Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §33.2 "The Eternal Will of God in the Election of Jesus Christ" pp. 145-194

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 §33 states: "The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory."

In paragraph §33 ("The Election of Jesus Christ") and subsection §33.2 ("The Eternal Will of God in the Election of Jesus Christ"), Barth begins this second subsection with an epistemological observation and a first point: that God's eternal will is the election of Jesus Christ (146). If we know the subject and object of election in Jesus Christ we know the will of God. This means that, unlike the inscrutability of the decretum absolutum, the content of election is not completely unknown, reserved only to the mind of an unknown God. We can know something about it. How can we know this? Scripture tells us and is a witness to this reality (150ff.).

Secondly, Barth notes that the divine decree, predestination, can be called the eternal and immutable beginning of all things (155), but it is wrong to think of the decree as inscrutable in the way it has proposed by the Tradition.
But we depart from tradition when we say that for us there is no obscurity about this good-pleasure of the eternal will of God. It is not a good-pleasure which we have to admire and reverence as divine in virtue of such obscurity. For us it is not a question-mark to which we can make answer only with an empty and question-begging assertion. When we assert the wisdom and mercy and righteousness of this good-pleasure, we do not need to do so merely as a bald statement of fact. We negative this whole understanding because positively we must affirm that at the beginning of all things God’s eternal plan and decree was identical with what is disclosed to us in time as the revelation of God and of the truth about all things (156).
The decree is God's eternal will, and God's eternal will is Jesus Christ (157).
The Son of God determined to give Himself from all eternity. With the Father and the Holy Spirit He chose to unite Himself with the lost Son of Man. This Son of Man was from all eternity the object of the election of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the reality of this eternal being together of God and man is a concrete decree. It has as its content one name and one person. This decree is Jesus Christ, and for this very reason it cannot be a decretum absolutum (158).
Thirdly, Barth notes that the eternal will of God in the election of Jesus Christ is the will of God to give Himself in the incarnation of the Son (161).
We must think of this as the content of the eternal divine predestination. The election of grace in the beginning of all things is God’s self-giving in His eternal purpose. His self-giving: God gave—not only as an actual event but as something eternally foreordained—God gave His only begotten Son. God sent forth His own Word. And in so doing He gave Himself. He gave Himself up. He hazarded Himself. He did not do this for nothing, but for man as created by Him and fallen away from Him. This is God’s eternal will (161).
 The decree, the eternal will of God, contains within it a Yes and a No. The Yes is to humanity in Jesus Christ, the No he takes on Himself.
If the teachers of predestination were right when they spoke always of a duality, of election and reprobation, of predestination to salvation or perdition, to life or death, then we may say already that in the election of Jesus Christ which is the eternal will of God, God has ascribed to man the former, election, salvation and life; and to Himself He has ascribed the latter, reprobation, perdition and death. If it is indeed the case that the divine good-pleasure which was the beginning of all things with God carries with it the risk and threat of negation, then it is so because the Son of God incarnate represents and Himself is this divine good-pleasure. The risk and threat is the portion which the Son of God, i.e., God Himself, has chosen for His own (162-163).
As he takes the No on Himself, God in Christ elects our rejection, He bears it and suffered it and took its most bitter consequences (164).
This is the extent to which His election is an election of grace, an election of love, an election to give Himself, an election to empty and abase Himself for the sake of the elect. Judas who betrays Him He elects as an apostle. The sentence of Pilate He elects as a revelation of His judgment on the world. He elects the cross of Golgotha as His kingly throne. He elects the tomb in the garden as the scene of His being as the living God. That is how God loved the world. That is how from all eternity His love was so selfless and genuine. And, conversely, if we would know what rejection is as determined in God’s eternal counsel, the rejection of which we cannot but speak even in our doctrine of predestination, then we must look in the same direction. We must look to what God elected for Himself in His Son when in that Son He elected for Himself fellowship with man. We must look simply and solely to what God took upon Himself when He ordained His Son as Son of Man. We must look to His own portion in His Son, to what He Himself gained by this covenant between Himself and man. What could He expect to gain by this covenant, and what did He actually gain by it, except that there fell upon Him that which ought to have fallen upon man, except that He took to Himself shame and prepared for Himself distress? In the very fact that He did this we must see what was willed by Him from all eternity. In the very fact that from all eternity He willed to suffer for us, we must consider the negative aspect of the divine predestination. Where else should we see it but here? Where else should it be revealed to us but here? For here we see it as God Himself determined it, as He determined it, indeed, from all eternity. Here it is revealed as it is grounded in God’s good-pleasure itself, as it actually is from all eternity (164-165).
Jesus is rejected so we will not be rejected. God says Yes to us in Jesus Christ!
What it does mean is that God takes to Himself the torment that that which is inexcusable must inevitably carry with it. The justification of the sinner in Jesus Christ is the content of predestination in so far as predestination is a No and signifies rejection. On this side, too, it is eternal. It cannot be overthrown or reversed. Rejection cannot again become the portion or affair of man. The exchange which took place on Golgotha, when God chose as His throne the malefactor’s cross, when the Son of God bore what the son of man ought to have borne, took place once and for all in fulfilment of God’s eternal will, and it can never be reversed. There is no condemnation—literally none—for those that are in Christ Jesus (167).
We state at once that we have to do here with the positive content, the Yes of predestination. We have to do with what is primary and proper to it, its meaning and end. For the fact that God willed and chose man with this ordination, the fact that He predestinated him to be a witness of His glory, and therefore to blessedness and eternal life, meant inevitably that he was foreordained to danger and trouble. Man was willed and chosen by God with his limitations, as a creature which could and would do harm to God by the application, or rather the misuse, of its freedom. The danger-point of man’s susceptibility to temptation, and the zero-point of his fall, were thus included in the divine decree. In their own way they were even the object of the divine will and choice. This is also true. This second aspect accompanies the first like a shadow preceding and following (169).
To speak of "double predestination" is to speak of the reality that God in Jesus Christ elects Himself for rejection and humanity for election (167ff.).
This interpretation of double predestination stands or falls, of course, with the view that the divine predestination is to be understood only within the election of Jesus Christ. It stands or falls with the view that in regard to the electing God and elected man we must look and continue to look neither to the right hand nor to the left but directly at Jesus Christ. In other words, the question is this: Is the electing God the Son beloved of the Father and Himself loving the Father, the Son who as such is the subject of the beginning and predestination of all things? And is elected man, the object of this beginning and predestination of all things, the man Jesus of Nazareth who was born in the cradle of Bethlehem and died on the cross of Golgotha and on the third day rose again from the dead? If this is so, then double predestination can be understood only in this order, only in this disproportionate relation between the divine taking away and the divine giving, between the humiliation of God and the exaltation of man, between rejection and election (174).
Fourthly, Barth says that eternal will of God is a divine activity in the form of the history between God and humanity (it is not static) (175). God initiated this activity. He initiates faith in this activity and brings our ability to elect God (in which God awakens faith and enables human decision).
Who has the initiative in this relationship? Who has the precedence.? Who decides? Who rules? God, always God. God founds and maintains the union between Himself and man. God awakens man to existence before Him and summons him to His service. God in His Son is Himself the person of man. God knows and confirms and blesses Him as His Son. God creates Him for His own Word. God vouchsafes to grant Him a part in His own suffering for man’s frailty and sin and for the discord and judgment which inevitably result from them. God justifies Him, raises Him from the dead, gives Him a part in His own glory. All that man can and will do is to pray, to follow and to obey (177).
Predestination is God's will in action (181).
It is now possible and necessary for us to make the controversial assertion that predestination is the divine act of will itself and not an abstraction from or fixed and static result of it. It is not the case, then, that while the predetermined process of the world and life of man are living history, encounter and decision, predestination itself stands over against them as something unchanged and unchangeable. It is not the case that in the form of predestination a kind of death has become the divine law of creaturely life (181).
We must remember however—and in so doing we part company with the older teaching—that God’s decree is a living decree, a decree that is infinitely more living than any decree of man. It is the letter of God in the beginning in virtue of the fact that this letter is determined and posited with all the constancy, the faithfulness and the dependability of God Himself, enjoying an authority and power greater than that of the letter of any possible human law. But it is also spirit and life in a way impossible even for the very best of the written laws of man as best expounded or applied (183).
The fundamental significance of the character of predestination as act ought to be clear without further discussion. If it is unchanged and unchangeably the history, encounter and decision between God and man, there is in time an electing by God and an election of man, as there is also a rejecting by God and a rejection of man, but not in the sense that God Himself is bound and imprisoned by it, not as though God’s decree, the first step which He took, committed Him to take a corresponding second step, and the second a third. If it is true that the predestinating God not only is free but remains free, that He does not cease to make use of His freedom but continues to decide, then in the course of God’s eternal deciding we have constantly to reckon with new decisions in time (186).
But this activist understanding of predestination depends wholly and utterly upon the identifying of it with the election of Jesus Christ. Unless we start there, it is merely a case of one assertion against the other: the assertion of the divinity of static being as the beginning of all things against that of an activated history; a static and in the last analysis perhaps a quietistic view of life against a dynamic and activist (187).
We could think of a decretum absolutum as a lifeless and timeless rule for temporal life. But we can think of Jesus Christ only as the living and eternal Lord   p 188  of temporal life. The Father loves the Son and the Son is obedient to the Father. In this love and obedience God gives Himself to man. He takes upon Himself man’s lowliness in order that man may be exalted. When this is done, man attains to freedom, electing the God who has already elected him. But all this is history. It cannot be interpreted as a static cause producing certain effects. As the content of eternity before time was, it cannot remain beyond time. Per se it is in time as well as before time. And in time it can only be history. Who and what Jesus Christ is, is something which can only be told, not a system which can be considered and described. If, then, we accept the presupposition that predestination is identical with the election of Jesus Christ, the assertion of its actuality cannot be disputed. And this being the case, we cannot give to the assertion the same meaning as it has in that conflict between two opposing outlooks. It attacks the one outlook without commending the other. It is opposed to both. If it is to be theologically correct, it can be understood only in the light of this presupposed identity (187-188).