Friday, March 20, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.1 §31.2 "The Constancy and Omnipotence of God" pp. 490-607 (Part 3)

Check here for previous posts in the "Blogging with Barth" series or check here for a detailed reading schedule for the Church Dogmatics with links to the respective posts I've written to accompany each day's reading.

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"), we continue with the discussion began last time. Barth now turns his attention to a final point regarding God's omnipotence - that this is God's personal power - and that He knows and wills. 
Properly speaking, however, these are only the distinguishing and delimiting, not the positive characteristics of the divine omnipotence. We must now push on to these in an attempt to understand the power of God expressly and in detail as the power of the divine knowledge and will. It is in this way alone that the God confronts us whom Holy Scripture attests as the omnipotent God (543).
It is to be noted how all our previous critical statements on the idea of omnipotence acquire form and colour from this point. Indeed they stand or fall by it. God’s being, essence and life are constantly the being, essence and life of His real power, actual capacity and genuine possibility, because they are themselves God’s knowing and willing. There is nothing higher than this knowing and willing. It is not the object of any other knowing or willing in the sense that its reality, actuality and genuineness can be compromised by it. That is real power, the power of God. It is not merely a possession and instrument in the hand of one which might equally well be in the hand of another. Yet it is not an uncontrolled capacity, power in itself. It is power which is its own master, which wills and knows itself. It is only in this respect that it is distinguished from power in itself; that it is really His power, God’s power; the power which He Himself has and is; potestas and not merely potentia; the power known and willed by Him and itself the power of His knowing and willing. This is also the basis of the fact that His power is greater than His work, in which He permits other things outside Himself also to have power. Because God’s power is the power of His personality, the power of His knowing and willing, we can say that it also belongs to God’s will not to will many things. That is why God’s omnipotence cannot be resolved into His omnicausality. It is also His power not to do what He knows to be impracticable and therefore will not do (544).
God is His own will, and He wills His own being (550). God's knowledge is God Himself, and God's will is God Himself. Thus we can say, God's knowledge is His will and God's will His knowledge (551). And the divine knowledge and will, being divine, is free and superior in relation to all the objects distinct from itself (552). Barth now makes a comment on God's omniscience.
In this connexion we must speak first of that aspect of God’s knowledge which is traditionally called His omniscience. To put the simplest point first, God’s knowledge, as omnipotent knowledge, is complete in its range, the one unique and all-embracing knowledge (552).
God knows everything, even the merely possible and the impossible (553). There is nothing hidden from God, for if there was, it would constitute a realm of being or non-being independent of Him, and therefore the realm of a second god (553).
“The Lord is the God who knoweth all things” (1 Sam. 2:3). “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (1 Jn. 3:2). “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me” (Hos. 5:3). “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance” (Ps. 90:8). “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes” (Jer. 16:16–17). “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence ?…” (Ps. 139:1f.). All these passages read like commentaries on the dark and menacing text. Gen. 3:8f., where Adam after the fall thinks he can hide himself and his wife from God under the trees in the garden, and yet God knows it and calls: “Where art thou?” and Adam has to give an account and cannot. Nevertheless we should not overlook the comfort with which this very text speaks of the fact that God does not allow even fallen man to fall out of His knowledge and His thoughts (554).
God's knowledge is a complete knowledge (555). Now, Barth turns to a discussion of God's will, and gives a simple definition of it. He suggests it is right and necessary to speak of God "omnivolence."
Rightly understood it is as right and necessary to speak of God’s “omnivolence”—His willing all things—as of His omnipotence. For God’s will also, being omnipotent will, is in its sphere a complete and exhaustive will, embracing and controlling not only being which has no will but all other wills, although without detracting from their character as wills. There is no being not subject to the will of God. There is also no other will outside or beyond God. There is no will which conditions or hinders God’s will. Again, we shall not describe God’s will as infinite in regard to the sphere of its objects. It is infinite in power. But if we at any rate seem to be able to will infinitely, God’s will is different from ours in that it fixes a sphere which it does not overstep. It keeps to it, and therefore it is a will which is finite in its compass. If we say that God wills everything, we must interpret this as meaning everything that can be willed by God, and everything in the way in which it can be willed by Him (555).
There is no sphere of being or non-being that is not subject to His will (557). There is, of course, a desire to escape this will, but no goal where this desire can be realized.
We can adopt an independent attitude to the divine Yes and No. We can hate what God loves and love what He hates. We can accept what He rejects and reject what He accepts. This is our sinful will. But it does not lead us to a sphere where we have withdrawn from the will of God or hidden and secured ourselves against its realisation and fulfilment in us and by us. If we will to sin, we enter the sphere of the divine prohibition and curse, disavowal and rejection; the realm of death. We can certainly attain this goal. But even if we do, we do not leave the sphere of the divine will or escape from God. Here, too, we cannot actually govern ourselves. In fact we are under no other government than that of the will of God. By our decision, our decision against God, we merely fulfil God’s decision. Besides willing and deciding for God or against Him there is no third possibility of choice or decision. There is no neutrality in which we can slip between the divine Yes and the divine No (which circumscribe the area of being), thus saving ourselves in this neutrality from the will of God in a middle position between faith and belief. There is no such place outside that area. The Yes and No of the divine will are absolutely and definitely the true circumscription of the area of being. There is nothing beyond. If we want to be neutral, we definitely want to be disobedient. For to struggle against adopting the position of agreement with the divine Yes and No, to look instead for a third possibility beyond the antithesis set up by the divine decision, to make a refusal to will the object of our will is a piece of folly in which we have already hated what God loves and loved what He hates and therefore sinned. If there is no neutrality towards God, we are already against God if we will to remain neutral. It is, therefore, impossible—really impossible—to fall out of or escape from the lordship of the divine will. His will is done in heaven and on earth both when we are obedient and when we are disobedient. This is no less true when our disobedience takes the form—as it usually does—of trying to avoid the decision marked out for us in the divine pattern. But God’s will is God Himself, and God is gracious and holy, merciful and righteous. Therefore, again, to say that God is the One to whose will all things are subject is a word which is full of warning and yet at the same time full of comfort (557-558).
Barth pushes further into the discussion of the divine knowledge and suggests that is possesses the character of foreknowledge, in relation to all its objects (558).
This concept deepens that of omniscience in so far as it characterises the divine knowledge explicitly as a knowledge which is superior to all its objects that are distinct from God. This is the meaning of the “fore,” the prae, which has, therefore, much more than a purely temporal connotation. God’s knowledge does not consist only in His knowing all things before they are and have been, in His actually knowing them when they are still future. It does, of course, consist in this. But the decisive thing is that God and therefore His knowledge of all things is what it is in eternal superiority to all things and eternal independence of all things: a knowledge of them which is complete in every respect; which not only eternally corresponds to them and follows them as human knowledge corresponds to and follows its objects, but is eternally their presupposition. It is not that God knows everything because it is, but that it is because He knows it (558-559).
In respect of God's will, what corresponds to the divine foreknowledge is freedom (560). This freedom means that God's will precedes and is superior too all its objects. There is only one thin which the divine will cannot will, and that is the absurd (561). This is not a limitation but the condition of freedom, for it is always the divine will.

Barth now turns to a discussion of the traditional distinctions of the divine knowing, which he reviews in an extended small print section on pp. 567-587. Following that, he reviews in a shorter section the traditional distinctions of the divine will on pp. 588-597.

What he is tackling here is the implied problems that arise from divine foreknowledge and human freedom. These small print sections can be read profitably. What is important to remember is that God as a person, is both knowledge and will and is as such free, superior in all relation to all the objects distinct from Himself. In turn, God is omnipotent because He is not conditioned by the creature's freedom or misuse of her freedom. Rather, God establishes the creature, even in the misuse of the creature's freedom, by grace.
False systematisations of the relation of God to the creature inevitably impair a knowledge of God’s omnipotence. They are based on a failure to see clearly that in this relationship we are dealing with the omnipotence of the divine knowing and willing, of the divine person and the divine Spirit, and therefore with His power and activity and not another. When this is clear, there can be no place for the idea that the independence of the creature is impaired by God’s omnipotence, an idea which can then be removed only by impairing the knowledge of God’s omnipotence. Since God is Spirit, He is not per se omnipotent in a way which threatens and destroys the independence of His creature. As Spirit, He is omnipotent in the freedom of His creatures. His omnipotent and irresistibly commanding power and activity are those of His knowing and willing. He controls and moves by the fact that He knows His creatures and wills them in their own movements. And this means that He honours this independence and robs us of any pretext for safeguarding them before Him by ascribing the controlling and moving only partially to Him, and therefore making certain deductions from His omnipotence for the benefit of the power of His creatures. These deductions are not only impossible in relation to God’s omnipotence. They are also unnecessary. They rest on a profound misunderstanding of God’s omnipotence and therefore of God Himself. They can be contemplated only when there is no clear knowledge of God’s spirituality and personality and therefore of the profundity of His omnipotence. If we understand that God’s omnipotence is the omnipotence of His knowing and willing, and if this is a genuine understanding because it has its source in the divine revelation and reconciliation, and therefore if the knowing and willing of His omnipotence is known as that of His love, the problem of competition, from which all the errors necessarily and constantly derive, withers away of itself. In face of the omnipotence of the divine love the creature has never to think of struggling and bickering for an ability of its own power to compete. It will never see its own power threatened or destroyed by the power of God’s love. It will never jealously oppose its own power to this power, but rather place it at its disposal, in the knowledge that it already belongs to the divine love even before it has decided to put its power at its disposal, and that it can decide to do so only because the divine power has itself disposed concerning its power. 
This is the deepest concern in the whole consideration of God’s knowing and willing. It is by their distinctiveness, by the knowledge of the true spirituality and personality of God, that formally if not materially—and the formal side is also indispensable—it is decided that we can know God genuinely and properly as love, as the One who loves (598-599).
Importantly, as Barth notes, God's omnipotence, being God's, is the omnipotence of love. And this is God's active omnipotence that meets us as decision "in His omnipotent Word by which He created, governs, and upholds the world" (605). Hence knowledge of the omnipotent knowing and willing of God is always normed by Christology, by the knowledge of the crucified one, Jesus Christ. How do we know this? By divine revelation!
As witness to the personal omnipotence of God which holds sway in this centre and therefore in all ages, the biblical witness stands out clearly from the claim and also the weakness of every general doctrine of a general existence and willing of the omnipotent God. It is smaller, and for that reason greater, than this type of doctrine. It is testimony to the Messiah, to the One who is born in His own time as the fulfilment of all time, the crucified and risen Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ. For this reason it has both an Old and a New Testament form as the wide and varied witness of expectation and the short and univocally definitive witness of recollection. Everything that is to be said about the omnipotent God is said with this twofold testimony. This is He who was and is and will be omnipotent. He is the Lord of the exodus from Egypt, and He is the Lord who in days to come will consummate His Church. He is also the Lord of everything that takes place between that beginning and this end. He is the Lord also of the universal space in which the Church lives. We do not have here an omnipotent knowing and willing without place or name. It is the omnipotent knowing and willing that bears His name, the knowing and willing of the person designated by that name, a knowing and willing which flows out from the place occupied by this person into all other places. It is, therefore, a true and objective knowing and willing, a personal Logos, which, since it is the Logos of God, is also omnipotent (605).