“The sinner’s relationlessness and the judgment of God’s wrath upon the sinner which takes place in and with sin is not revealed, however, as sin is enacted but only as it were in retrospect, within the brackets of the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel. Only in the one who knew no sin and yet was made sin for us (2 Cor 5.21) is the sinner revealed in relationlessness and sin. That Jesus Christ was made sin for us by God means that the destruere et in nihilum redigere which is enacted in and with our sin is revealed in Jesus Christ, as he and he alone dies the accursed death which we live. Jesus’ death on the cross is grace, since it reveals that in the midst of life we are in death. He makes manifest the nothingness which the sinner celebrates under the illusory appearance of being. Or at least Jesus’ death on the cross reveals this when we allow it to speak for itself (that is, according to the law).” Eberhard Jüngel[1]

Apart from Christ we are the walking dead; this is probably the most concise way for me to sum up what Jüngel is articulating in the quote above. Most of you may be thinking about zombies at this point; I don’t blame you, I am too. While I think the image of zombies is a good one, I have to confess that I think our state apart from Christ, apart from the event of justification is actually far worse than merely a zombie existence. It’s a sham existence. In the sham existence, we are “alienated from ourselves…a ‘corrupt nature’, that we, expressed in biblical language, are sinners.”[2] To push the definition a bit further,

“For part of human actuality is our striving to realize ourselves and thus to determine our own being through our own achievements. Expressed in biblical terms, the whole of our life-context is qualitied by the reality of sin, which does not just simply make the human person bad—that would be the moralistic understanding of sin!—but rather which exposes human persons to the illusion that they can make themselves good.”[3]


Let’s be clear, in no way shape or form are zombies giving any damn about making themselves good, and they are certainly not trying to strive to realize themselves through their own achievements. They are the dead, the barely animated, they just act from a primal base neurological response from the bottom of the brain-stem. We, on the other hand, are worse off because we are actively trying to self-realize (striving to do so), to make ourselves good. And in trying to self-realize and make ourselves good, we have every opportunity to suffer under the immense weight of regret. And this type of regret makes me wish for nothing more than to be a zombie.

Regret is a relentless and indefatigable beast and it goes hand in hand with the sham existence. And by “regret” I mean that self-destructive, inwardly directed anger over events and circumstances of the past (distant and immediate). The area between what should have been or what could have been and what was or is is where regret lives. We regret things both inside and outside of our control: our bad choices and the bad things that happened to us. Let’s be clear, regret is different from conviction that is brought on by the Holy Spirit. Regret would rather work itself out unto destruction; conviction will always bring life. The feelings that course through one’s veins under the duress of regret are shame and condemnation; the feelings that make you wish for everything to end. The feelings under conviction, on the other hand, are feelings of being exposed yet comforted and accepted; the feelings that drive you toward life. It’s worth noting that the internal monologue of the mind is vastly different when experiencing regret and conviction; the difference being between self-focused and self-loathing language (death) v. other-focused (God and neighbor) and (thus) self-affirming language (life).

And the rather cruel part about regret is that it’s not easily silenced, especially from within the sham existence. That’s because when we go to silence this cruel voice within the sham existence our knee-jerk reaction is to correct it with good deeds, thus trying to nullify the voice of regret with the voice of approval. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, doing better, and (maybe) turning a blind eye to the past and blocking the memory of the failure in order to press on into the future, is akin to putting a band-aid on a major flesh wound. Maybe the louder approval sounds, the more I won’t hear regret’s condemning tirade. But it’s a lie; there’s no silencing the voice of regret…by our own power.

“However, Jesus’ death on the cross by no means only speaks for itself. It speaks in the gospel as the word of the cross. And precisely as the word of the cross, the gospel is the proclamation of the lordship of the risen one. More precisely: the gospel proclaims that the risen one lives as the crucified. And in this the death of Jesus comes to have its real meaning, namely as the event of the love of God (Jn 3.16). Jesus’ resurrection from the dead promises that we shall be made anew out of the nothingness of relationlessness, remade ex nihilo, if through faith in the creative Word of God we allow ourselves to participate in the love of God which occurs as the death of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Christian existence is existence out of nothingness, because it is all along the line existence out of the creative power of God who justifies. The Christian is accompanied by this nothing ness in the double form revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection: as the end of the old and the beginning of the new, as a reminder of the judgment enacted in the sinner, and as the promise which surpasses judgment in the same way that grace has surpassed sin (Rom. 5.20).” Jüngel[4]

This is where proclamation of the Gospel becomes absolutely crucial. Unless an external event occurs to us (via hearing the Good News) we’ll continue to circle the proverbial drain that is our sham existence drowning in the water of regret. Our eyes and ears need to be opened.

the-walking-dead-maggieThus, the proclamation of the event of the cross causes the sinner to be made aware that she is a sinner but also that, by faith, she is created anew (simultaneously). In seeing the event of the cross and being made aware of her sham existence (“Justification”) the sinner dies to the self (he cannot die to herself until she is made aware of her sham existence); also, in the event of the cross and in being made aware of this sham existence, she is made to die to herself, and thus to rise anew with Christ, created out of nothing since the former existence, the former person was brought to death. As is the way of the sham existence, so goes regret. Regret can only be dealt with by the cross and the event of justification. We can’t silence regret’s voice, but Christ’s “this is my beloved!” can. The words, the names that regret whispers to us in the dark of night are only undone by the words declared to us about us in the bright light of day, Christ himself, through the proclamation of the Gospel—the Gospel of the justification of the sinner, of those alienated from themselves, those who are corrupt…you and me.

While I wish I could say that the death of the sham existence and with it regret’s tyranny is a once-and-done thing, it’s not. Yes, there is the initial encounter the human person has who hears the proclamation of the Gospel (for the first time newly) and suffers that initial death of the sham existence and the birth of the new life out of nothing. However, death to life is daily, sometimes even hourly, in the life of the believer. “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it’” (Lk 9:23-4). The call to take up my cross demands a daily response, and to take up my cross is essentially to be brought to death of self and my sham existence. Taking up my cross necessitates a confession that I am not my own and that I am Christ’s. It demands that I admit that I’ve, once again, believed the lies of my sham existence and let regret regain its domination over me. In this taking up of my cross and in this confession is my death but in this death is life, life abundant, life true, where our ear is inclined to Christ’s voice and not that of regret.

Media vita in morte sumus, in the midst of life we are in death; but even more media morte in vita sumus, in the midst of death we are in life.” Jüngel[5]


[1] “The World as Possibility and Actuality: The Ontology of the Doctrine of Justification” Theological Essays. Translated by J. B. Webster. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989. (108)

[2] “On Becoming Truly Human: The Significance of the Reformation Distinction Between Person and Works for the Self-Understanding of Modern Humanity.” Theological Essays II. Translated by Arnold Neufeldt-Fast and J. B. Webster. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995. (230)

[3] Ibid, 231.

[4]Possibility, 108-9.

[5] Ibid, 109