Because Our Concept of God is Too Narrow … Far too Narrow

Ooh la la: Ice storm! Stayed home from work!! Reading Barth!!! Doesn’t get much better than that. Here’s today’s goody from the Church Dogmatics (IV:1, p. 186. 1956 ed., to be specific). Barth is critiquing the idea that the incarnation is “God against God,” an idea that was evidently quite popular among the German Lutherans of his day. What I find so moving is Barth’s emphasis on taking God at face value and being humble in the face of what we find.

We begin with the insight that God is “not a God of confusion, but of peace” (1 Cor. 1433). In Him there is no paradox, no antinomy, no division, no inconsistency, not even the possibility of it. He is the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness nor interplay of light and darkness (Jas. 117). What He is and does He is and does in full unity with Himself. It is in full unity with Himself that He is also—and especially and above all—in Christ, that He becomes a creature, human, flesh, that He enters into our being in contradiction, that He takes upon Himself its consequences. If we think that this is impossible it is because our concept of God is too narrow, too arbitrary, too human—far too human. Who God is and what it is to be divine is something we have to learn where God has revealed Himself and His nature, the essence of the divine. And if He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ as the God who does this, it is not for us to be wiser than He and to say that it is in contradiction with the divine essence. We have to be ready to be taught by Him that we have been too small and perverted in our thinking about Him within the framework of a false idea of God. It is not for us to speak of a contradiction and rift in the being of God, but to learn to correct our notions of the being of God, to reconstitute them in the light of the fact that He does this. We may believe that God can and must only be absolute in contrast to all that is relative, exalted in contrast to all that is lowly, active in contrast to all suffering, inviolable in contrast to all temptation, transcendent in contrast to all immanence, and therefore divine in contrast to everything human, in short that He can and must be only the “Wholly Other.” But such beliefs are shown to be quite untenable, and corrupt and pagan, but the fact that God does in fact be and do this in Jesus Christ. We cannot make them the standard by which to measure what God can or cannot do, or the basis of the judgment that in doing this He brings Himself into self-contradiction. By doing this God proves to us that He can do it, that to do it is within His nature. And He shows Himself to be more great and rich and sovereign that we had ever imagined. And our ideas of His nature must be guided by this, and not vice versa.

We have to think something after the following fashion. As God was in Christ, far from being against Himself, or at disunity with Himself, [p 187] He has put into effect the freedom of His divine love, the love in which He is divinely free. He has therefore done and revealed that which corresponds to His divine nature.

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