Friday, February 14, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §18.2 "The Love of God" pp. 371-401

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §18 states: "Where it is believed and acknowledged in the Holy Spirit, the revelation of God creates men who do not exist without seeking God in Jesus Christ, and who cannot cease to testify that He has found them."

In subsection §18.2 ("The Love of God"), Barth begins by declaring that we love because God has loved us - and love is the totality of the Christian life:
The Christian life begins with love. It also ends with love, so far as it has an end as human life in time. There is nothing that we can or must be or do as a Christian, or to become a Christian, prior to love. Even faith does not anticipate love. As we come to faith we begin to love. If we did not begin to love, we would not have come to faith. Faith is faith in Jesus Christ. If we believe, the fact that we do so means that every ground which is not that of our being in love to God in Christ is cut away from under us: we cannot exist without seeking God. If this were not the case, we should have failed to come to faith. And the fact that it is so is a confirmation that our faith is not an illusion, but that we ourselves as men do really believe (371). 
Love is the essence of Christian living. It is also its conditio sine qua non [necessary condition], in every conceivable connexion. Wherever the Christian life in commission or omission is good before God, the good thing about it is love (372).
But from this we may gather that as the living expression of the human children of God, as the self-determination of human existence, neither in essence nor in actuality can love be understood in itself, but only in that sphere or light of the divine predestination, in which we stand when we hear and believe in the Word of God and are born again as the children of God. If love is the essence and totality of the good demanded of us, how can it be known that we love? Obviously it can be said that we do so only because something else can first be said of us, that we are loved, that we are men beloved. If there is nothing in the Christian life which can precede love, the love of God for man must first precede the Christian life as such, if it is to begin with love (372).
This love is a creation of God in us through the work of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is not something that becomes in us due to a natural capacity that we possess:
We must not do violence to the miracle of the Holy Spirit, the founding of the love of the children of God, even in its more precise form, by letting God be God and man man, but trying to explain the origin of love in man as a supernatural extension of natural human capacity. If we ask how it is possible for man to love, according to Holy Scripture, we have first to go back to faith, and then from faith to its object, Jesus Christ. It is in spite of and within the limitation of his natural capacities that man is met by Jesus Christ in faith in the promise. He is still a creature, afterwards as well as before. He is still a sinful creature. But he is met by Jesus Christ and sees and knows Him as very God and very Man, and therefore as the Reconciler. And that is the miracle of the Holy Spirit and therefore the founding of love in man (374-375).
Our knowledge of love comes to us because of the love of God for us - not because there is some "master concept" of God's love which is knowable apart from the love of God:
But it cannot be otherwise than that the love of God for us is the basis not only of the reality but also of the knowledge of Christian love. This means that we must not deduce the real meaning of love in this context from some arbitrarily if profoundly chosen masterconcept of love in general, comprising the love of God for us on the one hand and our love for God on the other. Even in love there is only an indirect identification of the believer with God in Christ. How then can we ever set up or apply a master-concept of this kind? To know what love is, we have first to ask concerning the unique love of God for us. What our love is will necessarily appear when we ask about our response to this love of God for us and the confirmation and acknowledgment which we owe it. Only then, and by means of the standard which is given us in that way, can we assess the rightness or wrongness of a concept of love which is otherwise completely arbitrary (375–376).
Barth now turns his attention to defining what the love of God is; not surprisingly, it is not sentiment or feeling, but it is an intrinsic love which is a part of the Trinitarian God:
We will now try to give the briefest possible outline of what the love of God is which is the real basis of our love to God, determining its character. One thing is certain, that according to Holy Scripture it has nothing to do with mere sentiment, opinion or feeling. On the contrary, it consists in a definite being, relationship and action. God is love in Himself. Being loved by Him we can, as it were, look into His “heart.” The fact that He loves us means that we can know Him as He is. This is all true. But if this picture-language of “the heart of God” is to have any validity, it can refer only to the being of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It reminds us that God’s love for us is an overwhelming, overflowing, free love. It speaks to us of the miracle of this love. We cannot say anything higher or better of the “inwardness of God” than that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and therefore that He is love in Himself without and before loving us, and without being forced to love us. And we can say this only in the light of the “outwardness” of God to us, the occurrence of His revelation. It is from this that we have to learn what is the real nature of the love of God for us (377).
The love of God is also the "fact of his election" - which finds its summary in the name of Jesus Christ and the self-sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ, for us, who bears or shame and our curse:
In Holy Scripture the love of God to us speaks the language of this fact—the fact of His election, guidance, help and salvation—and it is in this language that it has to be heard and understood. But all the expressions of this factual language meet in the name of Jesus Christ. In this name the approach of God to man consists in one fact alone. This is, of course, the event of revelation and reconciliation in the one Word, which is the Son of God. It is the fact that God intercedes for man, that He takes upon Himself the sin and guilt and death of man, that laden with it all He stands surety for him (378).
This self-sacrifice of God in His Son is in fact the love of God to us. “He gave Him,” which means that He gave Him into our existence. Having been given into our existence He is present with us. Present with us, He falls heir to the shame and the curse which lie upon us. As the bearer of our shame and curse, He bears them away from us. Taking them away, He presents us as pure and spotless children in the presence of His Father. That is how God reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). We can, indeed, speak of the love of God to us only by pointing to this fact. It is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit that the fact itself speaks to us, that in the language of this fact God says: “I have loved thee…fear not, then; for I am with thee” (Is. 43:4f.). No other saying is needed, for this one says all there is to say (378).
Therefore when we try to describe to ourselves the love of God, we can only express and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to speak concretely of the love of God, i.e., in face of the complementary question: What then shall we do? In this connexion it is perhaps as well to remember only one thing. We have touched upon it already: that God has no need to love us, and we have no claim upon His love. God is love, before He loves us and apart from it. Like everything else that He is, He is love as the triune God in Himself. Even without us and without the world and without the reconciliation of the world, He would not experience any lack of love in Himself. How then can we for our part declare it to be necessary that we should be loved by Him? It is, in fact, the free mercy and kindness of God which meets us in His love (379).
Barth now moves to take up another question - what is our loving all about? To answer that, Barth makes an exposition upon the Greatest Commands, particularly through the lens of Mark 12:29-31:
We now turn to the second question, that of our loving, which we can understand as an answer to the love of God for us. This must be the standard for all that we have to say. It must be set over against our presentation of the fact. It must be a description of the human self-determination which occurs in the sphere and light of the divine predestination. It must correspond on man’s side to that which is said by God on His Side. We cannot deny or hide the fact that in one way or another we all think we know already about human loving, and we continue to do so even when confronted by the fact of the love of God to us. If, then, we are asking about Christian love, let us say what we know. But only in the limits and under the discipline of this canon. If we forget it or pass it by in favour of some preconceived idea of love in general, to that extent we will derive our definition of Christian love from a false source. At this as at other points, there is no absolute guarantee against such a possibility. But at this point, too, we can find a relative guarantee. In other words, we can use the concrete method of exegesis, as we did in § 15, 2, when we took Jn. 1:14 as the locus classicus on the incarnation. The biblical witness of revelation and therefore of the love of God to us does not leave us in the lurch  even in respect of a proper human love to God, because the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an element in this revelation. Without arbitrary selection, we can take as our locus classicus the words of the synoptic Jesus in Mt. 22:37f., Mk. 12:29f. and Lk. 10:27f. In these passages He is asked which is the “first” or “great” commandment, or (acc. to Luke): “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And He replies with a conflation of the Old Testament sayings in Dt. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18. 
We must now examine point by point its most explicit form as we find it in Mk. 12:29–31: The first (commandment) is this: Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. And the second is this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (380-381).
Barth offers six major points on this text:

1) First, the command to love is given to a people - God's people.
Only Mark records the address and presupposition of the commandment in Dt. 6:4: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. But this is most helpful in placing us in the right context. First of all, the address: Hear, O Israel. The commandment to love is not directed to humanity, or to men in general in their natural or historical groupings. Humanity or men in general are not even considered as the recipients of this commandment and as those who will fulfil it. The commandment is given to Israel. Indeed, it is given to Israel only in the sense of the synoptic Jesus. It is given to the community declared in the twelve apostles as representing the new twelve tribes. It is given to the community of believers in the Messiah, both Jews and Gentiles. It is given to the true Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ" (381).
2) Second, the command requires us to love the one true God, the Lord our God who is one Lord, though the requirement is not possible in and of ourselves, but begins as we realize He love us.
This is even more plain when we consider the presupposition of the commandment, that the Lord our God is one Lord. Even in the Old Testament passage it is remarkable enough that the emphasis on the commandment to love is linked up with a reference to the uniqueness of Yahweh. The Lord is referred to by Moses as “our God,” i.e., the God who has entered into covenant with us from the days of the Fathers. And according to the saying of the synoptic Jesus, the same Lord is “one Lord” for those who believe in Him, i.e., as their Master He does not belong to a genus, in which there are others who can also rule over them. Apart from His, there may be all sorts of other so-called, supposed and apparent spheres and therefore all sorts of other so-called, supposed and apparent lords. But no one else rules and is the Lord as He is, i.e., in deed and in truth" (382). [...] "We cannot offer a love which is the work of our own hands or heart. We have to recognise that He intercedes for us and represents us, that what is our own, even our own love for Him, can never be anything but our shame and our curse. The love with which we reply to the love of God for us can begin and grow only when we go beyond what we can claim as our own love, when we recognise that we the unloving are beloved by Him. In other words, it can begin and grow only in the recognition of Jesus Christ and therefore in Jesus Christ Himself. That is how—in all the seriousness of our reality before God and in God as the one Lord—it really becomes our own love to God (384).
3) Third, the command tells us that we shall love, which we admit contains a demand, so there is a tension between love and demand, and yet, there is no contradiction, because obedience is only possible in love.
Love to God can be demanded and is demanded from those who already belong to God—to the God who is Lord in this unique sense. From them, as we have seen, love is indeed demanded. And it is demanded. God intercedes for them. God takes their affairs, their life’s concern in the strictest sense of the concept, out of their hand. Therefore with all their existence they are cast back upon God and directed to Him. Their choice, diligere, has already been fixed. Love to God is the only possibility which is open to them. The “Thou shalt love” summons them to this sole remaining activity, which they themselves now find to be necessary, self-evident and indispensable. For them it is a real “Thou shalt,” like an imperious physical demand. It is a genuine “Thou shalt,” beside whose obedient fulfilment disobedience is a manifest impossibility, an absurdity. 
At first sight, it might appear that there is a contradiction in the fact that love to God is demanded from the children of God and is therefore an act of obedience. But this is not the case. On the contrary, only love can make a real demand, i.e., the demand which really comes from God and really comes to man. And it is only in love that there can be real obedience. And conversely real love, which is the love of God, can only be the fulfilment of a command and therefore obedience. It would not be the commandment of God if, whatever else its content, it did not demand from us the most voluntary thing of all, love. And it would not be the love of God if it were not a voluntary decision for Him, if it had any taint of an act of human caprice (385).
4) Fourth, this command shows us that our love is to be for another - love has an object - so that there is no such thing as self-love, but only love for another.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” As the children of God are what they are and in that way fulfil the law, their love has its counterpart or object in God. That is so even though, and indeed because, He gives Himself to be theirs in faith. How else could He be objective for them, if He did not become theirs in faith? But how could He become theirs in faith, if He were not objective for them, if He did not confront them as another? God alone—because He is God and man’s Creator—can confront man as another. But His confrontation means that He gives Himself to be man’s own. And therefore in this confrontation, which is not the removing but the form of His presence in the heart, He can and will be loved by man. The decisive element which is revealed in this fact is that love is love for another. Of course, this element is real only in love to God, and in the love to the neighbour which it includes and posits. All other loving is compromised as such by the uncertainty of the objectivity or otherness of the one who is loved, by the possibility that the one who supposedly loves is perhaps really alone. Where there is no otherness of the one who is loved, where the one who loves is alone, he does not really love (386-387).
5) Fifth, the command tells us that love is moving beyond our own self-righteousness and loving God as He has forgiven us and as He gives us grace:
If love, as distinct from the illusion of self-love, is love for another, and if this other is God the Lord, then our loving must be defined as the nature and attitude of man, conscious that he is of a different kind from that object. Love to God takes place in the self-knowledge of repentance in which we learn about ourselves by the mirror of the Word of God which acquits and blesses us, which is itself the love of God to us. The man who loves God will let himself be told and will himself confess that he is not in any sense righteous as one who loves and in his loving before and over against God. On the contrary, he is a sinner who even in his love has nothing to bring and offer to God. The love of God for him is that God intercedes for him and represents him even though he is so unworthy, even though he can never be anything but unworthy and therefore undeserving of love. He is accepted and confirmed and grasped by this love of God to him. In it is both his own future and the commandment of God: how can that have any other meaning than that he is driven to repentance and held there? He can and will love only as even in respect of his loving he allows and willingly allows this to happen (390).
 ...and of course there will be much rejoicing in the midst of this love!
If we are seekers of God, and to that extent lovers of God, this can be definitely and unequivocally proved and maintained of the children of God only by the one thing: that in all circumstances and in every connexion they rejoice if their seeking is not in vain, if therefore the One whom they seek allows Himself to be found by them, if in that way He confirms the fact that He has sought and found them, before they ever sought Him. How can they not rejoice when God really confronts them, when the One whom they loved loves them again and anew, as He had already loved them before, when He is therefore present to them in His Word, in Jesus Christ, when He speaks with them, and acts on them? Is He not a faithful God, because He does so? And how can they not rejoice that He is so faithful? (392).
...and there is grace, and it keeps us oriented rightly!
When they do find God, they are met by grace, which means that they accept, that they receive the gifts proffered, that they approve what is done for them, that it may be done to them. But grace shows that in themselves they are poor and impotent and empty: indeed, that they are adversaries and rebels. Grace points them away from self, frightens them out of themselves, deprives them of any root or soil or country in themselves, summons them to hold to the promise, to trust in Him, to boast in Him, to take guidance and counsel of Him and Him alone. Grace is the discipline which does not permit them any idolatry or self-righteousness, but bids them say, even when they have done all that it is their duty to do, that they are unprofitable servants (393).
6) Sixth, the command to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength means several things...
a) the wholeness of our being is involved: "For obviously these concepts, which we must not isolate, of course, but take as a whole and in their total effect, are an emphatic reminder that man himself, the whole man, is challenged by the commandment to love, not only that he love, but that he should be one who loves, and therefore (in the twofold sense of the word) one who is condemned, and therefore a seeker after God, as we have seen already. It is to be noted that the words “all” and “thine” are repeated four times (394).
b) our obedience which flows from our new loving being: "the addition again and especially lights up the voluntariness of the obedience given in Christian love. We shall seek after God undividedly and unreservedly, as the commandment demands, only when the commandment to do it has reached and touched not only our heart, our soul, our reason, but all these as our own capacity and all of them completely; so that all of them, in their good points and bad points, in the strength and splendour which may be proper to them as such, and in the perversity and shame which are quite certainly proper to them before God, become our own total act of love (396). 
c) our love now has no limits: "The commandment to love claims you totally and therefore undividedly and without reserve. There can be no question of any limitation of that love" (397).
d) this love is a kind of thankfulness which the believer owes to the revealing and reconciling work of God: "The fourth thing we learn from the addition “with all thy heart …” is that Christian love cannot be understood except as the thankfulness which the believer owes to God in His revealing and reconciling work. The totality in which God wills to be loved by us according to His commandment excludes all self-glorying, all claims which he who loves might make to the loved One on account of his love (400).
Thus Barth concludes:
Therefore the love of God—and it is at this point that it merges into the praise of God—means that in our own existence we become a sign of what God as the one Lord has done and is for us. How can love to God be inactive? It is all activity, but only as man’s answer to what God has said to him. As this answer it is a work, and it produces works. But it is a work, and produces works, in the fact that it is the witness of God’s work, and therefore a renunciation of all self-glorying and all claims (401).