Selfhood and Destiny

Wolfhart Pannenberg “What is Man?”, Fortress, 1970. pg. 55-56

Insofar as the direction of a man’s life is toward God,

community with God is already actualized in this movement. To

that extent, the destiny of man already becomes effective and

becomes a reality for us in this life. This pre­supposes that

we remain in this movement and do not stop along the way.

The fact is, however, that men repeatedly interrupt their

course through the world toward God. They establish

them­selves in the world and, at least temporarily, forget

their quest for God. This is temporary, because it lies in the

nature of the question that it cannot be forgotten

indefinitely. Men do not forget God simply because they are

lazy. This forgetfulness has a deeper root, namely, man’s

egocentricity. Left to their own initiative, men by no means

live in a constant movement beyond themselves in an open­ness

to the world. Rather, as they actually are, men strive to

assert themselves and to prevail. Each person seeks to attain

all the riches of life for himself. It is common for the

clever person to exercise moderation as a means to this end.

A person seeks to establish himself through his achievements,

and he basks in whatever recognition others accord him.

Whatever task a man might take on becomes a matter of his

concern by the very fact that he puts his hand to that task.

The more he spends himself in its service, the more he

establishes his own self along with accomplishing the task.

This is the source of the ambiguity of all human behavior.

Each person experiences time and space only in reference to

himself. Each person is the center of his world. Therefore,

the here and now is different for each person.

It is clear that such egocentricity does not stand in an

obvious harmony with man’s openness to the world. On the

contrary, there is an inherent tendency in the ego to adhere

to one’s own purposes, conceptions, and customs. Thus a

man not only has a tendency to break out into the open, but he

also has a tendency toward a certain self-enclosement.

However, even where a person breaks through into the open, the

ego is always involved in it. The person who thinks he can

move beyond his self only lives in a dream world. Wherever he

might move, he brings. his self with him.

A person does not escape his self either through diversion or

through asceticism. To be sure, that is not even worth

striving for. The wish to escape one’s self is only a short

circuit in the whole enterprise. Aversion to one’s self is

ingratitude. A person can overcome his self centeredness not

by throwing away his ego, but by incorporating it into a

larger totality of life. This actually happens, however, a

person actually transcends his egocentricity in this sense,

only at the boundary of actual human existence (that may

happen just by learning to be content). For it is just at that

boundary that what existed up to that point is abandoned. What

exists, however, is at all times and at all places an ego.

Even if it has just been abandoned, it is immediately there

again in the new situation. All human life is carried out in

the tension between self.


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