In Systematic Theology,3 Paul Tillich refers to life as ambiguous, for example: the desire for individualization versus participation, acting on moral imperatives versus norms, and the contrast of essential and existential elements. What we seek is the ‘unambiguous’ life. Religion moves one into the realm of the spirit wherein self-transcendence is found, but religion too is ambiguous, especially ‘concrete religion.’ However religion produces three symbols of the unambiguous life: (1) the “Spirit of God” or “Spiritual Presence,” (2) the “Kingdom of God” – the historical dimension of life and the dynamics of historical transcendence, and (3) Eternal Life – the conquest of finitude and ambiguity. Through these symbols one can achieve self-transcendence, described as a vertical movement towards (though never reaching) the unconditional.
Unamuno in Tragic Sense of Life offers a slightly different take on the existence of God. Since proof or demonstration are impossible, belief in God is a longing, a decision to “act as if He existed.”4 And what will bring the greatest meaning to human life, what he calls the ‘heart’s truth’? The answer is apparent enough; the immortality of one’s soul or consciousness – “the truth of the human finality of the Universe. And what is its moral proof? We may formulate it thus: Act so that in your own judgment and in the judgment of others you may merit eternity.”5 In Kant-like words, Unamuno tells us faith in God is part craving and part pretending, but meaning comes from being worthy of God’s approval and from meriting eternal life.
In short, for the person of faith and the theologian, God’s existence offers the opportunity of an expanded human meaning. This can be attained by living in a community of believers, imitating the life of Christ, consolation for earthly suffering in the afterlife, self-transcendence and the conquest of finitude and ambiguity via religious symbols, or at a minimum, acting so as to merit eternity and the approval of the divine. Next time we will examine rebuttals of God as essential to a meaningful life.
1Klemke, E.D. (editor), The Meaning of Life. Oxford University Press, New York, 2000. ISBN 0-19-512703-X, pages 11-20.
2Ibid., pages 57-64.
3Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology. The University of Chicago Press. 1967. ISBN 0-226-80336-8. Volume 3, Pages 11-110.
4De Unamuno, Don Miguel, Tragic Sense of Life. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1954. Pages 184-185
5Ibid. page 263.