Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §13.2 "Jesus Christ the Objective Possibility of Revelation" pp. 25-44

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §13 states: "According to Holy Scripture God’s revelation takes place in the fact that God’s Word became a man and that this man has become God’s Word. The incarnation of the eternal Word, Jesus Christ, is God’s revelation. In the reality of this event God proves that He is free to be our God."

In subsection §13.2 ("Jesus Christ the Objective Possibility of Revelation"), Barth starts by re-stating the fact of revelation - in the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ we have the objective reality of divine revelation (25). 
God’s freedom for us men is a fact in Jesus Christ, according to the witness of Holy Scripture. The first and the last thing to be said about the bearer of this name is that He is very God and very Man. In this unity He is the objective reality of divine revelation. His existence is God’s freedom for man. Or vice versa God’s freedom for man is the existence of Jesus Christ. And now we continue by saying that in this objective reality of the divine revelation there is presupposed and grounded and brought within our knowledge its objective possibility (25).
So Barth begins his reflection with a question:
My name for the question aroused in us by the reality of revelation and which we now have to take up is the question as to the possibility, in our context the objective possibility, of revelation. We formulate the question in a manner parallel to the one first put, namely: How in God’s freedom is it possible for His revelation to encounter man? How far can the reality of Jesus Christ, i.e., the unity of God and man indicated by this Name, be God’s revelation to man? (27).
How can God reveal Godself? The obvious answer for Barth is the incarnation:
The reality of revelation as such answers a question. It tells us what is required in order that the work of God’s revelation may take place and in order that it may achieve this effect, namely a manifestness of God for man. How should we understand it, if we were not to regard it as the answer to this question? But if we let ourselves be told that this answer is called Jesus Christ, i.e., God’s Son who became Man, the Man who was God’s Son, and if therefore this existence of Jesus Christ is itself the objective possibility of revelation consisting in God’s freedom, then obviously we are faced with the task of understanding the existence of Jesus Christ as the objective possibility of revelation (28).
Of course, without revelation, we would not even know of our blindness and of God's inconceivability outside revelation - thus the importance of a discussion on the possibility of revelation:
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 by 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 revelation 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 His revelation? No less than everything, i.e., no less than 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 (29-30).
So given the miraculous nature of revelation, how can it be an event? The reality of revelation made possible in Jesus Christ has five implications:

1) First, "We infer from the reality of Jesus Christ that God is free for us in the sense that revelation on His side becomes possible in such a way that He is God not only in Himself but also in and among us, in our cosmos, as one of the realities that meet us. The reality of Jesus Christ, consisting in the fact that God is this Man and this Man is God, invariably asserts that God can cross the boundary between Himself and us; or expressed in general terms, between His own existence and the existence of that which is not identical with Himself" (31). Not only that, he wills to condescend to us. Praise God!

2) Second, "We infer from the reality of Jesus Christ that God is free for us, in the sense that He reveals Himself to us in such a way that His Word or His Son becomes a man—not God the Father, and not God the Holy Spirit. If we try to understand this also, we have first of all to remember that the distinctions of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not signify a partition in God’s nature and activity. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit He is in His nature the one God completely and not partially. The statement that it is the Word or the Son of God who became man therefore asserts without reserve that in spite of His distinction as Son from the Father and the Holy Spirit, God in His entire divinity became man" [...] "In the work of becoming Man, common to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the order as in the Trinity is generally that the Father represents, as it were, the divine Who, the Son the divine What, and the Holy Spirit the divine How. Therefore, in spite of  and in the mutuality of this work, we must not say of the Father or of the Holy Spirit but only of the Son, that He assumed humanity" (33-34).

3) Third, "We conclude from the reality Jesus Christ that God reveals Himself, that He is free for us, in such a way that God’s Son or Word assumes a form at least known to us, such that He can become cognisable by us by analogy with other forms known to us. His humanity is the covering which He puts on, and therefore the means of His revelation. We return at once to the fact that it is humanity. But as such it is a form of being belonging to the cosmos, whose reality is also known to us in another way. God could have revealed Himself immediately, in His invisible glory. Or in order to be manifest to us, the Word might have assumed the form of a being previously and otherwise wholly foreign to us, a being belonging to some other cosmos of reality. But that is not the case. As a mystery, revelation does not anywhere infringe the nature and history of our cosmos as we know them. Although with signs and wonders, things happen as they have always and everywhere happened since this cosmos began to exist. That is to say, at a definite point in space and time there lives and dies a human being like us all. In this human being God’s Word is revealed to us" [...] "God bends down to us as it were, by assuming this form familiar to us. His love is already announced to us in the fact that even in His veiling—in which He has first to be unveiled as God, to be believed in as God—He yet does not meet us as a stranger(35-37).

4) Fourth, "From the reality of Jesus Christ we gather that revelation is possible on God’s side, that God is free for us, in such a way that His Word by becoming Man at the same time is and remains what He is. the true and eternal God, the same as He is in Himself at the Father’s right hand for ever and ever" (37). Of course, the how of this miracle is inconceivable to us.

5) Fifth, "Finally, we conclude from the reality of Jesus Christ, that God’s revelation becomes possible in such a way that God’s Son or Word becomes Man. He does not become any kind of natural being. He becomes what we ourselves are." [...] "It is this humanity that the Son of God has assumed. The act of the triune God in the reality of Jesus Christ is that in this reality He was not only what He is in Himself in eternity. He was also with us and among us. He was also what we are. He was also flesh. Of course, as His humanity, it became a different thing from ours, for sin, man’s strife with God, could not find any place in Him. Yet apart from this single characteristic it is our own familiar humanity out and out, namely, not only with its natural problems, but with the guilt lying upon it of which it has to repent, with the judgment of God hanging over it, with the death to which it is liable. The Son of God could not sin—how could God be untrue to Himself? But all of this, the entire curse of sin, which is what Holy Scripture means when it calls men flesh, this curse the Son of God has taken upon Himself and borne by becoming a man. And to that very extent He became a real, genuine, true man, man placed before God" (39-40).

So, Barth helpfully summarizes all this for us in his closing paragraph:
Let us summarise. We set out to understand how far the reality Jesus Christ is God’s revelation. We let ourselves be summoned by the abolition, brought about by revelation itself, of any other possibility of revelation, to ask precisely how far God’s revelation is possible, as it meets us in the reality of Jesus Christ. And then we discovered this possibility of revelation (1) in the condescension whereby God in Jesus Christ becomes identical with a reality different from Himself, (2) in the fact that Jesus Christ is identical with God’s Son or Word, (3) in Jesus Christ’s belonging actually to the cosmos of reality familiar to us, (4) in Jesus Christ’s belonging without diminution to God Himself, (5) in the man-ness, i.e., the flesh-ness of Jesus Christ. We have thus spoken of the possibility of revelation, and of that only, which is to be read off from its reality (44).