Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §34.3 "The Promise of God Heard and Believed" pp. 233-259

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 §34 states: "The election of grace, as the election of Jesus Christ, is simultaneously the eternal election of the one community of God by the existence of which Jesus Christ is to be attested to the whole world and the whole world summoned to faith in Jesus Christ. This one community of God in its form as Israel has to serve the representation of the divine judgment, in its form as the Church the representation of the divine mercy. In its form as Israel it is determined for hearing, and in its form as the Church for believing the promise sent forth to man. To the one elected community of God is given in the one case its passing, and in the other its coming form."

In paragraph §34 ("The Election of the Community") and subsection §34.3 ("The Promise of God Heard and Believed"), Barth contends that the elect community of God, both Israel and the Church, serve the promise of Jesus Christ, which awaits humanity's hearing and believing.
The elected community of God, as the environment of the elected man Jesus of Nazareth, is the place where God’s honour dwells, i.e., where this Jesus is revealed as God’s promise in person, where this Jesus is heard, where He is believed, where in Him and by Him it comes about, therefore, that God’s self-witness, the declaration of His good-will and work for man, finds a hearing and faith. The community is elected in relation to the whole world (as representatives of Jesus Christ and the deed of divine judgment and mercy accomplished in Him) in order to serve the divine promise that awaits the hearing and faith of man. The whole community—Israel and the Church—is elected in this way and appointed to this service, as certainly as it is elected in Jesus Christ, as certainly as it owes to Him its existence, its unity and the differentiation of its two forms. Wherever it lives, it always lives in the service of the divine self-witness which man is permitted to hear and is called to believe (233).
Israel has the specific task of hearing the Word of God (234-236), and even if it does not believe this Word, it is still the chosen people of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the goal of hearing is believing.
When Israel in faith is obedient to its election it then becomes the pledge in the Church that this formal condition of the community’s message is, and will continue to be, fulfilled.
God’s aim and purpose with Israel undoubtedly consists, then, in the fact that it takes up and discharges this special service, and therefore—being merged in the Church—attests the unity of the community in its differentiation. It consists, then, in the fact that it passes from hearing to believing. But while this is true, God does not wait for Israel’s faith before claiming it for this service. For this service is determined and effected with Israel’s election quite irrespective of the attitude that Israel takes up towards it. The attitudes taken up by elected Israel are as such a fulfilment of its determination which in any case is its determination for this service. Whether it attains to faith in God’s promise or not, it cannot in any event deny, but must in every case confess, that it has heard it. There can be no evading the “Hear, O Israel.” Israel is a hearer of the promise. As such it must and will always bear witness to Jesus Christ, to His election, to its own election, but also to that of the Church (235).
If it were to believe and therefore to be obedient to its election, this would mean that in and with the Church it could hear properly and perfectly what is said to it. Without encroaching on the Church as such, it could then really be Israel in the Church. And it would always be its special honour repeatedly to warn and strengthen the Church by reminding it of the divine address which founds and maintains the community of God. It would then be precisely Israel (the “Jewish” element) in the Church which by its special contribution would see to it that the Church remains the Church. As things are, however, Israel as such and on the whole is not obedient to its election (235).
But its stopping short on the way from hearing to believing the promise cannot alter the fact that even in this rigidity it is the people of Jesus Christ. The electing God and the elected community embrace even this Israel which steps into the void. It must carry out the service assigned to it even when it falls a prey to this rigidity. Over against the believing witness of the Church, it can now only represent how things are with hearing man as such—the infertile path, the stones and thistles and thorns of the field on which the seed of the Word falls; the beginning without continuation, the present without future, the question without answer, the missed opportunity. It brings punishment upon itself. But it cannot give the lie to its God. It cannot evade the service for which it is determined. It cannot make itself sterile for God (236).
And this disobedience of Israel cannot alter in the very least the content and scope of the divine promise itself. Israel suffers under this disobedience. The promise, however, suffers no harm at all because it is only heard and not believed by Israel. Israel cannot by any breach of the covenant annul the covenant of mercy which God has established between himself and man. It cannot by its own unfaithfulness turn God’s faithfulness into its opposite. It cannot nullify the eternal benefit offered to it in God’s Word; its credibility, its consolation, its summons or its hope (237).
The Church has the special function of believing the Word.
In the perfect form of the one elected community of God the service of the Church consists, quite irrespective of Israel’s attitude, in the fact that it secures attention for the promise heard by putting faith in it. The Church is in existence wherever the promise finds faith—among both Jews and Gentiles—by creating faith for itself. Faith means putting one’s confidence in God’s mercy as it is attested to man—both Jew and Gentile—by God Himself in His promise. It is a question of the essential, absolute and total confidence which no one assumes on his own but which is founded for every one on the fact that in the awakening of Christ from the dead God has revealed and turned to man His own glory. It is thus a question of the confidence awakened by God in which man—whether Jew or Gentile—may rely on God as the One who has made, and does and will make, everything right for him. It is a question of the confidence in which man has Jesus as Lord. The service of the Church is that as it hears the promise it awakens to this faith, lives in this faith and attests this faith to the whole world as the temporal doing of God’s good-will with man that prepares for its eternal fulfillment (237-238).
The Church form of the community of God reveals that when God elects man for communion with Himself in His eternal election of grace He promotes him to the indestructible position of His child and brother, His intimate and friend. What God is, He wills to be for man also (238).
The Church is the perfect form of the community to the extent that the latter’s unity and mission are revealed in it. As the Church, the community (the environment of the man Jesus) is the centre and medium of communication between Jesus and the world, having its commission to all who still stand outside (239).
The Church of faith in God’s promise as founded on the resurrection of Jesus does not have at this point the choice of understanding or refusing to understand. It believes in God’s mercy. It therefore reckons with its efficacy. It therefore has keen eyes for even the most obscure and confused traces of it. It therefore sees the light that is shed on Israel’s history. It will therefore recognise its own faith in the special hearing of these few in and from Israel and in them the fellow-elect of God. And it will not evade the insight that the existence of these few establishes positively the election of all Israel and therefore its membership of God’s community. It will apply this insight with respect to Jewish Christians in its own midst. And, above all, it will have and keep clearly in mind that its own existence as the Church can be possible and legitimate only on the foundation of Israel, only—Gentiles must take special note of this—on the presupposition of the hearing of the promise. It must be aware that the condition by which it stands or falls is that on this foundation (unlike Israel as such and on the whole) it does not merely make a pretence of believing but really believes what it hears from God, and thus becomes for the world and Israel the living testimony for which it is determined. It waits for Israel’s conversion. But it has to precede Israel with the confession of the faith required from it as from Israel and offered to Israel as to it, and therefore with the confession of the unity of the community of God (240).