Reflecting & Rejoicing

“It was not worthy of the goodness of God that those created by Him should be corrupted through the deceit wrought by the devil upon human beings. And it was supremely improper that the workmanship of God in human beings should disappear either through their own negligence or through the deceit of the demons… But now He comes, condescending towards us in His love for human beings and His manifestation.”

-Athanasius, On The Incarnation, pp. 55-57

“The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the refection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2, p. 94

This Advent season has been one on reflecting on my utter brokenness before God. I love and adore theological dialogue, doing theology and pressing into the ocean of mystery that is the depths of God and the Christian faith; but there are times when reading theology can itself become a distraction. Many times I’m quicker to pick up some work by Barth or Bonhoeffer than I am to dive into the Scriptures. Partly this is because I am afraid of the ways in which I am confronted with the reality of my sinfulness, and my complete unworthiness of approaching the throne of the infinite God. But then when I do engage Scripture, I am confronted with an unrelenting, loving God who is always moving towards not only Israel, but all human beings. This pure, holy love is not something I can bear at all. In being confronted by it, I am totally aware of my utter depravity and dread overwhelms the very core of my being. Like John says in his Revelation: “I fell at his feet, as though dead.” (Rev 1:17) Barth puts to words what I’m feeling better than I ever could:

“It is not the case that we ourselves can put ourselves in the position in which all that we can do is to seek what is above. We do, of course, put ourselves in many awkward positions. We can even plunge ourselves into despair. But we cannot put ourselves in the position, that saving and blessed despair, in which we can only seek refuge in God. But God plunges us into this despair when He reveals Himself to us, when His Word made flesh and the judgment of our flesh by the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes and ears and therefore kindles our faith.” [1]

Even in this dread, God is tender and gentle in His approach. Paul in the second chapter of his letter to the Ephesians speaks about the richness of God’s grace towards us:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:1-10, ESV)

God desires to show us the richness of His mercy. God is a God who is seeking us out. Barth speaks about the love of God and the language used in Scripture to convey it:

“In Holy Scripture the love of God to us speaks the language of this fact-the fact of His election, guidance, help and salvation-and it is in this language that it has to be heard and understood. But all the expressions of this factual language meet in the name of Jesus Christ. In this name the approach of God to man consists in one fact alone. This is, of course, the even of revelation and reconciliation in the one Word, which is the Son of God. It is the fact that God intercedes for man, that He takes upon Himself the sin and guilt and death of man, that laden with it all He stands surety for him.” [2]

The language we must use when speaking of the love of God is bound up in the name of Jesus Christ. To proclaim the love of God is to proclaim Jesus Christ. In the Christmas season we must be confronted by the profound mystery of God becoming man. We must be confronted by a God who is not far off; who is not indifferent to the plight of human beings. The Incarnation is a saving act. This saving act is also not one of conditionality. God moves towards us unconditionally. He is not moved out of necessity, but out of His free love for us. We see the goodness of God fully on display in the person of Christ, from His incarnation, life, death and resurrection. In this move we catch a glimpse of the eternal choice of God, to pledge His very being for us. To quote Barth some more:

“…God has no need to love us, and we have no claim upon His love. God is love, before He loves us and apart from it. Like everything else that He is, He is love as the triune God in Himself. Even without us and without the world and without the reconciliation of the world, He would not experience and lack of love in Himself. How then can we for our part declare it to be necessary that we should be loved by Him? It is, in fact, the free mercy and kindness of God which meets us in His love.” [3]

This Advent season, it is my desire to live in light of this work that God has done and is doing. God has moved towards us, and is still ever moving towards us moment by moment.

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

-1 John 4:15-19 ESV


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.2, p. 372

[2] ibid, p. 378

[3] ibid, p. 379

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The Endurance of the Electing God

“A man who is asleep…hears the voice of someone who loves him trying to rouse him gently from his sleep, because it is time for him to awake…”

-David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God (pp. 11-12)

“The smile of the cherishing mother that evokes the smile of the infant is a microcosm of a cosmic truth: that God’s gracious initiative in the incarnation—“ he first loved us”— is the provoking smile of a Creator who meets us in the flesh, granting even the grace that allows us to love him in return.”

-James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love

worldengine

In the movie ‘Man of Steel’, General Zod and his crew have found their way to earth because of a signal Kal-El (Superman) had sent out while turning on an ancient Kryptonian ship that had crashed on earth some thousands of years ago. They begin to “terraform” the earth, which means they are modifying the earth’s atmosphere to resemble Krypton’s atmosphere. They use what is called a “world engine” that works in tandem with Zod’s ship bouncing gravitational waves through the earth back and forth. Superman has to go to the Indian ocean to destroy the machine or the human race will cease to exist. Since this machine is turning the earth into Krypton, Superman will be seriously weakened, and could possibly be killed by it.

In what I would argue is the most beautiful and emotional sequence in any comic book movie, we find some members of the Daily Planet in the city as it is continuing to be destroyed by the terraforming of the ship. Jenny, a reporter for the Daily Planet, fleeing the destruction becomes trapped in a prison of cement. She realizes her predicament and becomes terrified of the circumstances. The crushing weight of the gravity machine is going to bring her and the two others to their end, and there is nothing that they can do about it. We cut to the indian ocean, where Superman has been thrown by the defense mechanism on the machine underneath the crushing gravity pulsating into the earth. As the music begins to swell upward, we see his hand come into frame in a fist, he begins to press back against the pulse. Back to the city, the men are trying their hardest to get Jenny out of her cement prison, the crushing weight of death approaches them without any hesitancy. The music continues to permeate the scene with hope, as Superman with all his determination presses upward into the ray and destroys the machine. You can watch the final two minutes of that sequence here.

The Beauty of the Incarnation

This scene strikes me in various ways. When we see Jenny trapped, I cannot think of anything other than our natural condition as human beings. We are trapped in our sinfulness, we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves. Even when we are aware of our sin and our despair, it does nothing to free us from our condition. It is solely rooted in the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit are we freed from this state of being. It is the unconditional love of the triune God which comes to set us free. It is not anything we have done or ever could do to earn or deserve it. He endures the violence of the cross to free us from our bondage. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

The aesthetic beauty of this scene is unrivaled for me. The lights of the pulse that washes over Superman, his hand clenching into a fist in his will to fight back, and Hans Zimmer’s score which penetrates the most hardened of hearts. What is more beautiful is how God actually became man. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, the hypostatic union. This mystery is of the most terrifying and wonderful depth. Athanasius speaks of the Word and the filling of all dimensions;

“The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension – above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.” (On the Incarnation)

T.F. Torrance speaks of the incarnation in this way;

“…the incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator…what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved.” (The Mediation of Christ, p. 48-49)

The Electing God Who Endures

In this action towards us God reveals His love for us in no uncertain terms. The story witnessed in the Scriptures is one of humanity abandoning God and God coming down into the wilderness seeking and saving us. First Israel then the world. God is the electing God. Karl Barth speaks of election as the “sum of the Gospel”. (CD II.2.1) To quote Barth at some length;

“In the midst of time it happened that God became man for our good. While underlining the uniqueness of this event, we have to reflect that this was not an accident, not one historical event among others. But it is the event which God willed from eternity.” (Dogmatics in Outline)

John Webster makes this point clear;

“God elects to be this God, God in this man, God known in and as Jesus Christ.” (Webster, p. 91)

Jesus Christ is both the electing God and the elected man. Election ‘is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One.’ (CD II.2.3) He fleshes this out even further in talking about the person of Christ:

“Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to MAN on behalf of GOD calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to GOD on behalf of MAN, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus He attests and guarantees to God’s free GRACE and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free GRATITUDE.” (The Humanity of God)

In Jesus Christ God has said Yes to all of His promises, no matter how many. (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)

“In His free grace, God is for man in every respect; He surrounds man from all sides. He is man’s Lord who is before him, above him, after him, and thence also with him in history, the locus of man’s existence. Despite man’s insignificance, God is with him as his Creator who intended and made mankind to be very good. Despite man’s sin, God is with him, the One who was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world, drawing man unto Himself in merciful judgment. Man’s evil past is not merely crossed out because of its irrelevancy. Rather, it is in the good care of God. Despite man’s life in the flesh, corrupt and ephemeral, God is with him. The victor in Christ is here and now present through His Spirit, man’s strength, companion, and comfort. Despite man’s death God is with him, meeting him as redeemer and perfecter at the threshold of the future to show him the totality of existence in the true light in which the eyes of God beheld it from the beginning and will behold it evermore. In what He is for man and does for man, God ushers in the history leading to the ultimate salvation of man.” (Barth, The Humanity of God)

All of this we see God’s endurance for us. The history of salvation bears this out.

Conclusion

When we go back to view that scene in which Superman endures and overcomes the horrific weight of the world engine, let us view it as a pointer. Superman is not God, nor does he actually represent Christ no matter how much the movie attempted to portray him as such. But what we can look to is how much this reflects and points us towards God’s endurance for us. He took on our sin and our flesh to heal it. He unconditionally binds Himself to us at the incarnation, suffers on the cross and puts an end to death in His resurrection. He is with us in our most difficult times, and is healing and transforming the world that was headed for certain eternal death. He speaks ‘Yes’ to His creation through the Word, who is Jesus Christ. From eternity God has elected us in Christ to share and participate in His triune being and work. When we encounter such beauty as the incarnation, or even a scene in a comic book movie, God is gently waking us from our despairing slumber. He has been gracious towards us from eternity. It is in Jesus Christ we have assurance of His promises towards us.

“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:19-22, ESV)

References:

Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 & Dogmatics in Outline

T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

John Webster, Karl Barth, Outstanding Christian Thinkers

Man of Steel

CD II.1: Barth & Natural Theology (Part 3 of 7)

“The revelation of God, in which man’s fulfillment of the true knowledge of God takes place, is the disposition of God in which He acts towards us as the same triune God that He is in Himself, and in such a way that, although we are men and not God, we receive a share in the truth of His knowledge of Himself. Certainly it is the share which He thinks proper and which is therefore suitable for us. But in this share we have the reality of the true knowledge of Himself.” -II.1, p. 51

In the previous post, we were venturing into the section in which Barth is beginning to lay his ground work against natural theology. Natural theology is defined as ‘a program of inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without referring or appealing to any divine revelation.‘ (IEOP) To be sure, Barth’s argument and discussion with Emil Brunner over natural theology is a famous one, and need not concern us for our purposes here.

From what we can gather from previous readings of Barth, we can already see why Barth would be so adamantly opposed to such “sciences” as it were. I am not going to give this the full treatment it deserves, but offer my humble assessment.

As we have seen in the previous posts here and here ;

Our knowledge of God is grounded in the action of God, in which He objectifies Himself to us, meets us in our own plane as a subject calling for a corresponding action on our part in the obedience of faith.

&

God’s revelation is a free act of triune, self-giving revelation dependent upon the free act of God and in no way depend on man’s cognitive ability or action.

We are still working through the sub section entitled “The Readiness of God”.

God’s readiness means:

“He is in His nature, and as He confronts us in His action, so constituted that he can be known by us” (p. 70)

His knowability is dependent upon His action, reflecting on John 1:14:

“We are mindful of God’s grace when we say that God is knowable.” (p. 74)

Barth works within the Reformed tradition in regards to his understanding of natural theology, where the Reformed tradition is suspicious of such a practice. I do think Barth goes father than the tradition though, especially when it comes to mere “natural knowledge” of God, which is a separate issue from natural theology. What needs to be understood is Barth’s concerns are not mere academic speculations, but pedagogical and pastoral. A concern is found with the conversation and an effective basis of conversation between Christians and non-Christians, between the Church and the world. For Barth, this conversation must be done with faith acting towards unbelief:

“But this work must be the work of faith itself and alone, and therefore a faith acting sincerely towards unbelief. This is the work which must be done in any such conversation.” (p. 96)

We can see somewhat of an analogy (ironically) between how God moves towards us, who are in unbelief and gives us faith, in the same way Christians must move forward in faith towards unbelief. Not that we can give any one faith (what a silly notion). Believers should not pretend to be in some ‘neutral’ position with the unbeliever in terms of the knowledge of God and their ability to grasp it, since God is Himself infinitely distinct from us and the way we know God is through His free action towards us in Jesus Christ, the Word of God, that establishes and sustains our faith. Faith, for Barth, is knowledge and not just mere affectionate trust (although this is included in genuine faith).

What Scripture presses upon us is not so much a concern for a “natural theology”, based on human autonomy and cognitive abilities, but God’s confrontation with us in His revelation in Christ.

“The natural man is permanently occupied with the natural life of man.” (p. 86)

“What is ‘God’ to the natural man, and what he also certainly calls his ‘God’ is a false god. This false god is known by him and therefore knowable to him. But as a false god it will not lead him in any sense to a knowledge of the real God.” (p. 86) 

“…God is really known, and therefore known in His knowability; that the natural man can therefore know God without revelation, simply on the strength and in the success of his attempt to master himself and the world. There is no such compulsive fact in the whole known circle of human history.” (p. 87)

This is where I think Barth is strongest; rejecting the enlightenment project of the ability of man to master all things in the universe purely by man’s autonomous reasoning and empirical investigations. This I do hope more and more Christians begin to accept this reasoning, especially in this recent age of rationalist apologetics, in which we have implicitly accepted the notion of neutrality . Barth is not completely negative towards natural theologians, but even his positive comments really aren’t going to satisfy the individuals who practice natural theology. What Barth is moving towards is our knowledge of God is dependent on the ‘readiness of God’ and not at all dependent on the ‘readiness of man’ so to protect God’s freedom in how He chooses to reveal Himself, and in those revelations God is not mastered or totalized in our conceptions or attributes we assign to God. He is uncontrollable, totally free from us and is not collapsed into any of the sacramental realities in which He chooses to use as a medium of communication.

There is no such thing as a twofold revelation (general and special revelation) for Barth. Barth does not consider belief or unbelief as mere cognitive activities, nor should any Christian. Revelation is reconciliation. To quote from another work of Barth:

“Revelation, as the Christian apprehends it, is certainly such communication of truth [theological doctrine]. But it is also the work in which God Himself acts in His relation to man–originally in Jesus Christ, mediately in the Church of Jesus Christ. It has therefore been impossible for us to speak of the essence of revelation without straightway speaking also of Reconciliation.The truth revealed to us in revelation is not a doctrine about reconciliation but is the reconciliation itself, the reconciling action of God” (Revelation, ed. J. Baillie and H. Martin, NY: MacMillan, 1937: 74)

Revelation is actively the act of reconciliation, as we are confronted by God’s action in grace and mercy towards us. It is an act of reconciliation and thus knowledge of God is not something static in the phenomenal world for us to experience outside of God’s gracious action and communication of Himself to us.

There is a theme that runs through all of Scripture us towards something of a “static” natural knowability of God in nature and the cosmos. Man is not “independent” of God’s revelation (p. 113). The co-witnessing word of man always points “to the Word which God as his Lord has already uttered and will utter again.” (p. 128)

There is much more that can be said here, but for now this should suffice in a basic outline of Barth’s position.

To conclude, the availability of the real knowledge of God comes to us only, according to Barth, in the form of the witness to the Word, who is Jesus Christ, which is mediated by the Church. Any attempts to establish knowledge of God outside of this is to say there is access to God outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We will move onto the ‘Readiness of Man’ in the next post.

“We started out from the proposition that apparently nothing is more simple and self-evident than the knowledge that we find God’s knowability only in the readiness of God Himself, that we can accept it gratefully only out of the free grace and mercy of His revelation as the inaccessible made accessible to us, and therefore a theology which seeks another knowability of God is incontestably impossible in the sphere of the Church…” (p. 126)

 

CD II.1 (Part 2 of 7)

I hope I can get these out more frequently, but my schedule is not always allowing such things to happen! Which is actually a good thing but I digress. The further I dig into this volume of Barth’s Church Dogmatics the more enjoyable it is becoming. The ebb and flow of Barth’s thought becomes captivating and rather addicting. I recently acquired a copy of Otto Weber’s Introduction to Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, which has proven to be a wonderful guide in my journey. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for help in understanding what Barth is getting at in the Church Dogmatics.

In my first post of this seven part series, the summary of this volume thus far:

 

Our knowledge of God is grounded in the action of God, in which He objectifies Himself to us, meets us in our own plane as a subject calling for a corresponding action on our part in the obedience of faith.”

What should be highlighted at this point is that for Barth, God’s freedom to reveal Himself is his (Barth’s) utmost concern. We respond in faithful, child like obedience to the Word God has revealed. The fulfillment of the knowledge of God is only possible because God Himself as actually spoken to us.

“Therefore, everything else that He has to say to us, all truth and reality, all enlightenment and salvation, depends on the fact that primarily and comprehensively He is speaking about Himself.” (p. 48)

All knowledge of God depends on if He is actually speaking of Himself. Even our faith has been given to us by God, as Barth declares:

“…where God stands before man as the One who awakens, creates and upholds his (man’s) faith, and where God offers Himself to man as the object and content of the knowledge of his faith, He does it in this being and action- as the One who remains a mystery to us because He Himself has made Himself so clear and certain to us.” (p. 43)

It is not to be understood that mystery and clarity are strict contradictions here. The more knowledge of God we have, the more profound the mystery of His being becomes to us, and the more we become aware of the lack of ability for our words and terms to grasp His majesty. Barth on the meaning of mystery:

“Mystery means that He is and remains the One whom we know only because He gives Himself to be known. He is and remains the light visible and seen only in His own light.” (p. 41)

Moving on from mystery, Barth contends God’s objectivity is “primarily” trinitarian. We receive is a “secondary objectivity” (p. 55):

“His works and signs in our creaturely sphere, before our eyes and ears, and in our hearts. As such, and of themselves, they are not capable of yielding a knowledge of him.” (p. 55)

Since we are marred by sin and are unable to yield knowledge of God by our own capacities, God designates and elevates objects to be ‘sacramental’ means in which He communicates Himself to us. The ground for sacramental realities is to be found the human nature of Jesus Christ. He is the first sacrament (p. 54). He establishes the possibility of sacramental realities.

“It is the case everywhere that when there is unveiling there is also veiling, when God sets up His lordship it means the self-humiliation and self-alienation of God, when He reveals Himself His hiddenness is confirmed. Revelation occurs for faith, not for unbelief.” (p.55)

We then come to a critical point in understanding how sacramental realties are in themselves not revelation:

“Yet the sacramental reality, the selected subject-object relationship, is not in itself and as such identical either with revelation or with real knowledge of God. It serves it, because God reveals Himself and is known.” (p. 55)

Scripture is to be thought of as a sacramental reality. Much debate happens with the frame of Biblical inerrancy (I don’t intend to entertain those debates currently), and this can help us see a way out of the rigid Biblicism that collapses God’s revelation and word within the written letter of the Bible. This, according to Barth, must not and cannot happen. God is the living God who speak to us today. He is always speaking and if we had ears to hear we could hear Him speaking constantly. This is where some dialectal tension gets involved, which can be dizzying at first. The tension comes in for good reason, reading Scripture can become idolatry if we are not careful. We think we are hearing the Lord, when in reality it can very well be our own voice and we could be worshipping a God made in our own image. Idolatry is always close by for us and our affections directed at anything can quickly dive into a despairing false worship.

From there we move into Barth’s treatment of God being an object for Himself, and how when we use His name it is His name He has determined for us to call Him by. God is free and uncreated, He creates things outside of Himself, and brings Himself to be the object of knowledge for His creation. He is the one who determines Himself to be known, and how He is to be known. True knowledge of God, for Barth, is entirely monergistic. He is the one who does all things to reveal Himself to His creatures/creation whom He loves and gave Himself up to reconcile all things to Himself. This is where Barth really shines, and where I very much enjoy reading the run on sentences and repetition that comes into play with his words. Barth proclaims:

“The knowability of God is not knowability of God if finally-even considered from man’s side-it is something other than the work of God Himself (and therefore an object of praise). (p. 66)

It must be the work of God to establish true possibility and true knowability to man’s side if man ever wants to have true knowledge of God. What is most wonderful is that God’s action is never arbitrary; it is always out of His triune self giving love which is out of freedom. It is grace:

The fact that God is revealed to us is then grace. Grace is the majesty, the freedom, the unreservedness, the unexpectedness, the newness…in which the relationship to God and therefore the possibility of knowing Him is opened to man by God Himself.” (p. 74)

‘God is being and nature are not exhausted in the encroachment’ (p. 75) but for Barth:

“God is wholly and utterly the good pleasure of His grace and mercy… He is wholly and utterly in His revelation, in Jesus Christ.” (p. 75)

For Barth there is no analogy ‘on the basis of which the nature and being of God can be accessible to us.’ (p. 76) Again, not going to enter in the debate of ‘analogy of being’ and ‘analogy of faith’, but for Barth God is so utterly distinct from us that we have no analogy to which God can be accessible to us outside of the gracious action of God to establish it. Moving from there we start to see why Barth was so opposed to natural theology (revelation and knowledge of God outside of the person of Jesus Christ). Man cannot establish or make encroachment for true knowledge of God. I think some of his critiques are certainly warranted given the popularity of natural theology among apologists today. The next blog post will deal with that section (pg. 85-103).

CD II.1 (Part 1 of 7)

I have begun journeying my way through part one of Barth’s second volume of the Church Dogmatics, which is on the knowledge of God. To keep myself accountable, I’ll be doing short blog posts on my studies; it will consist of seven posts. This being the first post!

The first part of the volume is made up of two chapters: “The Knowledge of God” and “The Reality of God”. What I love about reading Barth is the way he presents a paradox; a tension between positions and doesn’t seek to dissolve the tension. For this reason we simply cannot expect to fully grasp what Barth is going for in short, proof text samples. We have to fully engage him; read him in full context. This is why when I come across criticisms of Barth I usually dismiss the critique. Reason being that a majority of the time it (the critique) is really due to lack of understanding how to read Barth, and taking various passages out of context. Of course this is not true for all who criticize Barth, nor does this mean we shouldn’t be critical of him! Now, onto my readings thus far!

“Every man becomes the image of the God he adores. He whose worship is directed to a dead thing becomes dead. He who loves corruption rots. He who loves a shadow becomes, himself, a shadow. He who loves things that must perish lives in dread of their perishing.” -Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

In the first part of “The Knowledge of God”, Barth begins to deal with what actually constitutes knowledge of God, and how this is fulfilled in man. He spells out how this is done:

“The knowledge of God occurs in the fulfilment of the revelation of His Word by the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the reality and with the necessity of faith and its obedience.” (p. 3)

For Barth, true knowledge of God comes through revelation of His Word, Jesus Christ, through faith and obedience to His Word by the Holy Spirit. ‘In the Church of Jesus Christ men speak about God and men have to hear about God’ (p. 3). This God is the triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), when we speak about Him we speak about his grace and truth, about His kingdom, ‘about the state and life of man in the sphere of His lordship.’ (p. 3) Since this volume deals with the doctrine of God, in it we ‘have to learn what we are saying when we say “God”‘. (p. 3) Barth then poses the question:

“If we do not speak rightly of this Subject (God), how can we rightly speak of His predicates?” 

This is where we come to, and are confronted by the problem of knowledge. Here for Barth, the question we must pose cannot be done ‘in abstracto but only in concreto: not a priori but only a posteriori’ (p. 5) What Barth wants to show is that we cannot approach the knowledge of God presupposing a theory of knowledge in which the knowledge of God can be ‘judged and decided in one way or another’, somehow its grounding can be suspended and the human knower can have control over it. This is where Barth utterly rejects a modernist ontology of knowing, the ground up approach based upon the reasoning and capacity of the human knower, not depending on the grace and work of God. Thinking that the knowledge of God is like any other object to be known, that we can inquire this knowledge the same way we inquire about any other thing in our world.

Here Barth speaks of the only two meaningful questions we can ask: how far is God known? and how far is God knowable?

The knowledge of God that concerns us here for Barth takes place ‘not in a free choice, but with a very definite constraint.’ (p. 7) True knowledge of God, for Barth, is bound to God’s Word given to the Church, ‘knowledge which we are concerned is bound to the God who is in His Word gives Himself to the Church to be known as God. Bound this way it is the true knowledge of the true God.’ (p. 7)

When we understand the constraint on this knowledge, we see the constraint is a safeguard for us for the possibility of true knowledge of Him. For ‘any escape out of the constraint of the Word of God means crossing over to the false gods and no-gods’ (p. 7) Idolatry is of utmost concern. Moving forward we begin to enter into some tension filled issues that Barth seeks to spell out. To quote him at length:

“…the knowledge of God in its fulfilment by the revelation of the Word of God is bound to its one, determined and uniquely distinct object, and that it is knowledge of this object and not of another- knowledge of the God who gives Himself to be known in His Word- means further that, without any prejudice to its certainty, but in this very certainty, it is mediated knowledge.” (p. 9)

Barth moves to show that faith is knowledge, ‘faith is man’s orientation to God as an object.’ (p. 13) God gives Himself to be this object of knowing for the human subject. God’s triune self-knowledge is unmediated to Himself; ‘He is immediately objective to Himself’. (p. 16) For the human knower God is ‘mediately objective to us in His revelation, in which He meets us under the sign and veil of other objects’. (p. 16) Here is where Barth develops tension in the clarity of God’s revelation to us. God determines an object in which He discloses Himself (Scripture being one of those objects). We must not think, of course, that God’s self-disclosure is reduced to the medium in which is used for it.

What matters and concerns Barth is that God is utterly free in His action towards us; this action is not arbitrary. We are confronted with the knowledge of God because God determines Himself to be known as the object of our knowledge. Knowledge of God is knowing Him in the events in history, the New Testament is a witness to His “passing before”.

“As we turn back again to the Bible we remember that what is there described as the knowledge of God stands in contrast to all other human cognition in that it always in fact coincides with some action of God. God is known, not simply because He is God in Himself, but because He reveals Himself as such; not simply because His work is there, but because He is active in His work.” (p. 23) 

What then is required of the human knower is the act of faith in obedience. For Barth, like Calvin before him, ‘Knowledge of God is obedience to God’ (p. 26). This obedience is not blind, slavish obedience, but like a child to a parent. Faith, rightly construed, is knowledge. This knowledge, which is graciously bestowed by the free action of God, leads us to act in obedience to His Word attested to by the Scriptures.

To summarize thus far:

Our knowledge of God is grounded in the action of God, in which He objectifies Himself to us, meets us in our own plane as a subject calling for a corresponding action on our part in the obedience of faith.

How thankful we should be for His action towards us in love!

The Incarnation Means Reconciliation

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” -Matthew 1:20-25

“Jesus Christ is truly God and truly human. The incarnation means that God himself is in our world as a human among humans. Through the incarnation of his Word God reveals himself to us and reconciles us to him. This is the message of Christmas.” -Karl Barth

“Jesus Christ came among us sharing to the full the poverty of our ignorance, without ceasing to embody in himself all the riches of the wisdom of God, in order that we might be redeemed from our ignorance through sharing in his wisdom.” -T.F. Torrance

Merry Christmas all! The Lord be with you always.

Anxiety|Struggle and the Electing God.

“What God has to say to us is this: First, we are forgiven. Astonishingly, with no ground other than the miracle of mercy, the past of sin is over, and we are set free for holiness. Second, we live in the light of God’s glorious presence. God isn’t simply on the other side of the horizon. He is God with us, in Jesus Christ. Third, we live under his rule and therefore within his protection and care. He has taken away from us the evil responsibility we think we have for ourselves, and has set us under his might.” -John Webster, Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian

The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the question “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” How often do we ask this question of ourselves? Daily? Weekly? However much, it most likely isn’t often enough. Since we are creatures that run full speed into idolatrous thinking, unfortunately this means we are unable to come to a conclusion of ontological significance. We would likely have a different answer depending on the day, mood we are in and circumstances that we find ourselves in. We struggle to find meaning for our existence, we stumble our way through our lives being held captive by our desires towards the created things and pulled away from the One who is the true end of our desires. There seems to be an endless grind, in which the mundane tasks of life seek to suck the life right out of our core. We hopelessly seek an answer, only to find the answers we have found are a mere reflection of ourselves, and this gives us right back to the despair we attempted to get away from.

Is God silent in the face of all this despair? Taking a Que. from Karl Barth, “Nein!” God has spoken a decisive Yes towards His creation. That Word was a saving word. The Word that was in the beginning. That same Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). How wonderful the Christmas season is! It is a global reminder that God has not left us alone in our despair, and has given us the comfort that we seek. Not because of what we did, but out of His love for us.

Karl Barth speaks of the doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel:

“…All words that can be said or hear it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom. It is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One.” CD II.2.32, pg. 3

When we look to the Incarnation, we can find that our despair is located within our flesh, which will not overcome us:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4,5)

Christmas season is the witness to this. The darkness has not overcome the light, and the light was the life of men. Before creation He pledged to be our God. In His loving freedom He acted towards us, he did not leave us alone in our despair and anxieties. He truly is Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), God is indeed with us.