Hegel’s Death of God Theodicy

Robert R. Williams

in Tragedy, Recognition, and the Death of God

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199656059
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744846 | DOI:
Hegel’s Death of God Theodicy

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If the moral God is dead, what sort of theodicy is possible? Errol Harris and Iwan Iljin offer divergent accounts of Hegel’s theodicy, neither of which adequately captures Hegel’s thought. Harris excludes the tragic tradition and serious otherness, and takes Hegel in the direction of Spinoza’s vision sub specie aeternitatis where evil finally disappears. Iljin appreciates that Hegel’s God, confronting serious otherness is tragic, but believes that this implies a demonic but finite divine that strives infinitely without achieving a final victory. Neither Harris nor Iljin does justice to Hegel’s fundamental speculative intuition of the union of God and death motivated by divine love. This chapter examines Hegel’s theodicy in his Philosophy of World History. This is usually interpreted as affirming a view of history in which freedom is progressively achieved and evil gradually disappears. This chapter argues on the contrary that Hegel makes two fundamental assertions concerning world history: (1) that world history is not progress, but rather a slaughterhouse. Evil and destruction remain permanent possibilities. This is ignored or minimized by interpretations of history as progress. (2) On the other hand that evil is a permanent possibility does not mean that choosing it is intelligible or that it is justified with equal standing alongside the good. World history may be regarded as a theodicy only to the extent that reconciliation can be discerned in it. Reconciling cognition is the criterion of Hegel’s theodicy, and it includes tragic features: reconciliation is a bliss, but a troubled bliss in disaster. The chapter concludes with a Hegel-influenced tragic conception of divine love elaborated by Paul Tillich. Tillich takes over Hegel’s ontological analysis of love as the reunion of the separate, and explores its relation to being, power and justice. Expounding Hegel, Tillich argues that love and power are not exclusive, but complementary. Tillich draws on Luther’s distinction between the alien work of love (compulsion/destruction of what is opposed to love) and the proper work (reconciliation, reunion). Luther failed to appreciate that the alien work of love is tragic: love must destroy what is against love. However, love’s destruction of what opposes it aims not at the destruction of the one who acts against love, but rather at his fulfillment. As Hegel observes, to say that love has conquered does not mean the same as saying duty has conquered, i.e., subdued its enemies; rather it means that love overcomes enmity and hostility, i.e., it aims at reuniting the separated. Tillich’s analysis complements Hegel’s tragic vision of the suffering and the creativity of love.

Keywords: Errol Harris; Iwan Iljin; philosophy of history; Eberhard Jüngel; Martin Luther; Paul Tillich; love; power; justice; alien work of love; proper work of love

Chapter.  22792 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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