Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §30.2 "The Mercy and Righteousness of God" pp. 368-406

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §30 states: "The divinity of the love of God consists and confirms itself in the fact that in Himself and in all His works God is gracious, merciful and patient, and at the same time holy, righteous and wise."

In paragraph §30 ("The Perfections of the Divine Loving") and subsection §30.2 ("The Mercy and Righteousness of God"), Barth reminds us that just because we're going to reflect now on the divine perfections of mercy and righteousness, does not mean we've really moved away from grace and holiness:
The fact that among the biblical attributes of God we select two further divine perfections, both individually and in their interconnexion, does not mean that we are leaving behind what we have already said of the divine being, i.e., the perfections of His grace and holiness, in order to turn our attention as it were to another aspect of deity. In this whole enquiry and exposition we must never forget that there exists “another” in God only in so far as it is still one and the same thing. But in God Himself, and therefore also for us, there is a fulness of the divine perfections, not in poverty, but in richness, and therefore continually different, and to be viewed and conceived in its development (368).
Barth now turns to his discussion of God's mercy:
The free inclination of God to His creature, denoted in the biblical witness by grace, takes place under the presupposition that the creature is in distress and that God’s intention is to espouse his cause and to grant him assistance in his extremity. Because grace, the gracious love of God, consists in this inclination, it is, and therefore God Himself is, merciful; God’s very being is mercy (369).
Understood in quite general terms, as the free condescension of a superior to an inferior, it does not necessarily include the superior’s participation in, and determination speedily to relieve, the distress of the inferior. Grace in itself and in general might equally well mean an unsympathetic and ineffectual inclination on the part of the superior. But we are speaking of the grace of God and therefore of the concrete relationship in which it becomes actual, of His grace towards the one to whom He is gracious. In this relation mercy is included in grace; grace itself is mercy. And by this mark and this alone we recognise the divinity of the love and grace of God: by the fact that it is merciful (369-370).
And God in His mercy is moved and rooted in a powerful compassion (370). And God's mercy, just as grace in Jesus Christ, expresses God's opposition to humanity's opposition to God (371).
Arrogance is seen as pitiable folly, the usurpation of freedom as rigorous bondage, evil lust as bitter torment. It is again true that man by his own fault has plunged himself and is continually plunging himself into these ills, and in view of this we shall have to speak later of the righteousness of God. But it is also true that this resistance of the creature, this sinfulness of man, has in itself and as such the simple meaning of folly, bondage and torment. And as such it is the object of God’s compassion. In concrete the mercy of God means therefore His compassion at the sight of the suffering which man brings upon himself, His concern to remove it, His will to console man in this pain and to help him to overcome it (371-372). 
And God takes pity on the sinner, and looks compassionately upon us. God's mercy is not something we deduce or demonstrate logically, all we can do is acknowledge the reality of God's mercy as we recognize the reality of the mercy of Jesus Christ (373). The merciful God has taken action on our behalf in freedom and in power (375).
In freedom: for our sin and guilt were not His and did not have to become so. Because this is so, faith believes in God’s grace and election in virtue of which we receive what we have not deserved. But also in power: for He has really taken to Himself and removed from us our sin and guilt. Therefore faith is joy and gratitude, an assurance which can no longer look back, only forwards (374).
And faith looks to God's mercy in joy and gratitude. This then is how God loves. His love is merciful love (375). Barth now turns to a discussion of the righteousness of God. Righteousness must be seen as a determination of the love God.
The loving of God is a divine action and being distinct from every other loving in the fact that it is righteous. Our point of departure must be that the righteousness of God is a determination of the love, and therefore of the grace and mercy, of God. And the love and grace and mercy of God have the determination of righteousness necessarily, as they have that of holiness. Necessarily, because if this love were not holy and righteous it would not be the love of God. The characterisation and determination of this love as righteousness and therefore divine springs from the fact that when God wills and creates the possibility of fellowship with man He does that which is worthy of Himself, and therefore in this fellowship He asserts His worth in spite of all contradiction and resistance, and therefore in this fellowship He causes only His own worth to prevail and rule. It is only in this characterisation and determination that the love of God is truly His divine love (376-377).
There is thus no disunity in God, His mercy and His righteousness go together. In a small print excursus, Barth shows how the failure to bring out God's unity on this point has marked many theologians (377-380). Barth offers, in contrast to these theologians, the examples of Luther and Anselm, who teach us that "there is no righteousness in God which is not also merciful and no mercy which is not also righteous" (380). Furthermore, God, in the OT and the NT, is the Judge and revelation is law (381). God's activity is wholly and utterly the execution of this Law, and yet even this is done in mercy and grace.
God cannot affirm Himself more strongly as the righteous God, He cannot more effectively attest and implement the Law as the most proper and characteristic revelation of Himself, He cannot bind the impious more closely to Himself as righteous and to His Law, than by His grace which pardons the sinner. For this grace is through and through the proof of the existence of the righteous God. It is so from every point of view: its foundation in the will of God, its execution in the death of Jesus Christ, and its application to believers. God does not need to yield His righteousness a single inch when He is merciful. As He is merciful, He is righteous. He is merciful as He really makes demands and correspondingly punishes and rewards (383).
More than anything else, the love and grace of Jesus Christ demonstrates the righteousness of God:
For according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments what constitutes the demonstration and exercise of God’s righteousness, what makes penitence and obedience necessary on man’s side, is precisely the fact that God enters into a covenant with him and promises that his sins are to be forgiven and eternal life assured. According to the witness of the Old and New Testaments, the love and grace and mercy of God, Jesus Christ, are the demonstration and exercise of the righteousness of God. And it is only in this way that the divine love and grace and mercy can be truly recognised and felt and appropriated. It is only in this way that Jesus Christ can be believed. He is the righteousness of God. Any other kind of faith, any faith which does not refer consistently to God’s righteousness and rest upon it, any kind of piety which is not for its part the righteousness of man, according to what is in this respect the quite unequivocal witness of both Old and New Testaments, necessarily lacks in seriousness, assurance and joy because it obviously has as its object another god than the God whose self-revelation is unfolded to us in Scripture as the being and basis and substance of the Church. For in the very fact that God founds and maintains this covenant with man He distinguishes His action from all caprice and contingency, from all confusion and unrighteousness. He does what is in the highest sense the right: that in which He Himself is righteous; that which befits Him and is worthy of Him as God. In this covenant He reveals Himself as the One He is, the One who is bound to His own nature, the One who is true to Himself (384).
Faith in Him means the decision for God's righteousness and not our own (385ff).
Faith in God’s righteousness means necessarily and essentially a choice and decision in favour of His righteousness as opposed to our own; in other words, the choice and decision by which instead of our own righteousness we accept as our own the righteousness of God, or, according to the shorter New Testament definition, of Christ. To this extent the revelation of God’s righteousness means in fact judgment upon us, implying our condemnation and the death of the old man. To this extent faith means that we accept this condemnation, the death of the old man, and that as condemned sinners, divested of our own righteousness, we flee from ourselves and take refuge in God who wills alone to be both our righteousness and our life, who, making us righteous by Himself, wills that there should be no division between Himself and us (386).
God's righteousness is mercy, but it is also justice too, and judgement on sin (390ff.) But the reason we can still talk about God's mercy as we speak of justice and judgments because in Jesus Christ love and grace and mercy meet us "as the divine act of wrath, judgment, and punishment: (394).
The question which we have still to answer, or rather the answer which we have here to ponder as already given in God’s revelation and being, the answer to every question about the depth and power and might of His mercy, is as follows. How far is the mercy of God, which is to be apprehended in faith, at the same time the righteousness of His judgment? And how far is it recognisable in that fact as His, the divine and therefore the eternal and actual, saving and victorious mercy? God’s revelation in Jesus Christ supplies to this question the answer that the condemning and punishing righteousness of God is in itself and as such the depth and power and might of His mercy. Where Holy Scripture speaks of God’s threats and judgments, we do not in point of fact find ourselves on a periphery from which we have finally to look to a very different centre of its message. On the contrary, we find ourselves at the very heart of this message. We can only be overlooking or misunderstanding the biblical message if for one reason or another we try to be spared having to take quite seriously the fact that God is the God who for the sake of His righteousness is wrathful and condemns and punishes. He is not only this, but He is also this. If He were not also this He would not be for us the living God to whom we are summoned to listen when we are invited to have faith. If we are earnestly to cleave to Him, if we are to accept the salvation accomplished in Himself and offered to us through Him, if we are really to look forward in faith rather than backward, we cannot try to overlook or evade by reservations the essential realisation that God also is angry, condemns and punishes. If we truly love Him, we must love Him also in His anger, condemnation and punishments, or rather we must see, feel and appreciate His love to us even in His anger, condemnation and punishment. For we cannot avoid the conclusion that it is where the divine love and therefore the divine grace and mercy are attested with the supreme clarity in which they are necessarily known as the meaning and intention of Scripture as a whole, where that love and grace and mercy are embodied in a unique event, i.e., in Jesus Christ, that according to the unmistakable witness of the New Testament itself they encounter us as a divine act of wrath, judgment and punishment (393-394).
The meaning of the death of Jesus Christ is that there God’s condemning and punishing righteousness broke out, really smiting and piercing human sin, man as sinner, and sinful Israel. It did really fall on the sin of Israel, our sin and us sinners. It did so in such a way that in what happened there (not to Israel, or to us, but to Jesus Christ) the righteousness of God which we have offended was really revealed and satisfied. Yet it did so in such a way that it did not happen to Israel or to us, but for Israel, for us. What was suffered there on Israel’s account and ours, was suffered for Israel and for us. The wrath of God which we had merited, by which we must have been annihilated and would long since have been annihilated, was now in our place borne and suffered as though it had smitten us and yet in such a way that it did not smite us and can no more smite us. The reason why the No spoken on Good Friday is so terrible, but why there is already concealed in it the Eastertide Yes of God’s righteousness, is that He who on the cross took upon Himself and suffered the wrath of God was no other than God’s own Son, and therefore the eternal God Himself in the unity with human nature which He freely accepted in His transcendent mercy (396-397).
Anticipating Barth's later work on reconciliation, Barth concludes and gives us four thoughts inspired by this idea of God's mercy manifest in Jesus Christ.

1. The fact that it was God’s Son, that it was God Himself, who took our place on Golgotha and thereby freed us from the divine anger and judgment, reveals first the full implication of the wrath of God, of His condemning and punishing justice. It shows us what a consuming fire burns against sin. It thus discloses too the full implication of sin, what it means to resist God, to be God’s enemy, which is the guilty determination of our human existence (398).

2. Because it was the Son of God, i.e., God Himself, who took our place on Good Friday, what had necessarily to happen—because God is righteous—could happen there. There could happen there—the “could” being understood primarily in a physical sense—that which could not have happened to us without causing our annihilation. That is to say, the righteousness of God in condemnation and punishment could take its course in relation to human sin (399-400).

3. Because it was the Son of God, because it was God Himself who on Good Friday suffered for us, the destruction which took place there of the suffering and death which resulted from human disobedience to God could justly satisfy and indeed fulfil the righteousness of God. As a fulfilment of the righteousness of God it necessarily meant that in the conflict between God’s faithfulness and man’s unfaithfulness, the faithfulness of God Himself was maintained, and therefore His honour was not violated. It was only in this way that it could also be exercised as His faithfulness to man, for how could man be really helped by a God who actually surrendered His own honour? On the other hand, the faithfulness of God Himself could not and must not exclude and suspend His faithfulness to man, nor must His honour be safeguarded by the visitation upon man of that which he has properly deserved: eternal death and destruction. In the death of Jesus Christ God remained true both to Himself and to man (400).

4. Because it was the Son of God, i.e., God Himself who took our place on Good Friday, the substitution could be effectual and procure our reconciliation with the righteous God, and therefore the victory of God’s righteousness, and therefore our own righteousness in His sight. Only God, our Lord and Creator, could stand surety for us, could take our place, could suffer eternal death in our stead as the consequence of our sin in such a way that it was finally suffered and overcome and therefore did not need to be suffered any more by us. No creature, no other man could do that. But God’s own Son could do it (403).

Soli Deo Gloria.