Friday, January 2, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §31.2 "The Constancy and Omnipotence of God" pp. 490-607 (Part 1)

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §31 states: "The divinity of the freedom of God consists and confirms itself in the fact that in Himself and in all His works God is One, constant and eternal, and therewith also omnipresent, omnipotent and glorious."

In paragraph §31 ("The Perfections of the Divine Freedom") and subsection §31.2 ("The Constancy and Omnipotence of God"), Barth launches into the second subsection in §31 with a discussion of God's constancy and omnipotence. God's constancy means that despite His freedom and His love, God remains the One He is - constant because God cannot turn against himself or contradict himself.
On the contrary, both His freedom and His love are divine for the very reason that they are the freedom and the love of the One who is constant in Himself, from whose freedom nothing else is ever under any circumstances to be expected but that again and again He will be Himself and demonstrate and confirm Himself as such, and from whose love nothing else is ever in any circumstance to be expected but that it will always manifest itself as love and that He will manifest Himself in it. The constancy of God is not, therefore, in conflict with the life of God either. The one omnipresent God is the living God. But as the living God, He is not Himself subject to or capable of any alteration, and does not cease to be Himself. His life is not only the origin of all created change, but is in itself the fulness of difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration and rejuvenation. But He lives it in eternal self-repetition and selfaffirmation. As His inner life and His life in all that is, it will never sever itself from Him, turn against Him, or possess a form or operation alien to Him. In all its forms and operations it will be His life. In every alteration and movement it will go out from the peace, return to the peace, and be accompanied, upheld and filled by the peace, which He has in Himself as the only really living One, in so far as His self is neither in need of, capable of, or exposed to any annulment, decrease, increase or perversion into any other self, and His life with its very alteration and movement can, and does gloriously, consist only in His not ceasing to be Himself, to posit and will and perfect Himself in His being Himself. He does not do this of necessity but in freedom and love, or, one may say, with the necessity in virtue of which He cannot cease to be Himself, the One who loves in freedom (491-492).
Of course, God's constancy is not meant to suggest that God is immobile. It does not entail immutability in the abstract sense of immobility (491-493). It is not true that the immutable as such is God. The real truth (as Barth calls it) is that God is immutable - and He is immutable in His freedom and His love (494). He is what He is in His being and actuality:
But it is not true that the immutable as such is God. The real truth is—and it is very different—that God is “immutable,” and this is the living God in His freedom and love, God Himself. He is what He is in eternal actuality. He never is it only potentially (not even in part). He never is it at any point intermittently. But always at every place He is what He is continually and self-consistently. His love cannot cease to be His love nor His freedom His freedom. He alone could assail, alter, abolish or destroy Himself. But it is just at this point that He is the “immutable” God. For at no place or time can He or will He turn against Himself or contradict Himself, not even in virtue of His freedom or for the sake of His love (494-495).
The answer, therefore, to the question: “What is the immutable?” is: “This living God in His self-affirmation is the immutable.” The immutable is the fact that this God is as the One He is, gracious and holy, merciful and righteous, patient and wise. The immutable is the fact that He is the Creator, Reconciler, Redeemer and Lord. This immutability includes rather than excludes life. In a word it is life (495).
So what of the familiar texts, particularly in the Hebrew Bible, in which God seems to repent, or regret Creation, etc.? In a small print section on 495ff., Barth suggests that even if God is said to repent in the Hebrew bible, He is still immutable, still constant in His freedom and in His love, even when He steps back from His judgments.
It would be most unwise, then, to try to understand what the Bible says about God’s repentance as if it were merely figurative. For what truth is denoted by the “figure” if we are not to deny that there is an underlying truth? It would be just as foolish to try to see in the alteration which is certainly contained in the idea of repentance only an alteration in man in his relation to God, but not an alteration in God in His relation to man. Of course, in so far as this relationship rests on an attitude of God’s, it is immutable in the sense that it is always and everywhere God’s relationship to man, the being and essence of the One who loves in freedom. Yet it would not be a glorifying, but a blaspheming and finally a denial of God, to conceive of the being and essence of this self-consisent God as one which is, so to speak, self-limited to an inflexible immobility, thus depriving God of the capacity to alter His attitudes and actions. God is Himself in all His attitudes and actions, as they are manifested in His revelation in concurrence or in sequence. And He Himself does not alter in the alteration of His attitudes and actions (Ps. 102:26f.). In all of them He intends and maintains Himself, His love and His freedom. He neither loses Himself nor becomes untrue to Himself. Yet He is not prevented by this continuity from genuine life and therefore from life in this concurrence or sequence. He is not prevented from advancing and retreating, rejoicing and mourning, laughing and complaining, being well pleased and causing His wrath to kindle, hiding or revealing Himself. And in all these things He can be always Himself, and therefore He can be them seriously, yet still according to the order of His essence, and therefore in a definite sequence and gradation. All this is revealed in His relation to the creation and man, and decisively in His relation to Israel and the Church. But it is not the case that only in His relation to the creation and man, in His revelation of grace, does it all become a reality which it is not in God Himself. On the contrary, the fact that in His relation to creation and man God relates Himself to them in a way which is conformable to their mutability and alteration is based on the fact that they have this nature of theirs from Him and even in the perversion of it cannot evade that which they have from Him. What is conformable or proportionate to them is so because it was apportioned to them by Him, so that primarily and originally it is based on His own creative being and essence. If God relates Himself to creation and man in a way which is conformable to them, this means that He also relates Himself in a way which, as it is grounded in Himself, is above all conformable to Himself. But it is in conformity with Himself to be constantly the living God (498-499).
As Creator, God maintains by His will a reality distinct from Himself, so the world is not an integral part of God's being (499). This avoids a monistic error, in which it is posited that the world constitutes an integral part of the essence of God. But one should avoid a dualistic error as well, in which a misunderstanding of God's immutability might inadvertently or purposely set the world's mutability in tension with God's immutability, suggesting somehow that God is not the source of the world's life, its vitality. God, of course, is this source! The world lives by the constancy of God, by His freedom and His love. The proof? The real history of revelation and reconciliation.
We have also to understand it as a proof and a manifestation of God’s constant vitality that God has a real history in and with the world created by Him. This is the history of the reconciliation and revelation accomplished by Him, by which He leads the world to a future redemption. In this history God does not become nor is He other than He is in Himself from eternity and in eternity. But again, His constancy does not hinder Him from being the real subject of this real history. On the contrary, it is in virtue of His constancy that He has the capability and capacity and willingness to be this. Even less is He prevented by His being and activity as the Creator. It is this very history which reveals in what sense He is the Creator and Lord of the world and in what way the world is actually posited by His free love, in what way it is really in Him by Him. For the beginning and end and quintessence of this history, at all events on the one hand, is always that the created world is by God, that it never escapes His control by reason of its own reality or autonomy, but that it is wholly and utterly under His dominion and in His hand. And on the other hand, it is also that this world is in God, which means that in its reality, which is distinct from the divine reality, it is always upheld by God, that it never falls out of His hands in this reality and autonomy. This is so because He never ceases to act in His connexion with it, giving Himself wholly in love to this connexion, without detriment to His freedom. So far from contradicting Himself God confirms Himself as the Creator of the world by having a special history with it in His work of reconciliation and revelation (502-503).
Of course, the world and the creatures in the world resist God. But this brings no conflict or no change in God (502). Quite the opposite in fact, rather than being untouched (left alone by creation's resistance), in His constancy, God is active, particularly at the point of "new creation" in Jesus Christ (505ff.). This constancy is borne out in salvation history (512ff.). And the meaning and the secret of of the history of salvation itself is Jesus Christ (512).
The meaning and secret of the creation and preservation of the world is revealed in the history of salvation. But the meaning and secret of the history of salvation itself is Jesus Christ. Here too, then, we must speak finally and supremely about Him—not only as the Last, but as both the First and the Last—if we are to speak correctly about the confirmation and manifestation of God’s immutable vitality (512).
In Jesus Christ, we see a unique expression of God's constancy enfleshed - and a vivid demonstration of His love and His freedom.
It is because God was in this way one with the creature in Jesus Christ, that there was and is fellowship between God and the creature. We can say already that the reason why God created the world and set up in it the office of reconciliation, is because He was able, willing and ready to be one with the creature in Jesus Christ and because He did in fact do this. Because He is the One who did and still does this, He is constant in all His works and constant also in Himself. Note that this “constancy” of His involves the point that it is grace that He did and still does this. He did not and does not have to do it. He did it and He does it in free love. The God in whose essential nature it lies to do this, not of necessity but in free love, is the constant God. But this “constancy” also involves the fact that He has actually done this in free love. Therefore God is constant, He does not alter, when He becomes and is one with the creature in Jesus Christ. For this happening is simply God Himself, His free life, in which He is inexhaustible, untiring, incapable of being diverted from His purpose (514-515).
God is “immutably” the One whose reality is seen in His condescension in Jesus Christ, in His self-offering and self-concealment, in His self-emptying and self-humiliation. He is not a God who is what He is in a majesty behind this condescension, behind the cross on Golgotha. On the contrary, the cross on Golgotha is itself the divine majesty, and all the “exaltation” necessary on account of His deity (i.e., the revelation of what He is) can reveal only, and all the worship in heaven and on earth which is the necessary response to it can confirm only, that God on high is the One who was able and willing and in fact did condescend so completely to us in His Son. This free love is the one true God Himself (517).
To sum up, because we have to do with the immutability of the freedom of God, what we have to recognise and acknowledge in Jesus Christ is unalterably the grace of God, but it is also unalterably His will and command and ordinance (519).
We will continue our discussion with Barth's reflections on God's omnipotence next time.