Friday, August 16, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §6.4 "The Word of God and Faith" pp. 227-247

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 the final subsection §6.4 ("The Word of God and Faith"), Barth suggests that in faith we have valid experience of God's Word:
Faith—we could no longer avoid the term at the end of our deliberations on experience in the third sub-section—is the making possible of knowledge of God’s Word that takes place in actual knowledge of it. The event concerned can and must be understood under many other concepts. Following the general tradition of the Church and theology, we choose this particular term here because it does in fact denote both precisely and yet also comprehensively the element in this event which constitutes it the making possible of knowledge of the Word of God. If one asks about the reality of the knowledge of God, which is so inconceivable in its How, which can be revealed only by God, which can be proclaimed by man only in the service of God and in virtue of His presence; if one asks what this reality is in so far as the knowability of God is included within it, the only possible answer which is both accurate and exhaustive is that this reality is faith (228).
By "Word" of course Barth means Christ the living Word of God. Hence, as Barth puts it..."it is in faith, as the possibility given in faith, that we have to understand the knowability of the Word of God. In the event of faith it is as it were born, it comes into view, and it is to be sought and found." (229). So we are dealing with Christ as the object of our faith and our own faithful response to that Word.

Concerning the event of faith, Barth suggests three things can be said of it in the present context which will serve as three definitions of the concept of the knowability of the Word:
  1. First, "In faith as real experience the acknowledgment of God’s Word which we have understood to be the concrete form of its experience by man is as it were put into effect by the Word of God known." Barth continues, "...but experience is not self-evidently real experience, experience of God’s Word. Of no experience as such, however perfect its form, can this be said. Not, then, as experience is faith faith, i.e., real experience, even though it is certainly experience. Or, the act of acknowledgment is not as such acknowledgment of the Word of God. Nor is it this in virtue of any perfection with which it is performed. It is the Word, Christ, to whom faith refers because He presents Himself to it as its object, that makes faith faith, real experience. Let it be clearly understood: because He presents Himself to it as its object. For faith is not faith by the mere fact that it has or is a reference—it might well be in reality a pointless reference to an imagined object. It is faith by the fact that the Word of God is given to us as the object of this reference, as the object of acknowledgment, and therefore as the basis of real faith (230).
  2. Second, "If what happens in faith is that acknowledgment of God’s Word, as it can become a human act and experience, is, as it were, brought into force not by itself but by the Word of God acknowledged, so that it is real acknowledgment, we must now make the positive statement that in faith men have real experience of the Word of God" (237-238). He continues, "...there can be no receiving of God’s Word unless there is something common to the speaking God and hearing man in this event, a similarity for all the dissimilarity implied by the distinction between God and man, a point of contact between God and man, if we may now adopt this term too. This point of contact is what theological anthropology on the basis of Gen. 1:27 calls the “image of God” in man" (238). And more, "In faith man is in conformity to God, i.e., capable of receiving God’s Word, capable of so corresponding in his own decision to the decision God has made about him in the Word that the Word of God is now the Word heard by him and he himself is now the man addressed by this Word. One is not to seek this capability among the stock of his own possibilities. The statement about the indwelling of Christ that takes place in faith must not be turned into an anthropological statement. There must be no subtraction from the lostness of natural and sinful man, as whom the believer will for the first time really see himself. But this natural and sinful man that he is, and that in faith he must see himself to be, is dead in faith, in Christ, according to Rom. 6:3f., and I am alive in faith, a miracle to myself, another man, and as such capable of things of which I can only know myself to be absolutely incapable as a natural sinful man. Part of this capability is that the Word of God is knowable to man in faith, that it can be spoken to him, and that he can hear it, that he can receive it as a word, and indeed as God’s Word." (240-241).
  3. Third, "...if it is true that man really believes 1. that the object of faith is present to him and 2. that he himself is assimilated to the object, then we are led in conclusion to the third point that man exists as a believer wholly and utterly by this object. In believing he can think of himself as grounded, not in self but only in this object, as existing indeed only by this object. He has not created his own faith; the Word has created it. He has not come to faith; faith has come to him through the Word. He has not adopted faith; faith has been granted to him through the Word. As a believer he cannot see himself as the acting subject of the work done here. It is his experience and act. He is not at all a block or stone in faith but self-determining man" (244-245).
Is there any proof of this mutual indwelling and the Word and humanity? Yes!
The only proof of this mutual indwelling of the Word and man is a reference to the fact that as the Word of God is spoken to some other man it can be in him too, and he in it. The proof of faith consists in the proclamation of faith. The proof of the knowability of the Word consists in confessing it. In faith and confession the Word of God becomes a human thought and a human word, certainly in infinite dissimilarity and inadequacy, yet not in total alienation from its real prototype, but a true copy for all its human and sinful perversion, an unveiling of it even as its veiling (241).
Barth concludes:
The Word of God becomes knowable by making itself known. The application of what has been said to the problem of knowledge consists in stopping at this statement and not going a single step beyond it. The possibility of knowing the Word of God is God’s miracle on us just as much as is the Word itself or its being spoken. Here again we are not arguing for a passivity in man which sets aside or even limits his freedom. Here again our concern is to realise that the mutual indwelling or union of the divine and human possibility, of man’s knowing and his being known by God, is an event in the freedom of man, and yet that it cannot in any sense be regarded as its product, as the result of an intuition, of a conceivable or attainable deepening or enhancing of the life of the human soul. This may take place—and why should it not?—but it does not have to take place. And in any case it is not the thing that brings about that union and therefore the knowability of the Word of God. Even the idea of a sacrificium intellectus (sacrifice of the intellect) is only a last desperate attempt to make the knowledge of God a work of man, to have a human possibility correspond to what is God’s work alone. If we have understood that the knowability of God’s Word is really an inalienable affirmation of faith, but that precisely as such it denotes the miracle of faith, the miracle that we can only recollect and hope for, then as a final necessity we must also understand that man must be set side and God Himself presented as the original subject, as the primary power, as the creator of the possibility of knowledge of God’s Word. Christ does not remain outside. And it is true enough that man must open the door (Rev. 3:20). But the fact that this takes place is quoad actum (with respect to the act itself) and quoad potentiam (with respect to its possibility) the work of the Christ who stands outside. Hence it is also unconditionally true that the risen Christ passes through closed doors (Jn. 20:19f.) (246-247).
As Geoffrey Bromiley in Introduction to the Theology of Karl Barth writes,
The knowledge is really ours and thus experience. Nevertheless, it is not within our natural grasp, for we are sinners. Nor can it ever be an independent knowledge, self-grounded or self-controlled (11).