Now I had a discussion with one of my German friends amongst the student body here who ,told me that he believes that God cannot maintain His first creation, that He cannot maintain the creation as we see it in time and space, but that this creation, so to speak, was a failure. And this German student said: since the creation of God was a failure, through the guilt of man, God must cancel the creation, so to speak, and must posit the new creation. The new creation is something absolutely different from the old creation. Then I asked him about the structures which make that a tree always becomes a tree, and that the human being is always dependent on special functions of the blood stream, on the breath, on the lung, etc. Then he said: all this has to be cancelled, so to speak, by God in the new creation. The new creation is the new heaven and the new earth, the Kingdom of God – however it is symbolically called – and the natural structures which have proved to be a failure since man for whom theywere created is a failure, have to be removed by God and replaced by other ones.
Now this is an attitude in which the tragic element has completely overwhelmed the original goodness of man to which his essential freedom belongs. And insofar as Pelagianism – if you want to use that word for it – emphasizes human freedom in this sense, insofar as this is the case Pelagianism is a necessary corrective against the danger of Augustinianism to fall back into Manichaean dualistic tendencies and to emphasize the disruptedness of reality in such a way that even the natural structures of reality have to be removed.
My second answer is: When we speak about our relationship to God and the possibility of man, under the conditions of estrangement, to reunite with God, then I would say: this is impossible, because the ethical act which comes out of the situation of estrangement is colored, formed, shaped, by this situation of estrangement, even if it. is a so-called good act. And this means that only if there is a new reality is it possible to reunite with God, in the power of this new being, or new reality. And in this, Augustine and the classical theology, the Reformers, etc., are right. And I think modern philosophy and psychology, existentialism and depth psychology in their alliance, have confirmed what I have said. Perhaps our grandfathers could believe that there are people who have a good will and other people who have a bad will, and they are always on the side of those who have a good will, while it is the others who have a bad will. Now in every special situation you can decide this was a good deed and that was a bad deed. This is unambiguously so, so that if you do a good deed, everything is all right. Those of you who have heard or read some of my things will remember that I believe that life is defined by the concept of ambiguity, and that ambiguity means that in a tragic way the great is always at the same time the tragic, Greatness and tragedy belong together. The great produces great guilt, produces tragic guilt, And this is always ambiguously intermixed. Now if we ask ourselves about the best deed we have done – perhaps some of you remember their best deed, of I don’t know how many years ago, probably many, because from the last year we hardly will discover one–in any case, if we imagine our best deed, we must ask ourselves how many motives might have been co-operative in our good deeds, which in themselves are not good but are either ambiguous or bad. . . Now if we ask this every time, then we will not simply say: this was good, this was had, etc., but we will say our best deed was still a deed in which many elements which we probably would call ambiguous or bad, are present.
But the opposite is also true, namely, the people who are not people of good will – that is, the others – if we judge their acts, (and they are certainly very negative acts: they acted toward us very negatively, or they committed crimes, or all kinds of things), then we know that in their acts are elements of goodness, and they can be living acts only because of the elements of goodness within them. Otherwise, they could not have being, because being – or the power of being – -has in itself the nature of the good, according to the Christian idea that esse qua esse bonum est, being as being is good. Now if this is the case, then it is much easier not to condemn the others; then it is possible to judge ourselves more adequately. And “we” don’t even need to condemn ourselves, perhaps, in such a way as when we distinguish between black and white unambiguously. Our worst deed perhaps was not as bad as we think, when we compare it with other deeds which we count our best deeds. Perhaps the difference is not so terribly great.