God Is Not His Own Prisoner

I’ll continue quoting Barth in a second post. (See previous post for context.) Calvin isn’t named, and I suspect Barth is still critiquing the Lutherans of his day, but this bit gets to the heart of one of Calvin’s grave errors (that is, an abstract ideal of divine immutability) that led him inexorably to affirm absolute predestination in spite of what scripture says.

His immutability does not stand in the way of [the incarnation]. It must not be denied, but this possibility [that God’s absoluteness is modulated by the incarnation, that God, as a result of love, changes] is included in His unalterable being. He is absolute, infinite, exalted, active, impassible, transcendent, but in all this He is the One who loves in freedom, the One who is free in His love, and therefore not His own prisoner. He is all this as the Lord, and in such a way that He embraces the opposites of these concepts even while He is superior to them.

As the paragraph goes on, Barth highlights several of the divine attributes that Protestant theologians too often treat in the abstract.

Omnipresence

His particular, and highly particularised, presence in grace, in which the eternal Word descended to the lowest parts of the earth (Eph. 49) and tabernacled in the man Jesus (Jn. 114), dwelling in this one man in the fulness of His Godhead (Col. 29), is itself the demonstration and exercise of His omnipresence, i.e., of the perfection in which He has His own place including all other places.

Omnipotence

His omnipotence is that of a divine plenitude of power in the fact that (as opposed to any abstract omnipotence) it can assume the form of weakness and impotence and do so as omnipotence, triumphing in this form.

Eternity

The eternity in which He Himself is true time and the Creator of all time is revealed in the fact that, although our time is that of sin and death, He can enter it and Himself be [p 188] temporal in it, yet without ceasing to be eternal, able rather to be the Eternal in time.

Etc. And finally:

God does not have to dishonour Himself when He goes into the far country, and conceals His glory. For He is truly honoured in this concealment. This concealment, and therefore His condescension as such, is the image and reflection in which we see Him as He is. His glory is the freedom of the love which He exercises and reveals in all this. In this respect it differs from the unfree and loveless glory of all the gods of human imagining.

Note: Barth then offers a 3,400 word footnote or excursis in which he establishes all this in scripture. I chose not to include it, you’ll have to look that one up yourself. 🙂

Church Dogmatics, IV:1, pp. 187f)

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