Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §5.4-6.2 "The Nature of the Word of God" pp. 162-198

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §5 states: "The Word of God in all its three forms is God’s speech to man. For this reason it occurs, applies and works in God’s act on man. But as such it occurs in God’s way which differs from all other occurrence, i.e., in the mystery of God."

In subsection §5.4 ("The Speech of God as the Word of God"), Barth begins by noting that the Word of God remains always the mystery of God, lest we should think we are in some way (when speaking the speech of God) becoming master to its servant:
Only God conceives of Himself, even in His Word. Our concept of God and His Word can only be an indication of the limits of our conceiving, an indication which must not be allowed to condense into a negative proof. This cannot be our concern even now when we must give added sharpness to the decisive point that the Word of God is God’s Word. We can sharpen this here only by remembering again and explicitly our own limits, only by making it even clearer to ourselves that we cannot utter even a wretched syllable about the how of God’s Word unless the Word of God is spoken to us as God’s Word, which means spoken to us in such a way that all we think and say about its how has its substance not in itself but outside itself in the Word of God, so that what we think and say about this how can never become the secret system of a what. It is for this reason and in this sense that we finally speak of the Word of God as the mystery of God (164).
The uniqueness or "mystery" of God's word (here Barth is not using 'mystery' in a New Testament sense) can be seen in three primary ways:
  1. The speech of God is and remains the mystery of God supremely in its secularity. "When God speaks to man, this event never demarcates itself from other events in such a way that it might not be interpreted at once as part of these other events (165)." In other words, the speech of God bears the veil of humanity.
  2. The speech of God is and remains the mystery of God in its onesidedness. "I have in mind here the relation of veiling and unveiling occasioned by the secularity of the Word. That God’s Word is onesided means that when spoken to us and received by us it does not meet us partly veiled and partly unveiled, but either veiled or unveiled, yet without being different in itself, without being spoken and received any the less truly either way (174)." 
  3. The speech of God is and remains the mystery of God in its spirituality. "With this statement, which must form the conclusion to our exposition of the nature of God’s Word, we expressly allude for the first time to the concept of the Holy Spirit. To say Holy Spirit in preaching or theology is always to say a final word. For when we do this, then whether we are aware of it or not, and it is best to be aware of it, we are always speaking of the event in which God’s Word is not only revealed to man but also believed by him. We are always speaking of the way in which the Word of God is so said to this or that man that he must hear it, or of the way in which this or that man is so open and ready for the Word of God that he can hear it" (181-182). How is it that we might hear human speech as God's Word? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit!
One might summarize this section with this from Barth, which I think is marvelous:
Is it clear to our generation in life as well as thought that the serious element in serious theological work is grounded in the fact that its object is never in any circumstances at our command, at the command of even the profoundest biblical or Reformation vision or knowledge, at the command of even the most delicate and careful construction? Absolutely any theological possibility can as such be pure threshing of straw and waste of energy, pure comedy and tragedy, pure deception and self-deception (163).

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §6 states: "The reality of the Word of God in all its three forms is grounded only in itself. So, too, the knowledge of it by men can consist only in its acknowledgment, and this acknowledgment can become real only through itself and can become intelligible only in terms of itself."

In subsection §6.1 ("The Question of the Knowability of the Word of God"), Barth summarizes where we've been and where we now need to go:
In § 3 we found in the concept of the Word of God the mandated content of Church proclamation and hence also the criterion of dogmatics as the scientific testing of Church proclamation. In § 4 we noted the three forms, namely, proclamation, Scripture and revelation, in which the entity denoted by the concept is actual. Finally in § 5, with these three forms in view, we asked concerning the nature of this entity and we learned to know it as three distinct but not different determinations, the speech of God, the act of God and the mystery of God. Before we now go on to give a provisional definition of the concept of dogmatics on the basis of these findings, we must first give an explicit answer to the question as to the knowability of the Word of God (187).
So, how is it that (given Barth's emphasis on the mystery of the speech of God) we can even know the Word of God when it comes to us? In other words, how can we know the Word of God?

Barth says that last sentence is not really the question we need to ask. It's not how can we know the Word of God? It is how do people know the Word of God?

In subsection §6.2 ("The Word of God and Man"), in terms of the how, Barth notes that God's Word is first and foremost the Word of God addressed to human beings.
Preaching and sacrament are addressed to men. The word of the prophets and apostles is addressed to men. The revelation of God Himself in Jesus Christ is addressed to men. The Word of God whose three forms we have again denoted herewith is addressed to men. If it is addressed to men, it obviously seeks to be known and therefore heard by them, yet not only known and heard, but known in the sense already generally established. Mediated by their acquaintance with it, it seeks to confirm itself as a reality to them. It is addressed to them in order that they may let it be spoken to them and that they may no longer be what they are without it, but with it (191).
But how is this? Do human beings have some innate ability to determine and decipher the speech of God? To hear the Word of God when it is issued?
Shall we say unreservedly that the question of the possibility of the knowledge of God’s Word is a question of anthropology? Shall we ask what man generally and as such, in addition to all else he can do, can or cannot do in this regard? Is there a general truth about man which can be made generally perceptible and which includes within it man’s ability to know the Word of God? We must put this question because an almost invincible development in the history of Protestant theology since the Reformation has led to an impressive affirmative answer to this question in the whole wing of the Church that we have called Modernist (191).
Barth says no. Nope, this is a kind of Cartesian theology which we must reject:
The Modernist view from which we must demarcate ourselves here goes back to the Renaissance and especially to the Renaissance philosopher Descartes with his proof of God from human self-certainty (195).
Nope, the ability to be a hearer of the Word is an ability given by the Word of God itself:
The fact of God’s Word does not receive its dignity and validity in any respect or even to the slightest degree from a presupposition that we bring to it. Its truth for us, like its truth in itself, is grounded absolutely in itself. The procedure in theology, then, is to establish self-certainty on the certainty of God, to measure it by the certainty of God, and thus to begin with the certainty of God without waiting for the validating of this beginning by self-certainty. When that beginning is made, but only when it is made, it is then, but only subsequently, incidentally and relatively validated by the necessary self-certainty. In other words, in the real knowledge of God’s Word, in which alone that beginning is made, there also lies the event that it is possible, that that beginning can be made. Again, we do not base this rejection of the Cartesian way on a better philosophy. It is not our concern here whether there is such a philosophy. In relation to this object, the object of theology, we are content to say that one must affirm the possibility of its knowledge by men in this way and no other. Men can know the Word of God because and in so far as God wills that they know it, because and in so far as there is over against God’s will only the impotence of disobedience, and because and in so far as there is a revelation of God’s will in His Word in which the impotence of disobedience is set aside (196).