This Advent I’ve been reading Karl Barth’s collection of talks, The Word of God and the Word of Man. It’s his earlier material, and some of it even dates to his time as a young pastor, before he was a well-known theologian.
I’m currently in chapter 5, “The Problem of Ethics Today,” and there are some passages in there that are pure gold. I thought I would share a few of my favorite quotes.
” The meaning of our situation is that God does not leave us and that we cannot leave God. It is because God himself and God alone lends our Life its possibility that it becomes so impossible for us to live. It is because God says Yes to us that the No of existence here is so fundamental and inescapable…It is because the deathless life of God is our true portion that the necessity of death reminds us so inexorably of the sinful narrowness of our will to live. Through our doom we see therefore what is beyond our doom, God’s love; through our awareness of sin, forgiveness; through death and the end of all things, the beginning of a new and primary life. It is when man is most remote from God that God in his mercy seeks out and finds him” (p.98-99).
This is Barth doing dialectical theology. That is, God’s Word of grace to human beings is always something that comes from outside. We do not have the ability to work our way to it, but must simply receive it. This grace, this divine YES to us, comes to us in the midst of our fallen state which brings judgment (the divine NO). Barth is here offering a re-working of some classical Reformed Christian ideas. He draws heavily from Paul, Luther, and Calvin. This may not seem all that radical to American evangelicals, but Barth was butting heads against the established European liberal Protestantism with its visions of ultimate human progress.
“Man’s will is and remains unfree: he lives and will live to the end of his days under the annihilating effect of the fall; his goals from the least to the highest will be of a different kind from the final goal, his conduct will be evil, and his achievement not only incomplete but perverted” (p.99).
This is Barth re-stating the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity. That’s the idea that sin has affected humankind and its attendant structures to the effect that even our best moral works and efforts falls short of God’s original intention for us. In Barth’s context, Switzerland 1922, Europe was reeling from the disillusionment World War I caused from the idea that Christian civilization would advance into a glorious future due to technology and progress. They had just seen that technology and progress nearly kill off an entire generation of young men.
“In this world there is no salvation and no certainty apart from the unique forgiveness of God, by which the sin of the pious and the not pious, the sin discoverable in all life relations, the sin underlying the whole system of human ends, is covered” (p.100).
“Faith and revelation expressly deny that there is any way from man to God and to God’s grace, love, and life. Both words indicate that the only way between God and many is that which leads from God to man. Between these words–and this is the inner kernel of the theology of Paul and the Reformation–there are two other words: Jesus Christ” (P.105).
“Solution is certain because salvation is certain, the salvation of man, the redemption of the body, of the creature, of the lost and imprisoned creation of God. Salvation is certain because the new man is present from above, bringing the new heaven and the new earth, the kingdom of God” (p.105).
If the above won’t preach, I don’t know what will.
This sort of writing is what makes me love Barth. He is incredibly realistic about the fallen human condition and incredibly hopeful regarding the reach of God’s grace.