Friday, July 18, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §25.1 "Man Before God" pp. 3-32

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §25 states: "The knowledge of God occurs in the fulfilment of the revelation of His Word by the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the reality and with the necessity of faith and its obedience. Its content is the existence of Him whom we must fear above all things because we may love Him above all things; who remains a mystery to us because He Himself has made Himself so clear and certain to us."

In section §25 ("The Fulfillment of the Knowledge of God") and in subsection §25.1 ("Man Before God"), Barth begins his work on volume 2 and the Doctrine of God. At first, he tackles the knowledge of God, which flows from his work on the doctrine of the Word of God in volume one, and his emphasis on revelation. §25.1 is the first of three subsections and is titled "Man Before God." Barth begins in this way:
In the Church of Jesus Christ men speak about God and men have to hear about God. About God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; about God’s grace and truth; about God’s thoughts and works; about God’s promises, ordinances and commandments; about God’s kingdom, and about the state and life of man in the sphere of His lordship. But always and in all circumstances about God Himself, who is the presupposition, meaning and power of everything that is to be said and heard in the Church, the Subject who absolutely, originally and finally moves, produces, establishes and realises in this matter. In dogmatics it is the doctrine of God which deals with this Subject as such. In the doctrine of God we have to learn what we are saying when we say “God.” In the doctrine of God we have to learn to say “God” in the correct sense. If we do not speak rightly of this Subject, how can we speak rightly of His predicates? But in relation to this Subject, we are at once confronted with the problem of knowledge. All speaking and hearing in the Church of Jesus Christ entirely rests upon and is connected with the fact that God is known in the Church of Jesus Christ; that is to say, that this Subject is objectively present to the speakers and hearers, so that man in the Church really stands before God. If it were not so, if man did not really stand before God, if God were not the object of his perception, viewing and conception, and if he did not know God—whatever we understand by “know”—then he could not speak and hear about Him (3).
Barth begins with the reality of God, not the possibility. God is actually known and will be known again (4). The reality of God, that He is actually known and will be known, means that God is knowable (remember, this is a section on the knowledge of God) (5). Where the actuality exists, the possibility exists as well. It is of course impossible to ask whether God is knowable by some outside, general criterion of knowledge, because God is knowable only within this real knowledge itself (5). How God is known and is knowable has to be a matter of continual reflection and appraisal for the teaching Church, and it has to be continually said to the hearing Church so that it may be called to new witness (5).

Against a knowledge of God which seems pregnable by offensive attack, a knowledge of God which arises from our inquiry rather than a knowledge of God bound by the Word to the Church, Barth offers this:
If we are not concerned with the God who in God’s Word gives Himself to the Church to be known; or if we think about this God as if He also were an entity freely chosen and called “God” on the basis of a free choice; if He is known otherwise than with this constraint; if it is therefore possible to treat of Him openly or secretly like one of those freely chosen and designated entities, and to form Him after their image; then we must not be surprised if we find ourselves in a position where the reality and possibility of our knowledge of God is at once questioned again from without, a position where we begin to experience anxiety and doubt; and this will apply most heavily, not at once to the particular and perhaps unconquerable content of knowledge, but to its possibility and reality as such. For if the knowledge of a “God” is or even can be attacked from without, or if there is or even can be anxiety and doubt in the knowledge of him, then that “God” is manifestly not God but a false god, a god who merely pretends to be God. True knowledge of God is not and cannot be attacked; it is without anxiety and without doubt. But only that which is fulfilled under the constraint of God’s Word is such a true knowledge of God (7).
One can imagine what this might mean to the project of defensive apologetics. Alas, a topic for another time. As Barth says, "Any escape out of the constraint of the Word of God means crossing over to the false gods and no-gods." As Bromiley notes referring to the knowledge of God, "a distinction of known and knower is thereby established which safeguards the authentic objectivity of the knowledge. The knowledge has to conform to the object." Remember, the title of this section is Man Before God. Indeed.

Barth moves on to remind us that knowledge of God is mediated knowledge (10ff.). That is to say, God is and remains its object. Barth develops this idea for several pages and it's clearly very important. As its object, God charges us with a special form of knowledge, the knowledge of faith. As Barth writes,
The fact that man stands before the God who gives Himself to be known in His Word, and therefore to be known mediately, definitely means that we have to understand man’s knowledge of God as the knowledge of faith. In this consists its reality and necessity, which are not and cannot be attacked from without. And from this follow all determinations of the mode of its fulfilment. We must now discuss the assertion that the knowledge of God is the knowledge of faith. In the first instance, it is simply a confirmation of the fact that the knowledge of God is bound to the object set before it by God’s Word—and to this object in its irrevocable objectivity. Faith is the total positive relationship of man to the God who gives Himself to be known in His Word. It is man’s act of turning to God, of opening up his life to Him and of surrendering to Him (12).
It is when we understand faith as knowledge that we understand it as man’s orientation to God as an object (13). 
But our first task is not to understand faith as the knowledge of God, but the knowledge of God as faith. Inasmuch as faith rests upon God’s objectivity it is itself knowledge of God (14).
If God becomes the object of man’s knowledge, this necessarily means that He becomes the object of his consideration and conception. On the strength of this it becomes possible and necessary to speak and hear about God. If it were not so, there would be no knowledge of God and no faith in Him. God would simply not be in the picture. We could not hold to Him. We could not pray to Him. To deny the objectivity of God is to deny the life of the Church of Jesus Christ—which lives on the fact that God is spoken of and heard (14).
But not every object is God; and so not all our human consideration and conception is knowledge of God. For although God has genuine objectivity just like all other objects, His objectivity is different from theirs, and therefore knowledge of Him—and this is the chief thing to be said about its character as the knowledge of faith—is a particular and utterly unique occurrence in the range of all knowledge (14).
The question Barth is getting at is: how do we know God? Obviously, one way is by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and working our way inward to this knowledge of God. Obviously, this is not Barth's position. All of this talk about faith and the knowledge of God is a movement that cuts across nearly all post-Kantian theology by conducting investigations within revelation. In other words, God can be known because God decides graciously to be known to humanity. He makes Himself the object of human knowledge without at the same time failing to be its Subject.

Barth speaks of a "primary objectivity," which is God's knowledge of Godself, as Father knows Son, and Son knows Father in the unity of the Spirit, etc. (16). But of course, God makes Himself known to humanity, and this objectivity is distinct from primary objectivity. Barth calls it "secondary objectivity" - in essence God and knowledge of God is mediated to us in ways that we can understand as creatures:
If we ascribe objectivity to God (as we inevitably do when we speak of the knowledge of God) a distinction becomes unavoidable. As He certainly knows Himself first of all, God is first and foremost objective to Himself. We shall return to this point in the second part of the present section. In His triune life as such, objectivity, and with it knowledge, is divine reality before creaturely objectivity and knowledge exist. We call this the primary objectivity of God, and distinguish from it the secondary, i.e., the objectivity which He has for us too in His revelation, in which He gives Himself to be known by us as He knows Himself. It is distinguished from the primary objectivity, not by a lesser degree of truth, but by its particular form suitable for us, the creature. God is objectively immediate to Himself, but to us He is objectively mediate. That is to say, He is not objective directly but indirectly, not in the naked sense but clothed under the sign and veil of other objects different from Himself. His secondary objectivity is fully true, for it has its correspondence and basis in His primary objectivity. God does not have to be untrue to Himself and deceive us about His real nature in order to become objective to us (16).
Man knows God through this secondary objectivity. It is not possible now to know God directly (it is too dangerous) but only in a mediated way. We see this in the Hebrew Bible (18ff.), Illustrating this point by referencing the story of Moses in Exodus 33 and 34, Barth writes:
Man cannot see God’s face, God’s naked objectivity, without exposing himself to the annihilating wrath of God. It would indeed have to be a second God who could see God directly. How could man escape destruction by God? Hence God shows Moses a two-fold mercy: not only does He actually receive him according to His promise; but also He does it in a way that is adapted to him as a creature, and speaks to him through the sign of His work. We can hardly presuppose that any of the other scriptural passages and references that should be considered in this context teach anything in opposition to this indirect knowledge of God. Rather we shall have to assume that, even in those passages where means and signs of God’s appearance or speaking are not expressly mentioned, they are nevertheless taken for granted by the biblical writers. They always mean the God who is present and revealed to man in His secondary objectivity, in His work (19).
 We see this in the New Testament, too (20ff.):
And it is precisely this knowledge of faith, attested in the Old and New Testaments as the knowledge of God from His works, which is now the content of knowledge in the message of the Church of Jesus Christ. Since this message is the Gospel of its Lord and therefore of the God-man, the Mediator, it stands in explicit contrast to any message having the pure and naked objectivity of God Himself as its object. It is the Gospel of faith and the summons to faith in that it proclaims God—really God Himself—in His mediability, in the sign of His work, in His clothed objectivity. And it is this just because it does not leave the realm of indirect knowledge of God, but keeps to the fact that in this very realm God Himself—and therefore all things—is to be sought and found, and that this indirect knowledge is the right and true knowledge of God because it is chosen and ordained by God Himself (20).
God miraculously unveils Himself through creaturely media intrinsically unfit for the event, yet in such a way that He remains veiled within them. This is so and foremost in the God-Man Jesus Christ. The knowledge of God that results is truly objective in that God is its content. This knowledge is distinct from any other kind of knowledge. In light of all this, what becomes of the "knowing man"?   What becomes of "knowing" humanity? God constitutes them subjects of this knowledge by grace (25ff.). The response to this knowledge of God? The response to the Word of God? Obedience in faith. As Bromiley says, "The obedience of faith in the knowledge of God means that those who know God are bound to the Word of God, without which there is neither object nor subject."

Barth summarizes this way:
To summarise, we started out from the fact that we are concerned with the problem of the knowledge of God as bound to the Word of God. The task we set ourselves was to understand how this came to pass. We first of all established that it is as such objective and therefore real knowledge; it is not identical with God Himself, but it has its object in God. That is to say, it is the knowledge of faith, in which God becomes object to man. It is a particular, separating and sanctifying object distinguishing between itself and the knowing man, so that knowledge of God necessarily has to be understood as an event outstanding in its relationship to other events. We saw, moreover, that this objectivising of God always occurs concretely in the use of a medium, in the putting on of a veil, in the form of a work of God; and therefore knowledge of God occurs in the fact that men make use of this medium. But, on the other hand, this medium, and therefore this mediate knowledge of God, is not to be thought of apart from the grace in which God the Lord controls and uses this medium and is Himself its power. Thus the knowledge of God can be understood only as the bestowal and reception of this free grace of God. And finally, because in this act of His free grace God makes Himself object to us and makes us knowers of Himself, the knowledge of this object cannot be fulfilled in neutrality, but only in our relationship to this act, and therefore only in an act, the act which is the decision of obedience to Him (29-30).