Friday, August 14, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §37.2 "The Content of the Divine Claim" pp. 566-583

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 §37.2 ("The Basis of the Divine Claim"), Barth begins by orienting us to the content of the divine claim.
We now ask what it is that God wills from and for us when He claims us? We cannot stop at the affirmation that God claims us for Himself. This is quite true. But as the basis and right of this truth had first to be clarified, it must now be explained what is meant by saying that God claims us, that we should live as those who are claimed by God. For what would it mean to “be claimed by God” if man could decide and control according to his own calculation and opinion where and in what he was to find the divine claim? (566)
Perhaps it will come as no surprise at this point in Barth's systematics, but not only does Jesus Christ constitute the basis of the divine claim, he also rules its content.
According to what has been said above, it is the God in whom we may believe, the gracious God, God in Jesus Christ, who controls the content of the claim addressed to us. From first to last the content of the divine claim follows from the fact that this God has every basis for His claim and every right to it. As His command has no other basis and no other right, so also it has no other content than that which is given with this basis and right. The content of the divine claim which derives from this source, and is already present there, is secure against our caprice (566).
Barth contends that Jesus Christ rules the content of the divine claim via grace, which has teleological power (566) Meaning, it has an aim. As it is actualized and revealed in His covenant with humanity, the goal of the restoration of humanity to the divine likeness and to fellowship with God in eternity (566ff). And Jesus is what gives this process power.
But the Son of God has, in fact, entered into flesh, and in Him the grace of God has become the grace of the real man. This is what we mean when we say that it has been actualised and revealed, that the covenant between God and man has been established. But if it is established, this means that man is jolted and impelled by the aim and goal of a future determined for him. Grace is the movement and direction of man in accordance with his determination. It does not, therefore, find man in vain, but in order to act on him in its determined way. It is when a man is found in this way by the grace of God that he comes under the claim of God. And this claim of God can only be the judgment upon him that His grace will and must have its right in relation to him, its course in his life. It is this τέλος which prevails. The τέλος which man himself has set for himself as a child of Adam is invalid, and all other τέλη of his existence can only be subordinated to this. His behaviour must be a behaviour actuated and directed by this impulsion. Starting out from this basic divine decision about him, he is not his own master in any of his own decisions. Every single thing which he will do or omit to do is predetermined by this basic divine decision. In its very singularity it will always bear the character of a human confirmation of this basic divine decision (567).
The concrete form of this teleological power of grace is the person of Jesus Christ Himself. We have seen how the basis and right of the divine claim are revealed in the obedience of the man Jesus Christ—the will of the heavenly Father who has turned to man in pure kindness. But as He is obedient to this will of God, Jesus also shows what it is that God rightly wills of us. The basic divine decision concerning man is embodied in Jesus. The determination in which man is directed to his promised future, and set in motion towards this future, is given in Him. Jesus Himself is the impulsion of all men to eternal life. He Himself is the claim which God has made and continually makes upon all men (567).
Obedience to God always means that we become and are continually obedient to Jesus (568).
Not only is true obedience that which is obedience to Jesus Christ, this is also discipleship!
The decisive New Testament term in this connexion is that of following. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example (ὑπογραμμός), that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be” (Jn. 12:26). The term is filled out in certain passages. According to Mt. 10:38, to follow Jesus is to “take up one’s cross”; according to Mt. 16:24, it is to “deny oneself”; according to Mt. 19:27, “to leave all”; according to the account (in Lk. 9:57f.) of the three who wanted to follow Jesus, and evidently could not, and therefore did not genuinely want to do so, the radicalism of the necessary turning to Him and away from everything else; according to the context of 1 Pet. 2:21f., to suffer persecution without returning evil for evil but rather requiting evil with good (569).
When the disciples of Jesus are constituted His disciples by the command: Follow Me, the simple but incommensurable meaning is that they are to be with Him, to abide with Him, to accompany Him on His ways wherever they may lead. Why? Well, obviously in the first instance only to be there, to hear what He says and see what He does, and therefore to be His ear-witnesses and eye-witnesses. No other meaning is possible even where, as in Mt. 4:25 and many other places, it is applied even to those whose attachment to Jesus is more occasional and transitory. In every case “following” means simply to be there, to be with Jesus, in His proximity. This simple “being there” has for their existence all the consequences which are given in the more concrete explanations. There is assumed in it an obligation which loosens and limits and disturbs all the other relationships in which they might otherwise stand, all their ties with men, things and circumstances. By it they are tested and sifted (570).
As Barth notes, it is not possible to be with Jesus and not be living in the commands and content of the divine claim. Also, just as Jesus Christ is the teleological power of grace, so too the community of God's people is the teleological power of God's grace as God's people carry the divine grace and divine command to all people.
Thanks to the wisdom and omnipotence of divine grace, Jesus never exists alone and for Himself, but always as the first-born among many brethren, as the prophesied King of Israel, as the revealed Head of His community. It is not of their own means and merit, but by Him and from Him, as His people, that those who belong to Him are bearers of the grace of God for all men and therefore of the divine claim on all men (571).
So, what is the aim of God's grace in the divine claim?
The concern in the divine claim is that man’s action should become and be always that of those who accept God’s action as right (575).
Meaning, we are to correspond to God's grace and with our actions give an account to this grace (576). Of course, this is not to say that conformity to this grace means equality, God is not making us a second Christ (577). This is not an abolition of the "infinite qualitative difference" between God and humanity.

But conformity to this grace does mean some important things. First, it means that we accept the gracious action of God as right (579).
But the required conformity with the grace of God is this. His action must be determined by the fact that he accepts the gracious action of God as right. This, or something just as simple and apparently sterile and non-committal, is the best possible expression to describe the content of the divine claim. We might perhaps substitute for “accept as right” some such phrase as “acquiesce in” or “respect” or “allow to stand” or “adhere to.” The crux of the matter is that we should understand the Law as “spiritual” (Rom. 7:14), or as “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), that is, as the form of grace and the Gospel, and therefore in the simplicity, indeed the “lightness,” of its demand and fulfilment (579).
“To accept as right” means to lay aside all hostility to God’s action—as if we were injured or humiliated by it, as if we had to guard and defend ourselves against it, as if there were some important interests which inclination or even duty compelled us to defend against it. “To accept as right” means again to lay aside all indifference to what God does, or non-participation in it—as if we knew nothing of it, as if it were no concern of ours, as if He did it for Himself, or for   p 580  all kinds of others, as if He did not do it for us, for me, as if we, I, were not affected and determined by what He does. “To accept as right” means finally to lay aside all one’s superiority and self-will in regard to God’s action—as if alongside and apart from it we could acquiesce in and accept all kinds of other things as right, as if in our action we could choose again between orientation by this or that authority, as if acceptance of God’s gracious action as right did not mean that we were bound to this authority, to this norm, and free only in obedience to it (579-580).
Second, conformity to God's grace means that we recognize that we do not belong to ourselves.
What are we to do? We are to accept as right, and to live as those who accept as right the fact that they do not belong to themselves, that they therefore do not have their life in their own hands and at their own disposal, that they are made a divine possession in Jesus Christ (580).
Finally, conformity to God's grace means that we acknowledge the rightness of God's mercy and righeousness.
What are we to do? We are to accept it as right that God never meets us except compassionately, except as the One who comes to the help of our misery, except apart from and against our deserts, except in such a way as to disclose that what we have deserved is death (581).
What are we to do? We are to accept it as right that God is our righteousness. Beyond our physical and spiritual delights and desires, beyond our bondage to earth and titanic strivings, beyond our faults and virtues, beyond our good and evil works, He is always our righteousness (582).
Barth summarizes this section in this way:
We can sum it all up by saying that what God wants of us and all men is that we should believe in Jesus Christ. Not that we should believe like Jesus Christ—that aspect is better left on one side seeing that He is God and we are only men—but that we should believe in Jesus Christ, in the gracious action of God actualised and revealed in Him. The essence of faith is simply to accept as right what God does, to do everything and all things on the presupposition that God’s action is accepted as right. That is why it can and must be said of faith that in and by it we are righteous before God. In the last resort, the apostles had only one answer to the question: “What are men to do?” This was simply that they should believe, believe in Jesus Christ. All the answers of theological ethics to the same question can only paraphrase and confirm the imperative: “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is.” (583).