Monday, October 13, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §27.2 "The Veracity of Man's Knowledge of God" pp. 204-254 (Part 1)

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §27 states: "God is known only by God. We do not know Him, then, in virtue of the views and concepts with which in faith we attempt to respond to His revelation. But we also do not know Him without making use of His permission and obeying His command to undertake this attempt. The success of this undertaking, and therefore the veracity of our human knowledge of God, consists in the fact that our viewing and conceiving is adopted and determined to participation in the truth of God by God Himself in grace."

In paragraph §27 ("The Limits of the Knowledge of God") and in subsection §27.2 ("The Veracity of Man's Knowledge of God"), Barth now turns to a discussion of the goal and end (or telos) of the knowledge of God. As we move from the knowledge of God, Barth contends that we follow a circular course because is known by God and only God because, although enacted by humans, it is instituted by God:
Our next concern is with the terminus ad quem (ending point) of the knowledge of God. We do not understand by this the object as such which is attained by it, although we shall certainly have to speak of its object too—this is inevitable. We understand by the terminus ad quem of the knowledge of God, the goal and end, determined by its object, of the event, the movement, the human action which we call the knowledge of God; the limit by which as such it is separated from its object as such, but by which it is also united with it. 
Knowledge of God is not only the presupposition but also, as we have already affirmed at the beginning of our first part, the goal of all Christian doctrine. If the Church lives, if its faith and its confession are real and do not evaporate, it not only comes from the knowledge of God, but again and again comes to the knowledge of God. We have hitherto tried to make clear the fact and extent that the Church comes from the knowledge of God. We have now to understand the fact and extent that at the same time—a circular course is involved—it always goes to meet it. 
A circular course is involved because God is known by God, and only by God; because even as an action undertaken and performed by man, knowledge of God is objectively and subjectively both instituted by God Himself and led to its end by Him; because God the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit is its primary and proper subject and object (204). 
What does true knowledge ultimately rest upon? God's revelation. Barth later calls this a "divine encroachment" in which He makes Himself the object of our cognition.
It is by God’s revelation that we therefore know God as the One who only by His revelation, as the free good-pleasure and free activity of His overflowing love, can be the object of our cognition, the object of our substantiation and acceptance (206). 
It is not necessary that God does this - He does it in freedom:
We know Him very badly in His revelation, in His emergence from His self-sufficient glory, if we do not accept this emergence and His love as free love, or if we try to regard His objectivity for us as necessary or even possible (206).
So, what will constitute "true" knowledge of God? That we truly know God (not something else) and that we know Him trustworthily.
The success of this undertaking, if success is attained, obviously consists in the veracity of the human knowledge of God, namely, in the fact that, knowing God, we do not have to do with something else or someone else, but validly, compulsorily, unassailably and trustworthily with God Himself. And beyond that, it consists in the fact that we do not have to do with Him only in a loose way, or at random, or with the threat of mistakes from unknown sources, or with the reservation that in reality everything might be quite different, but in a way which is right, which formally as well as materially cannot be separated from the matter itself, and therefore in this respect, too, validly, compulsorily, unassailably and trustworthily. If this undertaking to view and conceive God as an object of our knowledge is authentic in this twofold sense—and if our attempt to speak of God on the ground of this undertaking is also authentic, then the undertaking is one which succeeds (208).
Barth now starts to develop his ideas about this veracity of human knowledge about God. First, the veracity of our knowledge of God is the veracity of His revelation; in other words, it is God's truth (209). It is not something else which reveals God, but God reveals Himself.  

Not only that, but (secondly), it is true knowledge because it is from God and it is a correct and trustworthy revelation (210) - "And the veracity of His revelation—i.e., His will and His power to reveal Himself—means that, however seldom it may appear to us, there is a veracious knowledge of God by man" (211).

Third, it is true knowledge of God because "the veracity of the revelation of God verifies itself by verily laying claim to the thinking and speaking of man" (211). Barth claims "...we are verily claimed by it." In other words, one characteristic of revelation is that as it comes to a person, its call to us and enables us to act in obedience to it.

Fourth, it is true knowledge because "the claim made upon us by His revelation does not demand anything impossible, and therefore that it is not an impotent and ineffectual claim" (212).
And when we say this, we are saying that the claim made upon us by His revelation does not demand anything impossible, and therefore that it is not an impotent and ineffectual claim. If God commands, it is so. And in the present context this means that, if He will have it so, we shall think of Him with what are certainly (from our standpoint) impotent views and concepts, and that we shall speak of Him what (again from our standpoint) are certainly impotent words. It means that God Himself, with His will to reveal Himself and therefore His claim upon us, takes our place, and therefore that, with His power to reveal Himself, He does not ignore or eliminate but fills up the void of our impotence to view and conceive Him. Our inability to perform by our action what is demanded of us is not at all His inability to cause what is demanded to happen by our action. What we of ourselves cannot do, He can do through us (212).
The decisive thing about the veracity of human knowledge of God is undoubtedly said when we remember the veracity of the revelation of God. The human knowledge of God becomes and is true because God is truly God in His revelation; because His revelation is true as such; because in it He truly claims human thinking and speaking; because in it He truly justifies human thinking and speaking because by it He upholds us as those who think of Him and speak of Him in humility before Him. Because this happens our human undertaking to view and conceive God and to speak of Him is an undertaking that succeeds (214). 
Barth now turns to a discussion of the question of how our knowledge shares in authenticity as its goal. How does it do this? Barth reminds us that revelation, which is the source of our knowledge of God, involves a veiling and an unveiling:
As God veils Himself in His revelation, He also unveils Himself. And as He unveils Himself, He also veils Himself. Not the veiling, however, but the unveiling is the purpose of His revelation, the direction of His will. In our knowledge of Him we certainly cannot affirm His unveiling without at the same time acknowledging His veiling. And, on the other hand, in our knowledge of Him we certainly cannot affirm His veiling without at the same time thanking Him for His unveiling (215).
And he reminds us that we participate in revelation. And participation in this revelation, this goal of unveiling, is first an act of thanksgiving. Not only thanksgiving, but the knowledge of God as participation in the veracity of the revelation of God is a work of gratitude expressing itself in joyfulness:
It is, therefore, right and proper that among our more detailed definitions we should give priority to the fact that basically it can consist only in the offering of our thanks. In this respect our knowledge of God stands under the same ordinance as our human work in general, which may be a response to the work of the Word and Spirit of God. If it really does respond; if it really is response to this work; if it really is the work of our following of God on the way on which He precedes us, from His veiling to His unveiling, then it has for its title: “On the Gratitude of Man” (216).
But this means that it cannot take place except in joyfulness. There can be no acknowledgment of the revelation of God unless we ourselves are involved. But, involved in this way, we are placed strictly under the rule of the object and become obedient. This obedience, however, can only mean that we are ourselves requisitioned to be doers of this work. If the revelation reaches us, if it becomes for us the necessary basis of our knowledge, this does, of course, mean that it approaches us from without, but it also means—how else can it reach us?—that it does actually come to us and therefore into us. It does not cease to transcend us, but we become immanent to it, so that obedience to it is our free will. But because God remains transcendent to us even in His revelation, the subjectivity of our acknowledgment of His revelation means our elevation above ourselves. It is this that of necessity makes our knowledge of God a joyful action (219).
Also, if the participation of our knowledge of God in the veracity of His revelation consists in the offering of our thanks, it will always be also an act of wondering awe (220). Barth describes awe as the distance between our work and its object. This distance is overcome by God's grace.
It can never be a question of amazement at ourselves, at the force of our thinking and language. However great this force may actually be, we shall not seize the kingdom of heaven with it. But if our thinking and language in this matter are not without object, if our undertaking to know God succeeds by these means of knowledge, it is because the kingdom of heaven has come to us. Therefore the amazement, without which we cannot put this act into effect as an act of gratitude, will necessarily be amazement at the kingdom of heaven which comes to us, and therefore the amazement of awe (220).
We say awe, having previously said thanksgiving, and having referred finally to the necessary joyfulness of the knowledge that participates in the veracity of the revelation of God. But as in the case of thanksgiving, and therefore joyfulness, we have to say awe of necessity. Awe refers to the distance between our work and its object. This distance is certainly overcome. But it is still a distance which is overcome only by God’s grace, the distance between here and there, below and above. In awe we gratefully let grace be grace, and always receive it as such. We never let reception become a taking. Our knowledge of God is always compelled to be a prayer of thanksgiving, penitence and intercession. It is only in this way that there is knowledge of God in participation in the veracity of the revelation of God (223).
To the question how we come to know God by means of our thinking and language, we must give the answer that of ourselves we do not come to know Him, that, on the contrary, this happens only as the grace of the revelation of God comes to us and therefore to the means of our thinking and language, adopting us and them, pardoning, saving, protecting and making good. We are permitted to make use, and a successful use at that, of the means given to us. We do not create this success. Nor do our means create it. But the grace of God’s revelation creates it. To know this is the awe in which our knowledge of God becomes true (223).