Remembering why I like Karl Barth

Karl Barth

Barth writes:

Revelation itself is needed for knowing that God is hidden and man blind. Revelation and it alone really and finally separates God and man by bringing them together. For my bringing them together it informs man about God and about himself, it reveals God as the Lord of eternity, as the Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer, and characterises man as a creature, as a sinner, as one devoted to death. It does that by telling him that God is free for us, that God has created and sustains him, that He forgives his sin, that He saves him from death. But it tells him that this God (no other) is free for this man (no other). If that is heard, then and not till then the boundary between God and man becomes really visible, of which the most radical sceptic and atheist cannot even dream, for all his doubts and negations. Since the boundary is visible, revelation, which crosses this boundary, is also visible as a mystery, a miracle, an exception. The man who listens here, sees himself standing at the boundary where all is at an end. Whichever way I look, God is hidden for me and I am blind to Him. The revelation that crosses this boundary and the togetherness of God and man which takes place in revelation in spite of this boundary, make the boundary visible to him in an unprecedented way. No longer need he yield to deceptions regarding the cosmos of realities that otherwise encounter him. This cosmos will lose the power to prepare for him either illusions or disillusionments. He knows all about it. Not because he has supplied himself with information about it by intuitive or analytico-synthetic means, but because he has been informed about it. But this information is, that among the realities of this cosmos there is not one in which God would be free for man. In this cosmos God is hidden and man blind. Once more, it is God’s revleation which gives him this information. That it does so is its critical significance. By that very fact, however, the further question is thrust at us: how far is God free for us in revelation?  No less than everything, i.e., no less that the whole of man’s cosmos, seems to speak against this possibility taking place. Even if it is ever so great and rich, as it actually is, how could one of its realities have the power to be God’s revelation to man? Once again, man would have to leave the real revelation of God out of account; he would have to forget that he is informed about God and about himself, if he is to assert boldly the presence of such a power as one of the realities of his cosmos…

If he were looking steadily at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he could not look in any other direction, neither could he any longer allow talk about such possibilities to pass his lips or to flow from his pen.

-II/1, pp. 29-30

I admit that I haven’t missed the lack of inclusive language, which distracts somewhat (for me, at least) from the text. But I love the way that Barth characterizes revelation: it hides as much as it reveals. As I am preparing to teach on the Incarnation (not till February, I confess), I have been looking for the right passage(s) from Barth, in which he makes explicit this reality of the Incarnation. All is revealed truly, and at the same time all is hidden in Christ. It’s no wonder Barth kept repeating himself (as he himself says elsewhere in the volume): again and again he returns to this center of theological reflection, this singularity, because he knows there is only one place from which we can do theology, and that is the foot of the cross.

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