God” (133).

“Paul calls this event in which we are brought into correspondence with God through the being of Jesus Christ justification. Thus Luther (in The Disputation Concerning Man) correctly saw that justification is the real definition of human being. Justification by God can be regarded as definitive of human being, since it releases us from the clutches of human action, without denying that the concept of our being includes our actions. To put the matter in a different way: in the event of divine justification, human nature, threatened by itself, is affirmed by God against its constant perversion into abnormality. And so justification is an event of ontological relevance” (133).

“Justification is…a relational concept…Humanity in correspondence to God is thus defined relationally….Ontologically, we are in no way grounded in ourselves. We cannot come to ourselves without already being alongside another” (133).

Nevertheless, ontically we wish to ground ourselves in ourselves. We are ruled by the will to self. This is demonstrated in the dominance of the will over the capacity for hearing. The will which cannot hear is the will to self-grounding. Correspondingly, all relations are reduced to a relation to the self as…an unshakable foundation of truth. Identity as self-identification is the anthropological postulate of humanity ruled by the will to self” (133-4).

The Christian faith understands this ontic tendency towards self-grounding as sin. For faith, identity as self-identification is the mark of one who is losing him or herself. For according to faith’s understanding of the matter, we never find ourselves in ourselves. In ourselves we cannot come to ourselves. We come to ourselves when we come to someone other than ourselves. ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life…will save it’ (Mk 8.35)” (134).