Friday, July 19, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §6.3 "The Word of God and Experience" pp. 198-227

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 §6.3 ("The Word of God and Experience"), Barth tackles a potentially thorny issue. If, as was said last time, we have no innate ability to be a hearer of the Word of God, what do we do with human experience? Is there something of the word of God in us that is separate from the Word of God so that in some small way (in reference to ourselves) we can respond to God without a dependency upon Him?

Barth says no (an obvious answer if you have been following his argument so far in 1.1--at least it would seem so to me). But let's untangle this thing, shall we?

First, Barth defines 'experience' in the following way:
We have defined knowledge as the confirmation of human acquaintance with an object whereby its truth becomes a determination of the existence of the man who has the knowledge. This determination of the existence of the man who has the knowledge we call experience (198). 
Barth notes that this determination will not be a determination by the self.  He says there is no "place here for the view that this experience is a kind of co-operation between divine determining and human self-determining. Again, the undeniable fact that this experience takes place in an act of human self-determination does not mean that man in this self-determining accomplishes as it were a greater or lesser part of the whole and then leaves the rest to God’s determining" (199).

Barth goes on to suggest that there is no one point of focus of determination in the human being--for example, the will, intellect, subconscious, intuition, etc.--in other words, no special "province" in the mind of humans (as Schleiermacher termed it) among the possibilities of human existence in its determination by God's Word. It is instead a total determination made possible by the Word of God:
To summarise, human existence means human self-determination. If experience of God’s Word involves the determination of human existence and hence also of human self-determination by the Word of God, then by self-determination we are to understand the exercise of all the faculties in whose exercise man is man without basic emphasis upon and also without basic repudiation of any specific human possibility. In this context all such emphases and repudiations are to be resisted already on the score of method, since they are the results or presuppositions of a general philosophical anthropology by whose constructions, however right or wrong they may be in their own sphere, we cannot allow ourselves to be influenced here. From different angles the determination of human existence by God’s Word can be understood just as much as a determination of feeling, will, or intellect, and psychologically it may actually be more the one than the other in a given case. The decisive point materially, however, is that it is a determination of the whole self-determining man (204).
Barth then pushes a "step further" to explain what the experience of God's Word (i.e. the determination of the whole self-determining person by God's word) might consist. It consists of what Barth calls "acknowledgment"--a word he finds very suitable to explain nine different but related aspects which collectively comprise "acknowledgment" (pp. 205-208):
  1. (Cognition) "The word acknowledgment entails first the concept of knowledge. This must be so because the Word of God is primarily and predominantly speech, communication from person to person and reason to reason, spirit, a rational event, the Word of truth, because it is addressed to the human ratio, by which one is not to understand the intellect alone, yet at any rate the intellect also and not last of all."
  2. (Knowledge) "But this word also expresses the fact that experience of God’s Word involves a relation of man as person to another person, naturally the person of God. We can also speak, of course, of the acknowledgment of facts, and we find this here too. But the kind of fact one acknowledges is not a fact of nature—one does not acknowledge a landslip or a rainbow or the like. The acknowledged fact is a fact created and presented by a person or persons. The determination of man’s existence by the Word of God is created thus; it is determination by God’s person. This is another reason why we call it acknowledgment."
  3. (Acceptance) "Acknowledgment relates to a definite control (positive or negative) with respect to the one who acknowledges. It means not only subjection to a necessity, but adaptation to the meaningfulness of this necessity, approval of it, not just involvement in it but acceptance of it. Acknowledgment of God’s Word relates to the purposiveness of God’s Word, to its content as the Word of the Lord, the Word of man’s Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer. It must consist in the fact that man approves this Word (even if in a very specific sense) and accepts its content (even if in a very specific sense) as truth valid for him. Acknowledgment of God’s Word by man consists in avowal of and submission to the purposes of God declared in God’s Word, in affirmation (naturally in a very specific way) of the “God with us” that the Word of God has to tell its hearers."
  4. (Encounter) "Acknowledgment of God’s Word must also mean, of course, respect for the fact that takes place in God’s Word. But this fact consists especially in its coming to us, in its contingent contemporaneity as revelation, Holy Scripture and Church proclamation. Illic et tunc [there and then] becomes hic et nunc [here and now]. Jesus Christ Himself lives in the message of His witnesses, lives in the proclamation of His Church on the basis of this message, strides forward as the Lord of grace and judgment to meet the existence of the hearer of the Word. Experience of God’s Word, then, must at least be also experience of His presence, and because this presence does not rest on man’s act of recollection but on God’s making Himself present in the life of man, it is acknowledgment of His presence."
  5. (Obedience) "In the word acknowledgment, as we have already said, there lies the relation to a control, a necessity. We have to remember that the Word of God has power, power as word has power, the power of God’s truth, the power of His promise, claim, judgment and blessing which are its content, but power. Acknowledgment of the Word of God by man is naturally, then, approval of the Word of God by man, yet not approval on the basis of persuasion between equals, but the kind of approval that arises on the basis of obedience, of submission between those who are utterly unequal. To have experience of God’s Word is to yield to its supremacy. Whether it comes to us as Law or Gospel, as command or promise, it comes at any rate in such a way as to bend man, and indeed his conscience and will no less than his intellect and feeling. It does not break him; it really bends him, brings him into conformity with itself."
  6. (Decision) "Acknowledgment certainly means decision too. The coming of God’s Word to man is the act of divine freedom and choice. It does not have to come to him. It comes according to God’s good-pleasure, and it is again God’s good-pleasure how it comes to him, whether for grace or judgment. In every case, then, experience of the Word of God is experience of the divine freedom and choice, and therefore it is itself decision, decision concerning man which is manifested as the characterising of man’s decision as a decision for faith or unbelief, for obedience or disobedience. In the first instance, then, the conformity to God’s Word to which we have just referred might mean either obedience or disobedience. Even in disobedience there is an acknowledgment of God’s Word, though against man’s will and to his perdition. Even in his disobedience man characterises himself as the man he is before God’s Word. Even disobedience is in its own way a confirmation or approval of God’s Word to the degree that it is disobedience against God’s Word and to the degree that even in disobedience man’s self determination is a fulfilment of his determination by the Word of God. The same may naturally be said of the decision for obedience. Just because experience of God’s Word is such decision, man can and must be summoned in the Church to ever new experience and therefore to decision."
  7. (Acquiescence) "There also lies in the concept of acknowledgment the fact that the act denoted thereby means halting before an enigma, acquiescence in a situation which is not open but which is unexplained from the standpoint of him who does the acknowledging. In § 5 we spoke of the secularity of the Word of God, i.e., of the fact that it comes to us in a form which also means its concealment. Experience of God’s Word, then, must also consist in the fact that we receive it in this form and this concealment, in this twofold indirectness. Our very acceptance of the Word, which will be especially important later, will participate in this twofold indirectness. It, too, will have a secular form, the form of all kinds of human acts, and this form will be its concealment, its ambivalence. Apart from this ambivalence, which is deeply rooted in the very nature of the matter, there is no experience of God’s Word. It will always consist also in respect for, and acknowledgment of, the mystery of this Word."
  8. (Movement) "Just because acknowledgment of the mystery of God in His Word is at issue, we must also stress the fact that the term acknowledgment denotes an act or movement on man’s part, a movement which only as it is made is the acknowledgment required, so that it cannot be resolved into an attitude. What prevents the latter in experience of God’s Word, and what makes this experience, where it is real, into a movement, is what we called in § 5 the one-sideness of the Word of God. We meant by this the fact that the total Word of God, whether veiled and unveiled, or unveiled and veiled, always encounters us, and that this is each time something specific for us, that it is one-sided for us, that now it encounters us in its veiling and now in its unveiling, that it is not manifest to us in the unity of the two, and yet that it always seeks to be heard by us as a complete Word of God. In view of this, acknowledgment of the Word of God necessarily means letting oneself be continually led, always making a step, always being in movement from the experience felt at one time or the thought grasped at one time to the opposite experience and thought, because hearing of God’s Word always consists in also hearing the one in the other and the other in the one. In this movement which cannot be arrested by any synthesis a man acknowledges the mystery of the Word of God and he has Christian experience."
  9. (Response) "When acknowledgment takes place, there is a yielding of the man who acknowledges before the thing or person he acknowledges. He submits to the authority of the other. This is not in contradiction with the concept of self-determination but it does mean that the self-determination of man as such takes place at a specific point in a specific context. It has found its beginning and its basis in another higher determination. In the act of acknowledgment, the life of man, without ceasing to be the self-determining life of this man, has now its centre, its whence, the meaning of its attitude, and the criterion whether this attitude really has the corresponding meaning—it has all this outside itself, in the thing or person acknowledged. So far as it has all this, it has it from the thing or person acknowledged. Thus acknowledgment as an attitude is in every respect the act of this man and yet from the standpoint of the meaning of the attitude it is not at all his act but a determination that has come upon him from the thing or person acknowledged by him and compelling his acknowledgment. First there is the thing or person acknowledged, and then in virtue of it, and in the last resort deriving wholly from it, there is acknowledgment. We are confronted here by what we called in § 5 the spirituality of the Word of God, i.e., the grounding not only of its being spoken but also of its being really heard by man in the Word itself, the appropriation of God’s Word as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and therefore as the Word’s own act on man. Therewith we are also brought up against the frontier of what we can say about experience of God’s Word as such. The final thing to be said is that while the attitude of acknowledgment vis-à-vis God’s Word is really an attitude of man, an act of his self-determination, nevertheless it is the act of that self-determination of man whose meaning and basis, whose final seriousness and true content, whose truth and reality, cannot be ascribed to man himself but only to his determination by the Word of God. It is the act of pure acknowledgment, one might also say, the act in which acknowledgment consists in the fact that it merely seeks to be the answer to a “recognition”—at this frontier even the meaning of the word must change—which has come to man from beyond all his own acts or powers, of which he himself is not the subject, but in whose free truth and reality he must be acknowledged if he is to acknowledge its truth and reality."
Thus the basis of 'acknowledgment' is the "acknowledged being." I'm fairly certain I have understood Barth at this point. Check me in the reference above if I seem askew (it won't hurt my feelings). 

Further, 'acknowledgment' is not an extraordinary capability of a kind of elite class of people:
Does there take place in the reality of this experience a kind of divine emanation towards man, or, from man’s standpoint, a divine influxus* whose outcome is the possibility in question? Can one deduce from the possibility of the experience of God’s Word that there are men who have this possibility, perhaps in the same way as others have artistic possibilities as distinct from many of their fellow-men? Do these men exist in such a way that they can discover and recognise themselves as possessors of this possibility or be discovered and recognised as such by others (210)?
Barth is unequivocal on this point--nein! The experience of God's Word is a gift of God. And yet, there is some kind of transaction "...that in it God hands something over to man in the sense that it really passes out of God’s hand into the hands of man, or, from man’s standpoint, in such a way that man receives something from God in the sense that it is really put in his hands (212)." Nonetheless, it is the gift of God--and a miracle:
The possibility of knowledge of God’s Word lies in God’s Word and nowhere else. In the absolute sense its reality can only take place, and it can do so only as a miracle before the eyes of every man, secular and religious, Greek and Jew. “It is only an appearance that the rainbow stands on the earth, in reality it arches over the earth; true, it stoops down to the earth, yet it does not stand on our earth, but is only perceived from it. So it is with divine truth; this needs no human support, as the rainbow does not need the earth. True, it shines on man and he receives it; yet it is not dependent on man. It withdraws and man remains in darkness; it returns and man walks in light. But man is not its assistant; he cannot produce the light; similarly he cannot store it” (Eduard Böhl, Dogmatik, 1886, p. XXV). “Therefore when I die—but I die no more—and someone finds my skull, let this skull preach to him and say: I have no eyes, yet I behold Him; I have no brain nor understanding, yet I comprehend Him; I have no lips, yet I kiss Him; I have no tongue, yet I praise Him with all who call upon His name. I am a hard skull, yet I am quite softened and melted in His love; I lie outside here in the churchyard, yet I am within in Paradise. All suffering is forgotten. This His great love has done for us, since for us He bore His cross and went forth to Golgotha” (H. F. Kohlbrügge, Passionspredigten,3 1913, p. 173 f.). This is the voice of true Christian experience"(222-223).
This miracle is faith.
When the Word of God is present to us, this means that we are turned away from ourselves and towards the Word of God, that we are orientated to it. To stand in faith means to be called to new faith. The presence of the Word and standing in faith mean, then, having the Word and faith before one and expecting them, being directed anew to the free actualisation of the grace experienced, clinging anew to the promise, looking anew for the event in which the possibility of knowledge of God’s Word comes into view for us (225).