Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §28.1 "The Being of God in Act" pp. 257-272

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §28 states: "God is who He is in the act of His revelation. God seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us, and therefore He loves us. But He is this loving God without us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the freedom of the Lord, who has His life from Himself."

In paragraph §28 ("The Being of God as the One Who Loves in Freedom") and in subsection §28.1 ("The Being of God in Act"), Barth moves the short distance from the knowledge of God to the reality of God. He starts this way:
God is. This is the simple statement which we have to develop and explain in this chapter on the basis and in the application of what we have learnt in the previous chapter about the fulfilment, the possibility and the limits of our knowledge of God. In so doing we confront the hardest and at the same time the most extensive task of Church dogmatics, behind which also there lies concealed the hardest and at the same time the most extensive task of the whole of Christian preaching (257).
With this statement - God is - Barth concludes that God is known most clearly in his act, not in abstraction. God is. But of course, our subject is God, not being.
Although we cannot allow as such the objection to the possibility of a special doctrine of God, there is something to be learned from it. When we ask questions about God’s being, we cannot in fact leave the sphere of His action and working as it is revealed to us in His Word. God is who He is in His works (260). 
At the same time we must be quite clear on the other side, that our subject is God and not being, or being only as the being of God (260).
What does it mean to say that “God is”? What or who “is” God? If we want to answer this question legitimately and thoughtfully, we cannot for a moment turn our thoughts anywhere else than to God’s act in His revelation. We cannot for a moment start from anywhere else than from there (261).
After warning about the older errors of Protestant orthodoxy which sought to talk about the doctrine of God in places other than His revelation, Barth moves to describe God's "is-ness" in revelation as a revelation and revealing which is happening now, not as just a past event.
If we follow the path indicated, our first declaration must be the affirmation that in God’s revelation, which is the content of His Word, we have in fact to do with His act. And first, this means generally—with an event, with a happening. But as such this is an event which is in no sense to be transcended. It is not, therefore, an event which has merely happened and is now a past fact of history. God’s revelation is, of course, this as well. But it is also an event happening in the present, here and now (262).
And of course Barth sees the greatest expression that God is in the person Jesus Christ (262). From  his act, God's being may first be defined as life - the OT statement "the Living God" is no metaphor!
The definition that we must use as a starting-point is that God’s being is life. Only the Living is God. Only the voice of the Living is God’s voice. Only the work of the Living is God’s work; only the worship and fellowship of the Living is God’s worship and fellowship. So, too, only the knowledge of the Living is knowledge of God (263).
But God is life in a more specific sense, not in just a general sense.
But we must be more precise. When on the basis of His revelation we always understand God as event, as act and as life, we have not in any way identified Him with a sum or content of event, act, or life generally. We can never expect to know generally what event or act or life is, in order from that point to conclude and assert that God is He to whom this is all proper in an unimaginable and incomprehensible fulness and completeness. When we know God as event, act and life, we have to admit that generally and apart from Him we do not know what this is (264).
And God is life in a personal way (265ff.) though not in a personalized way, an anthropomorphic way, which confounds creature and Creator (266). God's thoughts are not our thoughts. His Spirit is not our spirit. God exists in act.
The particularity of the divine event, act and life is the particularity of the being of a person. We speak of an action, of a deed, when we speak of the being of God as a happening. Indeed the peak of all happening in revelation, according to Holy Scripture, consists in the fact that God speaks as an I, and is heard by the thou who is addressed. The whole content of the happening consists in the fact that the Word of God became flesh and that His Spirit is poured out upon all flesh. In this happening the world of nature and sense is undoubtedly subordinate. It is the servant. It is the component which is not important and necessary for its own sake, but only in its relationship and function (267).
In accordance with the happening of revelation we reject a false spiritualising on the one hand and a false realism on the other, and have to understand God’s being as “being in person.” What is meant is certainly not personified being, but the being that in the reality of its person realises and unites in itself the fulness of all being. In its person means in its unity of spirit and nature. For in this unity, in the due superiority of its spirituality, in the due inferiority of its naturalness, it is not an “It,” nor is it a “He” like a created person. It is genuinely (and therefore also for a genuine understanding) always an “I.” It is the I who knows about Himself, who Himself wills, Himself disposes and distinguishes, and in this very act of His omnipotence is wholly self-sufficient (268).
God's being is being which knows, which wills and decides itself, and is moved by itself. The rest of the subsections will flow from this central idea. Barth concludes:
God is. The first and basic general definition of this statement has now been given. Whatever else we may have to say must always correspond to this first definition. Anything contradictory will necessarily be false. Every statement of what God is, and explanation how God is, must always state and explain what and how He is in His act and decision. There is no moment in the ways of God which is over and above this act and decision. There is no evasion of this act and decision of the living quality of God. There is only the apprehension of this quality in virtue of the fact that we are apprehended by Him in His revelation. But this means that it is not merely this quality in its supreme form, par excellence, but basically and properly it is so in a unique sense: propriissime solus Deus vivere did potest (most properly speaking, God alone can be said to live). If we have life on the basis of His creation and in hope on the ground of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our quality of life can never be confused with His, or compared or contrasted with it as commensurate. The validity of every further statement about God, as a statement about the living God, depends on the avoidance of this confusion, or this comparison and contrast, between His life and ours. But this will happen automatically if the positive content of the rule which has emerged is clear to us, if every further statement what and how God is is always linked with the fact that God is He who is not only to be found alone in His act, but is to be found alone in His act because alone in His act He is who He is. If we keep this clearly in mind, if all our thoughts are always grasped by God’s action, because in it we have to do with God’s being, we may be sure that they cannot err, and become either openly or secretly thoughts about ourselves (272).