Friday, July 25, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §25.2 "God Before Man" pp. 31-62

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 paragraph §25 ("The Fulfillment of the Knowledge of God") and in subsection §25.1 ("God Before Man"), Barth continues his work on volume 2 and the Doctrine of God with a reflection on how man ultimately stands before God by the mere fact that God awakens man to faith and makes Himself known in revelation and makes Himself objectively known to man:
We have tried first to understand the knowledge of God bound to the Word of God from its human side. Our aim was to ascertain how men reach the position of speaking and hearing about God. We have therefore tried to clarify how, in the fulfilment of this knowledge, man stands before God. But this very analysis has shown us all along the line that man’s standing before God, in which this knowledge becomes real, and therefore the realising itself, can be understood throughout only as a second act which is preceded by a first as its presupposition, determination and restriction, and that the second act can be fulfilled only in confirmation and acknowledgment of this first act. But this first act consists in God standing before man. Knowledge of God comes into force as the knowledge of faith by God awakening man to faith; in and by His showing Himself to man as his object; and in and by His opening man’s eyes to see God Himself in His objectivity. In and by this way man comes to stand before God, in a situation in which he can perceive and consider and conceive God, distinguishing God from himself and himself from God, and uniting God with himself and himself with God. If God does not have the precedence, if God does not stand before man so that man may stand before God, how can man take even a single step forward? God is objective and therefore He can be truly known. He encounters man. He encounters him in such a way that man can also know Him (31-32).
As Barth contends, God is actively confronting us. He is encountering us. As One who is confronting us - as God before man - we should respond in two ways, in fear and in love, because He is the One actively before us.
...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.” This is God before man, God as He encounters man and acts towards man according to the knowledge of God as bound to the Word of God. This is the God who in the fulfilment of this knowledge precedes man, whom man, in the fulfilment of this knowledge, can only follow. The fact that He is the One who is to be feared above all and to be loved above all and, indeed, to be feared above all because He is to be loved above all, certainly seems at first sight to have nothing to do with the establishment of His knowledge by man. But in reality, the fact that He is this God is decisive and definitive for everything that is to be said about His knowledge by man. It is with this thought, that He is this God and none other, that we now begin (32).
God is He whom we may love above all things. God exists, and is the object of our knowledge, as this One who is to be loved above all things. If we are bound to God’s Word we cannot contradict this. To be bound to God’s Word means that we may love above all things Him who speaks this Word to us. We emphasise—may. Binding to the love of God is first and foremost a permission, a liberation, an authorization (32-33).
The compulsion of which we speak is [...] three-fold. It consists first in the fact that God is in Himself to be feared, so that escape from Him is unimaginable. Second, it consists in the fearful encounter with God, so that He exists for us in such a way that it is obvious that, since He offers us reason and cause for fear, He Himself wills that we should fear Him. It consists finally in God opening our eyes and ears to His fearfulness, so that our fear before Him is realised. And all this in such a way that between love and fear there is no contradiction but the closest and most necessary—even if a quite determined and irreversible—connexion (34).
And the object of this fear can only be He whom we may love above all. It is He whom we have to fear above all things for this reason. If we are not permitted to love Him and if we do not love Him, We can only expect the cessation of our existence at His hands. Him, therefore, we must fear just because we may love Him. This object is God. How can we stand before Him in the possession of the freedom to love Him without reflecting that this is His unmerited gift and that it is legitimate for us to make use of this gift? In this very reflection we have to fear God. If this freedom is not bestowed upon us (and it does not have to be bestowed), or if we do not make use of it (and when do we not have to ask ourselves if and how far we do that?) to stand before God cannot fail to mean our destruction. God stands before man as the One whom he may love and must fear—may really love and must really fear—above all things. He stands before man as the One whom he may and must love in such a way that there is no other love and fear and therefore no other permission and compulsion (35).
As He stands before us, our knowledge of faith is created and upheld by Him (38), and He awakens and sustains our faith. Thus, our faith is also obedience. Acknowledgement of the knowledge of God is faith. Also, the God who we both fear and love is also He who remains a mystery to us (38ff.).
For in fear, He makes the problem of this knowledge become for the one who loves a problem of obedience, and the knowledge of Himself a decision made necessary by His being and nature. But now the meaning of this fact encroaches upon the shape and form of this knowledge because it is connected with the other order indicated by the second pair of concepts. It is connected with the order in which on the one hand the clarity and certainty in which God stands before us and on the other the mystery in which He stands before us are bound together. The clarity and certainty in which He offers Himself to us correspond to love towards Him, as we are permitted to have it. How can there be reconciliation if there is no revelation? Faith—making use of that permission—means receiving God’s revelation; and it is by receiving God’s revelation that we make use of the fact that we may love Him. But the mystery in which He offers Himself to us corresponds to the fear which we must have before Him. How can there be reconciliation without judgment, and so how can revelation be without mystery? Faith—treating that “must” seriously—means knowing and acknowledging God’s mystery in God’s revelation. And it is by knowing and acknowledging God’s mystery in God’s revelation that we treat seriously the fact that we must fear Him. This is the first thing that we have to consider in detail (38).
Considering this thought in detail, Barth contends that 1) God is the One who makes Himself clear and certain to us (38). We admit this and live in this acknowledgement as we acknowledge His Word to us (39). Our own existence stands or falls with the existence of God.
Knowledge of God can always proceed only from the knowledge of His existence in the two-fold sense that we always already have this knowledge and that we must have it from God Himself, in order consequently to know Him (39).
And God is not hidden from us because He makes Himself known. The acknowledgement that revelation has taken place is faith (40).
And for the knowledge of faith, the existence of God is the problem already solved in and by the clarity and certainty of the existence of God Himself in His revelation (40).
But the fact the God makes Himself so clear means also that God is a mystery to us (40). We acknowledge we know God in his mystery, and it is He who clarifies and makes revelation possible for us. And the fact that we love Him and fear Him in this revelation means that we give Him the glory, all the glory (41). And His clarity does not contradict the mystery.
The assertion that God remains a mystery to us for the very reason that He has made Himself so clear and certain to us, is obviously just as evident as the assertion that we must fear God for the very reason that we may love Him. The fact that we admit to ourselves that He remains a mystery to us is the criterion by which we know that we are among those to whom He has made Himself clear and certain. If it is not the case that in knowing God we must praise His grace, then that grace has not come upon us. Because it has come upon us and we have to praise it and, indeed, praise it as grace, we are not in a position to contest a single jot or tittle of the mystery of the possibility, actuality and order of our knowledge of God. To deny, or not to know, or to cease to know the mystery in which God exists for us, is to deny, or not to know, or to cease to know the clarity and certainty of the revelation of His existence for us (41-42).
To summarise, where God stands before man as the One who awakens, creates and upholds his faith, and where God offers Himself to man as the object and content of the knowledge of his faith. He does it in this being and action—as the One who remains mystery to us because He Himself has made Himself so clear and certain to us. It is just in this way that He awakens, creates and upholds our knowledge of Himself as a work of obedience, which cannot as such be attacked either by others or by ourselves if only we do not fall out of obedience, out of this relationship between the given clarity and certainty and the guarded mystery. Within obedience the knowledge of God cannot be destroyed, because its object cannot cease to be this object and God cannot cease to be the One who is and acts in this way. If our obedience springs from God, necessarily we are always in the same obedience towards God. In this obedience we are set on the circular course in which we can go only from faith to faith and similarly from knowledge to knowledge. Because we do not in any sense begin with ourselves, with our own capacity for faith and knowledge, we are secured against having to end with ourselves, i.e., with our own incapacity (43).
So, there is no epistemological presupposition or power by which we know God (44-45). We are actualized by his act and being, by His freedom and choice to reveal. This is the starting point for the knowledge of God. It is what we acknowledge as we acknowledge ourselves before God.
God speaks to man in His Word. Thereby He gives Himself to him to be known; therein He is known by him. In this way, as the One who speaks to him, God stands before man, and it comes to pass that man stands before Him, and that man for his part—as happens in the Church of Jesus Christ—can speak and hear about Him (44).
This knowledge and actualization by God comes to us as a Word of enlightenment and salvation (44), and we are not alone but with God, and in covenant with God. And God is Lord of the covenant (45). The covenant is God's will and work (45). And He is man's Lord (45). Thus, we become indebted to Him in all things. In this revelation of God's Lordship, we see that He is Trinity (47), from eternity to eternity God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and He shares with us a knowledge of Himself (SDG).
In this way the self-demonstration, and in this way the proclamation and action of God through His Word in the covenant concluded with man, is grounded in God Himself. In this way and on this ground it has its compelling force. Because God is in Himself the triune God, both in His Word and in the work of creation, reconciliation and redemption, we have to do with Himself (48).
Only by proceeding downwards from the triune existence of God can we understand how God stands before us, how in His revelation He gives Himself to be known and is known by us. The revelation of God, in which man’s fulfilment of the true knowledge of God takes place, is the disposition of God in which He acts towards us as the same triune God that He is in Himself, and in such a way that, although we are men and not God, we receive a share in the truth of His knowledge of Himself (51).
And this is more than just a "share" - it is Himself that is shared with us, in the Incarnation, in Jesus Christ:
But God gives Himself to be known—and this is the limitation that we have to bring out in the idea of impartation—in an objectivity different from His own, in a creaturely objectivity. He unveils Himself as the One He is by veiling Himself in a form which He Himself is not. He uses this form distinct from Himself, He uses its work and sign, in order to be objective in, with and under this form, and therefore to give Himself to us to be known (52).
That God takes a "creaturely objectivity" on in this sharing - this revelation - means by necessity a limitation on His part. Barth wonders about what kind of limitation it is. To this question, Barth gives a three-fold answer:

First, God allows creatureliness to speak for Him:
1. When God gives Himself to us to be known in the truth of His self-knowledge as the triune God, He permits some one of His creatures or a happening in the sphere and time of the world created by Him to speak for Him. The basic reality and substance of the creatureliness which He has commissioned and empowered to speak of Him, the basic reality and substance of the sacramental reality of His revelation, is the existence of the human nature of Jesus Christ (53).
Second, while God is the incomparable (made in freedom comprehensible) I - He is also a Thou, one among many others:
The limitation of our knowledge of God, which is also its determination, can be more properly understood if we are clear about the following point. When God gives Himself to us to be known in the truth of His self-knowledge as the triune God, what happens is this. In one of His creatures, i.e., in a happening in the sphere and time of the world created by Him, He is not only pleased to be what He is in Himself and for Himself. In and for Himself He is I, the eternal, original and incomparable I. As such He is the Lord above whom is no other lord, the Subject who precedes all other subjects, to whom all other subjects are objects and from whom they can derive and lease their subjectivity and I-ness. God is object in Himself and for Himself: in the indivisible unity of the knowledge of the Father by the Son and the Son by the Father, and therefore in His eternal and irrevocable subjectivity. But in His revelation God is not only I. He is known—from outside, for in an incomprehensible way there is an outside in relation to God—as Thou and He. He is known as many thous and hes and innumerably more its are known: existences which are characterised as creatures and therefore as objects of our knowledge, to which and about which we can speak and hear, by the fact that we give them a name, and that by this name we can distinguish them from the other things which we perceive and apprehend in the world, and also give them their place in this world (57). 
Third, the eternal God, in revelation, lowers Himself to be known in time. A limitation indeed!
When God gives Himself to us to be known in the truth of His self-knowledge as the triune God, He lowers Himself to be known in time. When God knows Himself, the Father the Son and the Son the Father through the Holy Spirit, then that happens at a stroke and once and for all in the same perfection from eternity to eternity. But our knowing of God is obviously not like this. We can and must ascribe it to Him, for He stands before us as the God and Lord, whose cognition—and primarily and supremely His cognition of Himself—is the origin and the reality and the measure of all creaturely cognition. But, though we ascribe it to Him, we cannot realise even the concept of His cognition, because the concept of cognition with which we make the attempt can only be the concept of our own creaturely cognition, which as such is neither perfect nor eternal cognition and therefore not the cognition of a perfect and eternal cognition. Yet in His revelation God lowers Himself to be known by us according to the measure of our own human cognition. He lowers Himself and He lets Himself be known in truth as the One He is, yet not at all as He knows Himself, but rather in a temporal way (61).