Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §27.2 "The Veracity of Man's Knowledge of God" pp. 204-254 (Part 2)

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 has turned to a discussion of the goal and end (or telos) of the knowledge of God, which I blogged about in PART ONE HERE. Barth wrapped up the first part of pp. 204-254 with a discussion of man's knowledge of God, which he described as an act of wondering awe in which we let overcoming grace be truly grace and accept the permission to use the means that we are given to communicate about God (pp. 220-223).

Barth is interested in what we mean when we talk of this permission - what does it mean when we use our words about God? Well, there is no parity when we use words the words we are given about God our object (224). Nor is there a total disparity (225). No, it cannot be either of these:
The fact that we know Him must mean that, with our views, concepts and words, we do not describe and express something quite different from Himself, but that in and by these means of ours—the only ones we have—we describe and express God Himself. Otherwise, without this relationship, under the presupposition of a simple disparity, there cannot possibly be any question of the veracity of our knowledge of God. The whole relationship will have to be regarded as simply negative, as a relationship of mutual exclusion. There will not then be in fact any fellowship between the knower and the known. God’s revelation will simply be a veiling, and it cannot therefore be understood as revelation. The impossibility of the thesis of a parity between our word and the being of God must not press us into the counter-thesis of a disparity between them. On the basis of the same presupposition the latter is just as impossible as the former (225).
Barth asserts that the object itself - God's truth in His revelation as the basis of the veracity of our knowledge of God - leaves us no option but analogy. N.B. Analogy is a way of thinking that is of utmost importance to Barth. It enables authentic speech about God, but at the same time safeguards God's mystery. Can human words and concepts adequately serve any discussion of God? Yes, under certain conditions when our words and concepts correspond (in an analogical way) with Him, according to the analogia fidei.
We cannot open our mouths to speak about God without appropriating the promise that we shall speak the truth in the analogy of His truth itself. But everything depends on our doing it with a good conscience; and, indeed, everything depends on our actually appropriating His promise and therefore not using our human words without the permission and command of His revelation, on the basis of a provisional understanding, but on the basis of the decision made in His revelation. In this use our words then possess the entire veracity which they have in God Himself, in which God the Creator, who places them at our disposal, knows about Himself, and with which He describes Himself. In this use God Himself lives and speaks in them. In this use the human word becomes God’s own word, the human word receives the momentum, the parresia, the certainty and authority, which distinguishes genuine preaching from a mere speaking about God and past God, from a mere religious “as if” speech, however earnest and moving it might be. Man has not arrogated anything to himself when he speaks of God. He just speaks what is given to him (231-232).
Barth suggests that there is a partial correspondence of our words and God's being - so what is the meaning of "partial"? It doesn't denote a kind of quantitative similarity and dissimilarity because God is one. Instead, to Barth, it corresponds to the dialectic between veiling and unveiling which he referred in this first part of the section.
We are therefore forced to avail ourselves of the concept of analogy by the fact that in God’s revelation both His veiling and His unveiling are true. But it is now clear that in the veiling and unveiling of God it is not a question of quantity, either on God’s side or on man’s. In both cases it is a question of the one whole God, and in both cases of the one whole man. Now that this is clear, however, we recall that the relationship between veiling and unveiling is not symmetrical equivocal, vacillating or obscure, nor is it a reversal and alternation dependent on the arbitrariness of God or man. If we want to describe the relationship between the two concepts, and therefore the explanation of the concept of analogy, as dialectical, we must always note that what is involved is an ordered dialectic, and indeed one which is teleologically ordered. With both concepts we speak of the grace of the revelation of God. For God is gracious not only in His unveiling, but also in His veiling; not only in His pardoning and sanctifying Yes but also in His No of judgment upon our work. And only for the sake of His unveiling does He veil Himself, only for the sake of His Yes will and must He also say No. Unveiling and veiling thus designate the way which God goes with us, not a contradiction which He pronounces against us, into which He impels us, and which we have to suffer and bear as such (236). 
Barth closes the section with an important question: if the truthfulness of our knowledge of God rests (as it does) in God's revelation, in which we participate in thanksgiving, and speak of God in our own words, what hope of security lies in this endeavor? What hope of truthfulness? What if this is all some kind of vicious circle instead of a circle of truth? The answer lies in the fact that we looks outside ourselves to something else that we grasp in faith:
The substantiation of our faith and therefore the necessary confirmation of our systematic deliberations and affirmations in respect of the knowledge of God must also come to us from without. If they are genuine they cannot come from ourselves as a grasping with which we try to save ourselves. They must be the grasping by which they are grasped. Otherwise they will not be genuine confirmations and substantiation. We cannot grasp at the Holy Spirit, or the Church, or Christian experience, or the Trinity, or Christ—not to speak of other supports—in order to try to create certainty for ourselves (249).
In the end, the only hope of truthfulness in our knowledge of God, the most assured certainty that will encompass the circle of truth (as Barth concludes), is Jesus Christ (250-254).