Sunday, February 13, 2011

Barth I.1 §5.1-3

Having established in the previous section what the Word of God truly is, namely, that it is only to be equated with his revelation, that is, with the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Barth continues in this section to discuss the nature of the Word of God.  If the previous section dealt with "what" the word of God is, this section explores the "how" of the word of God.  "How" or "in what manner" does the Word of God come to us.

Because of other pressing concerns this week, I was able to read, but I feel like I have not fully digested this material.  Barth again seemed to be back to his old ways of rambling on, chasing rabbit trails, dancing around the real issue.

Nevertheless, several things stood out.  One, Barth continues to uphold the absolute freedom of the Word of God.  The Word is not constrained, grasped, or held captive by human words or human concerns.  God speaks freely, not out of any compulsion.  For Barth, God does not speak because he is lonely and in need of a companion.  No, he speaks freely.  One remarkable implication of this conclusion is that God speaks for us out of love.  God is not compelled to speak on our behalf, but he does so nonetheless.

Another thing that stood out is that God's word is also at the same time an act.  With God there is no division between speech and act as there is with humans.  For humans, speech must be followed with the corresponding act if it is to be taken seriously.  Hence the figures of speech: "you talk the talk, can you walk the walk," or "put your money where your mouth is."  Yet, for God, this dichotomy between speech and act does not exist.  They are one and the same.  When God speaks, he acts, when he speaks, something happens.

Another thing that struck me is the fourfold way in which God's word makes a claim on humans.  When God speaks to humans, they hear his word as the Word of the Lord, The Word of the Creator, The Word of the Reconciler, and finally, the Word of the Redeemer.  God's word is a word: God with us. 

Finally, at the end of §5.3, Barth talks about the Word of God as decision.  It is a decision about humanity, or about a particular man or woman.  It is a free decision, a decision that lays bare what a man or woman is.  Are they obedient in faith or disobedient in unbelief.  These are all God's decision, and a free decision at that. 

In this last section, Barth seems to be flirting with the doctrines of predestination and free will.  While he preserves the complete freedom of God to decide, he fails to be completely clear about the freedom of the human.  Here is one example where Barth seems to be ambivalent. Speaking about the decision of humanity in the face of God's word, Barth writes:
"this is really my own supremely responsible decision.  But it is not in my decision that it acquires the character of being a good choice on the one hand or a bad one on the other.  The implication of this decision of mine taken with my own free will, namely, the step either to the right hand or the left, the choice to believe and obey or the refusal to do either--this qualification of my decision is the truth within it of the divine decision concerning me.  In speaking to me God has chosen me, as the man that I am, to be the man that I am.  The new quality I acquire through the Word of God is my true and essential quality." (CD I.1 §5.3 p. 161). 

Is Barth clear here and I am just missing it, or does it seem to you also like he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth?

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