Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §37.1 "The Basis of the Divine Claim" pp. 552-565

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 §37 states: "As God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, His command is the claim which, when it is made, has power over us, demanding that in all we do we admit that what God does is right, and requiring that we give our free obedience to this demand."

In paragraph §37 ("The Command as the Claim of God") and subsection §37.1 ("The Basis of the Divine Claim"), Barth begins with a discussion of the basis of God's claim.
Why has God a title to man, and therefore a claim on him? What is the source of His power over him? Why has man to obey Him? Why God, and not any other authority? That God has a claim, the claim, on man, that the command under which man’s action stands is, in fact, the command of God, that first and last it orders us to cleave to God, is something which, if it is established as true in itself, is necessarily distinguished epistemologically from all other opposing assertions by the fact that this Why? is met by an overwhelming Therefore (552).
Barth then asks a question: "what is it, then, that directs and binds a man, not to any other authority, but to God? He begins by answering the question negatively in three ways, i.e., giving us three answers that he thinks are unsatisfactory.

First, it is not divine power as power that binds us to His authority (552-554).

Second, it is not because God is the eternal essence of the good (554). This is true, but it is not what binds us to his authority.

Third, it is not because God is the all-sufficient good who we select as our supreme good (555-556). This is not what binds us to his authority.

Instead, Barth finds what binds us to the authority of God, that which has a claim on us, is Jesus Christ.
All this is actual in Jesus Christ. The Law is completely enclosed in the Gospel. It is not a second thing alongside and beyond the Gospel. It is not a foreign element which precedes or only follows it. It is the claim which is addressed to us by the Gospel itself and as such, the Gospel in so far as it has the form of a claim addressed to us, the Gospel which we cannot really hear except as we obey it. For Jesus Christ is the basis on which we may believe in God, the Word in which dwell the light and force to move us to this event. He Himself is the Gospel. He Himself is the resolve and the execution of the essential will in which God willed to give Himself to us. The grace of God, of the God in whom we may believe, is this. In Jesus Christ the eternal Word became flesh. Without ceasing to be who He is in Himself, God became as one of us. He assumed our humanity into His deity. Although it was darkened and destroyed by our sins, and under sentence of death, He took it up into Himself in an indissoluble unconfused unity. He did not do this because of its strength or dignity or any other qualification. He did it only because of His own good-pleasure, His incomprehensible compassion (557-558).
The promise of the true repentance which He has performed for us is not something which has still to be fulfilled, something outstanding. It has already been fulfilled. It was not in vain that in Jesus Christ God adopted and assumed this flesh of ours which was under sentence of death. In so doing, He really accomplished both His own and our justification and glorification. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as it has already been accomplished, we sinners are already revealed as the righteous who may live by their faith. Death could not hold Him, and therefore it cannot hold us. His life (and His life is our life) had necessarily to swallow up death, and it did swallow it up. In the midst of death we have in Him no future but that of resurrection and eternal life. The grace of this God decides and has already decided concerning our human existence. What does it mean to be a man now that this decision has been reached by the grace of God? It obviously means to be one who stands and walks and lives and dies within the fact that God is gracious to him, that He has made him His own. It obviously means to be one for whom God has intervened in this way, with whom He has dealt in this way. It obviously means to be one for whose human existence Jesus Christ Himself stands before God according to the will, in the name, and by the commission of God, in all the wisdom and the fulness of the might of God—so stands before God that he is completely covered by Him, completely destroyed both in his weakness and in his self-will, completely offered as a living sacrifice, but in this way made completely holy and completely glorious (558-559).
And now we can answer the question of the basis and justice of the claim which is addressed to us and objectively to all men. It is the claim of the God in whom we may believe, of the God who is constituted our Lord and demands our obedience in and with the fact that He is gracious to us in Jesus Christ (559).
And Jesus is not only the basis of the divine claim, He is a supreme example for us.
What we find in the case of the man Jesus is a valid model for the general relationship of man to the will of God. When God wills something from and for man, when man’s will is claimed by God, there can be no question of an arbitrary and purposeless control which God can exercise just because He is God and therefore superior to man. On the contrary, what God wills from and for man stands or falls with, and is revealed and revealed only in, what the same God will do and has already done for us and in us. Jesus is obedient to God as the Father in heaven, as the One who wills our salvation and in and with our salvation His own glory. And as the Father in heaven, as the One who wills our salvation, God is the Lord of all of us in His Son Jesus Christ, and He wills that we should be obedient to Him. The grace of God had to be resolved upon in heaven, and actualised and declared on earth, in order that we should be summoned from the irreverence and rebelliousness of Adam to respect towards God, attention to His Word, and fulfilment of His will. When grace is actualised and revealed, it always means that the Law is established (562).
Barth concludes this section with the reminder that what God has commanded, God has also fulfilled, particularly in Jesus Christ. In that way, God has a right to make a claim upon us.
He has spoken of the good by doing it; He has spoken of Himself by delivering Himself up for us. It is in this that He is God. This is His majesty. This is how He maintains and proves His authority over man. The Law is valid because God Himself is the doer of the Law, because God orders and only orders on the basis of the fact that He Himself has given and realised and fulfilled what He orders. The Law is valid because in Jesus Christ God encompasses us on all sides and holds His hand over us. It is valid because, in becoming man in Jesus Christ, God has claimed for Himself our human freedom. It is valid because, once God has Himself become man for us in Jesus Christ, there is no longer any excuse for our human weakness. It is valid because we can no longer confuse the divine good manifested in Jesus Christ with the good which we fancy we ourselves are and have. That is why the God to whom we may refer has authority in contrast to all other gods. That is why He is the real basis of the ethical claim made by Him. That is why He has the right to claim man for Himself (565).