Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §16.2 "The Holy Spirit the Subjective Possibility of Revelation" pp. 242-279

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §16 states: "According to Holy Scripture God’s revelation occurs in our enlightenment by the Holy Spirit of God to a knowledge of His Word. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is God’s revelation. In the reality of this event consists our freedom to be the children of God and to know and love and praise Him in His revelation."

In subsection §16.2 ("The Holy Spirit the Subjective Possibility of Revelation"), Barth begins with this:
The subjective reality of revelation consists in the fact that we have our being through Christ and in the Church, that we are the recipients of the divine testimonies, and, as the real recipients of them, the children of God. But the fact that we have this being is the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Holy Spirit is the subjective reality of revelation (242).
And then he makes a fundamental point: humanity is not ultimately free for God, but we are free for God when God in freedom makes us free:
We must start very much as we did in the christological investigation of the concept of revelation. We have to show that the reality of the Holy Spirit in His work on man has also a strictly negative meaning. It is real in the Holy Spirit that we are free for God. And this settles the fact that we are not free for God except in the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit itself cuts away from us the thought of any other possibility of our freedom for God. 
To receive the Holy Spirit means an exposure of our spiritual helplessness, a recognition that we do not possess the Holy Spirit. For that reason the subjective reality of revelation has the distinctive character of a miracle, i.e., it is a reality to be grounded only in itself. In the actual subjective reality of revelation it is finally decided that apart from it there is no other possibility of being free for God (243-244)
Just because humanity is not free for God, does not mean the possibility to be free for God does not exist - the Holy Spirit makes this possible:
But once we have established that there is no other freedom of man for God, the question arises all the more imperiously, how far the possibility really does exist in that miracle which is the work of the Holy Spirit. Almost everything that we can say about man from the standpoint of revelation tells against the possibility that God can be revealed to us. But the work of the Holy Spirit is in favour of that possibility.
We can give only one basic answer to the question how in the freedom of man it is possible for God’s revelation to reach him. This is that it is possible, as it is real, only in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (246).
Barth articulates three ways that the Holy Spirit makes this possibility:

1) First, by the Holy Spirit the Word of God is brought to human hearing: "By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit it is possible for God’s revelation to reach man in his freedom, because in it the Word of God is brought to his hearing" (246). This is a work closely linked with the Word, Jesus Christ: "In expounding the subjective reality of revelation we everywhere insisted that it is not only strictly bound to its objective reality, but that it is simply the process by which that objective reality becomes subjective. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, of the Father who reveals Himself in His Son and only in His Son. But that means that He is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That is why we insisted at the very outset that to speak about the Holy Spirit and His work we must expound the biblical testimony to the revelation in Jesus Christ: (246-247). Barth riffs a bit on the lack of connection in Pietistic hymns on pp. 250-257 - a fun read! One wonders what he would say today.

2) Second, the possibility comes when by the Holy Spirit we become humble, penitential, and gracious accepters of the Word and become aware of our own impossibility and God's making it possible: "Thus God’s possibility triumphs over the very imprisonment in which we are involved, where we only fulfill our own possibilities and only believe in our own possibilities. The self-enclosed uniqueness of man, who only has and knows his own freedom, is overarched and enclosed and finally relativised through the uniqueness of God and His freedom, the freedom in which He is resolved to have fellowship with this man and once and for all to be his Lord. How could man ever foresee this triumph and the wonder of it? How could he ever anticipate this triumph or prepare himself for it? It is God’s triumph. It is a state or position in which man may very well find himself, but only with amazement, only with gratitude, only in humble recognition of an accomplished fact, without any opportunity to think how it might come to pass, without possessing any need or capacity to derive it from his earlier state or to indicate the way which led from the one to the other. That earlier state was one of self-glorification and self-will. Apart from the triumph of God it would still be his state to-day" (260). N.B. Barth's discussion on pg. 260ff re: Mt. 19:23 and Mt. 7:14 and our utter helplessness and impossible state as humans. Great, very preachable stuff here.

3) Third, the possibility comes when by the Holy Spirit the Word becomes our master: "We have now arrived at the two most relevant and helpful concepts in our attempt to describe positively the freedom of man for God’s revelation. That freedom exists where the Word of God or Jesus Christ is to man the Master, and unavoidably the Master. Instead of master we might also say teacher, leader or lord. In this context the word “master” is particularly rich in content. Its counterpart may equally well be pupil, scholar, follower or adherent, or servant. And all this is involved in the freedom of man for the Word and by the Word, of which we are speaking" (269-270). And more: "The outpouring of the Holy Spirit exalts the Word of God to be the master over men, puts man unavoidably under His mastery. The miracle of the divine revealedness, the power of Christ’s resurrection in a man, consists in this event. In it the “God became man” is actualised in us as “man has God.” It is a removal of the contradiction between a possibility which obviously is only God’s possibility, and the human experience and activity, which only an unredeemed arrogance could claim as a fitting and worthy vessel for such a content. In this event man is a participator in this divine possibility. Through God he is free for God (270).

To be mastered in this way means six things:

1) First, we are not able to withdraw: "To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ means always to have found someone over against us, from whom we can no longer withdraw. We can withdraw from everything else that is over against us, whether it is the world or men. It is at once our misery and comfort, the source of our most serious aberrations and the help of which we simply must avail ourselves from time to time, that again and again we can withdraw to an inward solitude. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes this withdrawal impossible, at any rate in relation to the Word of God" (270).

2) Second, to be be mastered in this way means that Jesus Christ is our supreme authority, and we are subject to it: "To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ means that we have discovered His supreme authority, to which in all our obedience or disobedience we are always responsible and subject. To other authorities we may make the most profound surrender. We may accept the strictest discipline in relation to them. But over against all of them we can still remain independent, at the deepest and truest level of reality. For every other authority is the kind which we still have to choose and recognise as such. Consequently our attitude to it stands or falls with our own choice and recognition of it. It has no power to dominate us unavoidably. Our thoughts at least—even if only our subconscious thoughts—are always free in relation to it. But the outpouring of the Holy Spirit means that man is placed under the Word, because it is God’s Word" (271).

3) Third, it means in Jesus Christ we are subject to a command: "To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ means that we are subject to a command, in face of which there can be neither subterfuge nor excuse. We can find excuses and subterfuges for the commands of all other masters, even when we obey them in whole or in part. We can have doubts about their meaning. We can insist that we did not hear or understand. We can reply that we have already fulfilled them; or, vice versa, that we cannot fulfil them, at any rate in the strict sense. But in face of this command those devices are impossible. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit means that men have received an order, by which they can now mark off their very existence. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit means that they themselves are utterly and absolutely commanded (272).

4) Fourth, it means we exist in an ultimate and profound irresponsibility, free from other masters: "To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ is to exist in an ultimate and most profound irresponsibility. All other masters and teachers and leaders and lords load and burden us with responsibilities, i.e., with questions which we answer out of our own knowledge, with obligations which we satisfy by our own wish and action, with programmes which we have to fulfil and realise by our own achievements. For that very reason their power to command has exactly the same limitations. They give the orders, but then they leave us to execute those orders alone. They cannot command from us either fear or love. They cannot represent us. It is for that very reason that we can so easily make excuses and apologies in relation to their commands. But the Word of God has a limitless power of command. For it does not impose on us a new and final and frightful, because unending, responsibility. It claims our response. It claims our own will and action (274).

5) Fifth, it means that we are formed and directed: "To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ is to be subjected to a definite formation and direction. We can adapt ourselves to other masters. We can imitate them. We can model ourselves on them, or even on the caricature of them. No other master has the power to subordinate another man to his direction and leadership in such a way that the latter is completely himself and not a cast, and yet completely represents the form and the way of the master and not a caricature. The arbitrariness of all imitation is also its weakness. Just what imitation really intends, imitation cannot achieve. Therefore we can call it the tragedy of all other mastery, that at the very best it produces only imitation. The formation and direction of a man by the Word of God, which becomes a reality with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, has nothing to do with imitation. We must again insist that under this formation and direction man remains the man he is. His own nature and thinking and willing and feeling, both in general and in detail, is not lost. But in the light of this his own being, he remains a sinner before God. Yet this very being of his as a sinner before God is subjected to the Word of God, and is therefore formed and directed by that Word (276).

6) Sixth, it means we have no concern of our own but only Christ's concern, to which we render simple faith and obedience: "To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ means finally and comprehensively that we have no concern of our own, but that His, Christ’s concern, is our concern. No other master can master us so thoroughly, either for good or evil, that although we are in his service, or school, or following, we cannot still have our own concerns, and in the last resort have him as our master only for the sake of those interests of ours. But where the Word of God is master by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there enters in an interest or concern which does not allow any rivals, for the simple reason that in the Word of God it is always a matter of our own interest and concern. But it is our own interest and concern not as seen from our standpoint, but as seen from the opposite but beneficent standpoint of the wisdom of God, as judged by the righteousness of God, as adopted by the goodness of God. That is the Word of God: the work of God upon us: for us and therefore against us: the work of the kindness which we cannot grasp, which we have outraged, which does good to us, as to those who always do evil. Where it is heard as such, there is still an active will to assert and help ourselves, to maintain and justify and advertise ourselves, but it has been fundamentally broken and its vital power destroyed. At any rate it cannot exist in face of the Word of God—so that fundamentally it cannot exist at all. It can exist only as and to the extent that we exist under the Word. If that means humiliation, it also means comfort. If it means limitation, it also means liberation. If it means Law, it also means Gospel. It is a great affliction when our right to have our own desires and to pursue them is so radically questioned and finally taken away. But, of course, it is an even greater help, when the common necessity of worrying about our own situation is so radically relativised and in fact basically set aside. But however that may be, a central convulsion, indeed a revolution, has brought about the supplanting of our causae [causes] by the causa Dei [cause of God] (which does not demand our anxiety and activity but only our faith and obedience). In the light of this decrease on our side and increase on the other, we are again reminded of all that we have tried to say positively about the possibility of the revelation of God to man" (278-279).

Barth closes with this:
We will close with some words of John the Baptist in the Fourth Gospel, which again confront us with the riddle of the subjective possibility of revelation and the solution of this riddle: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled…. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true…. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life” (Jn. 3:27–29. 33. 35f.) (279).
 I don't think I can overstate how great this reading was for me. Splendid!