Barth Bite for September 16, 2015

“It is only by a tour de force that the omnipresence and eternity of God can be fitted to the pattern of the anthropological parallelism of the problems of space and time—the demonstration of which is beside our present purpose and may be cheerfully left to the logician, metaphysician or epistemologist.” Church Dogmatics, Volume II.1, page 465.

When Were You Saved?

I have found that it is very difficult to extract “sound bites” from my reading of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.  Most of his sentences are long and involved and imbedded in longer and more involved paragraphs and chapters.  Picking out a short, meaningful statement from Church Dogmatics is like trying to take out a musical phrase from a Bach fugue.  However, as a lover of Bach (whose tunes I’ve often played on my cello) and an admirer of Barth, I want to attempt sharing some brief passages from my reading. I call these “Barth bites” and will try to post these on a daily basis, usually with no content or minimal comment.

However I start today with a Barth bite I stole from a sermon by a Presbyterian minister named J. Bartlett Lee who is the pastor of North Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Slightly paraphrased, here is a snippet from Pastor Lee’s sermon:

Someone once asked the prominent Swiss Reformed theologian, “Dr. Barth,
when was the exact moment when you were saved?”

Karl Barth responded, “I was saved at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon,
on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem, in the year A.D. 33.”

God is free

I appreciate the fact that my readers have not been pestering me to post another entry on my Barth blog. My Arabic 2 class and beginning to read five pages a day of the Mishna has taken much of my time. Today I award your patience with an extended quote from Church Dogmatics – specifically Volume II.1, pages 314 – 315. which appear in small print.

I have sometimes complained about Barth’s writing style which I often find hard to understand, but in the following passage you will find him at his eloquent best. (Please tolerate the few British spellings, realizing that the German original was translated by a British professor, Dr. G. W. Bromiley.)

“It is not, then, the rigid presence of a being whose nature we can, so to speak, formulate in this or that principle. God is free to be present with the creature by giving Himself and revealing Himself to it or by concealing Himself and withdrawing Himself from it. God is free to be and operate in the created world either as unconditioned or as conditioned. God is free to perform His work either within the framework of what we call the laws of nature or outside it in the shape of miracle. God is free either to grant His immanence to nature by working at its heart or by exerting his sway at an infinite height above it. God is free to conceal His divinity from the creature, even to become a creature Himself, and free to assume again His Godhead. He is free to maintain as God His distance from the creature and equally free to enter into partnership with it, indeed, to lift the creature itself, in the most vigorous sense, into unity with His own divine being, with Himself. God is free to rule over the world in supreme majesty and likewise to serve in the world as the humblest and meanest of servants, free even to be despised in the world, and rejected by the world. God is free to clothe Himself with the life of the world in all its glory as with a garment; but free likewise Himself to die the death which symbolises the end of all things earthly, in utter abandonment and darkness. God is free to be entirely unlimited over against the world: not bound by its finitude, nor by its infinitude,; not confined to its time and space as a whole, nor to any one area of space or period of time. He is equally free to limit Himself: to be eternal in the tiny endlessness of our starry heavens, or of our human conceptuality, but eternal also in our finitude; to be shut up in the totality of our time-space universe, but also in all humility to be confined to this or that time and place as contrasted with other times and places. God is free to ally Himself, within creation to the spirit as against rebellious nature, but also free to ally Himself with nature in opposition to the undoubtedly more rebellious spirit. God is free to be provoked and to be merciful, to bless and to punish, to kill and to make alive, to exalt us to heaven and to cast us down into hell. God is free to be wholly inward to the creature and at the same time as Himself wholly outward: totus intra et totus extra [wholly inward and wholly outward] and both, of course, as forms of His immanence, of His presence, of the relationship and communion chosen, willed and created by Himself between Himself and His creation. This is how He meets us in Jesus Christ. His revelation in Jesus Christ embraces all these apparently so diverse and contradictory possibilities. They are all His possibilities. If we deny Him any one of them, we are denying Jesus Christ and God Himself. Instead of recognising and adoring God, we are setting up an idol. For we are imposing upon Him—in defiance of the freedom which He has actually provied to us—a bondage which can be only that of our own self-will that would like to deny God and put itself in the place of God. If only the Word of God breaks through the walls of our self-will, our worship of the freedom of God exercised in His immanence can have no bounds. And then the full inadequacy of all pantheism and panentheism will be exposed to us. For what a poor limited God it is, and what a poor and limited world, whose confines wholly or partially overlap in these systems, so that they have to be wholly or parially interpreted as a unity! Once the boundless exaltation of God’s freedom in immancnce is recognised to be necessary and rendered, there can be no further lapse into these systems.”