Daily Archives: November 18, 2013

Jesus’ passion was not “penal” or “in place of man” but “suffering from and under man”

Some years before Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology was published and translated into English, Herbert Neie wrote a dissertation on his thought up to his own time, entitled, The Doctrine of the Atonement in the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Berlin, New York:  Walter De Gruyter 1978; reprinted 2012).  There he makes the following thoughtful comment (emphasis added).

[I]f, on account of God’s self-definition as love through Jesus’ proclamation and resurrection, Jesus’ passion is no longer intelligible as penal or in place of man, then it must be interpreted so as to be compatible with this novel self-definition of God. That is, then it may, and must, be understood as the suffering of God who suffers because he loves man. Because he loves man, he shares1 man’s suffering from and under man. God bears and endures what man does to him and what man does to and endures from one another.2

1 Similarly Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. ii: Existence and the Christ (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 976. Substitutional suffering is “a rather unfortunate term and should not be used in theology. God participates in the suffering of existential estrangement, but his suffering is not a substitute for the suffering of the creature. Neither is the suffering of the Christ a substitute for the suffering of man. But the suffering of God, universally and in the Christ, is the power which overcomes creaturely self-destruction by participation and transformation. Not substitution, but free participation, is the character of the divine suffering.”—One would take issue with Tillich only on the “free.” For love necessarily participates in the suffering of the other.

2 For the history of this idea in theology and philosophy of religion, beginning with the Biblical prophets, cf. J. Moltmann, The Crucified God. The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (NY, Evanston, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 267-278, and the literature cited there. Especially important for the development and use of this idea is Jewish religious philosophy and theology and process theology. M. does not inform about the latter’s achievement.

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