Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barth I.2 §14.2

This section of Barth was wonderfully written and organized, which I have found is a rarity for Barth. Barth really seemed to understand what he was talking about and was therefore easily able to communicate what he meant.  ( I have often found that my writing is the least clear when I do not have a good conception in my mind as to what I mean to communicate, though of course this is not the case for Barth.  Where he is unclear, it is clearly that I just simply can't understand him).

In this section, Barth is speaking about the Old Testament as the time of expectation, that is the time of expectation of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As I began to read, I had a moment of trepidation.  There is so much abuse in "reading Jesus into the OT," that I feared the worse.  Would Barth find Jesus on every page of the OT, lurking behind every obscure prophecy or hiding in the guise of an angel of God or as a shadowy figure in the fire.  Not to fear, Barth did not do any of this.  Instead, he really did a great job telling the story of Israel and how that story is one of waiting and expectation.  The story of the OT looks for it's fulfillment, and read from this side of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, it is clear that Christ is that fulfillment.

Barth treated the OT expectation in 3 parts.

In the first part, Barth spoke of covenants.  The story of Israel is one of covenant, of God claiming a people for himself.  There are numerous covenants in the OT: Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others that exemplify this relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel.  But these covenants are all awaiting their fulfillment.  These covenants bear witness to the their expectation of fulfillment, which the Christian believes happens in Jesus Christ.

In the second part, Barth speaks of the story of Israel as the story of the encountering God's hiddenness.  This hiddenness is found in God's judgment.  When God claims sinful humanity for himself, there is an inevitable judgment.  Because Israel is the chosen people in the Old Testament, it was inevitable that they would bear the brunt of God's judgment.  There were some very powerful quotes in this section about the judgment passed on Israel as necessary because of relationship of sinful humanity to a perfect God and Israel displaying that judgment to the world as God's chosen people. As Barth writes:

"The story of this nation is only too much a reptetition of the story of its tribal ancestor, who has to wrestle not only with man but with God, and though disabled by God  nevertheless wrestles with this one till dawning: 'I will not let thee go except thou bless me.'  This nation's decline and fall seems to be God's own triumph, and this nation's salvation seems to lie exclusively in the fact that, like a drowning man, it must clutch constantly at the hand, must constantly be saved by the hand, that smites it so frightfully." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 87).
But, God's hiddenness and judgment does not get the last word.  Judgment is not the end for Israel, or for humanity. According to Barth, the last word is spoken in the fulfillment of God's covenant and with reconciliation:
"He who, because he is God in the assertion of His real Lordship, will not let His hiddenness be the last word--that makes it all the more impossible for man in his rebellion to retain the last word.  It must be so because there must be a Christmas, because reconciliation must take place in the event of God's real lordship." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 92).
This quote is perhaps the first reference in the Dogmatics that I have seen that could be construed as Barth's leaning toward universalism, but that is a discussion left for another day.

Finally, in section three, Barth speaks of the eschatological nature of Israel's hope.  Barth finds in the main avenues of hope in the OT, in the promised land, in the temple, in the people and the covenants, and finally in the king, all of these objects of hope have a concrete referent, but all look beyond that referent to an eschatological fulfillment.  According to Barth, that fulfillment is found only in Jesus Christ.

Barth ends with a brief discussion of the present situation and relationship of the church to the synagogue.  This quote I found powerful:
"The mystery of revelation, which is the mystery of free, unmerited grace, includes the Church of the New Testament inseparably with the people whose blessing is attested for us in the Old Testament as expectation of Jesus Christ.  And this very mystery acts not only as a barrier but as a bond between Church and Synagogue which, like the impenitent sister with seeing eyes, refuses to see that the people of the Old Testament really expected Jesus Christ and in this expectation was graciously blessed." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 101).
This quote gives a marvelous foundation for relations between the Church and the Jewish people that has been sorely lacking for much of Church history.  

What I liked most about this section, besides bring crystal clear, was that Barth followed the biblical narrative and demonstrated how powerful that narrative can be without delving into theological and philosophical speculation.

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