Monday, August 17, 2015

Blogging with Barth: CD 2.2 §37.3 "The Form of the Divine Claim" pp. 583-630

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 §37.3 ("The Form of the Divine Claim"), Barth begins by explaining what he means by the form of the divine claim.
By the form of the divine claim we understand the form and manner in which the command of God meets man, in which it imparts itself to him, in which it becomes—and it is this special concept which must now be elucidated and explained—a claim upon him Our present question is how man—corresponding to the basis and content of the command of God—becomes its addressee and recipient (583).
He then asks what distinguishes the form of the divine claim from other claims. He answers in this way - it differs by being a claim of permission and liberation:
The form by which the command of God is distinguished from all other commands, the special form which is its secret even in the guise of another command, consists in the fact that it is permission—the granting of a very definite freedom. We know who it is that orders here, and what it is that makes this ordering peremptory. It is the God in whom we may believe as the Lord who is gracious to us—gracious in the sense that He gave Himself for us in order that we might live before Him and with Him in peace and joy. And we know what it is that is ordered. We have to live as those who accept as right what God does for us (585).
In other words, the command of God sets humanity free and the command of God permits.
No matter in what guise the command of God meets us, in accordance with its basis and context, it will always set us free along a definite line. It will not compel man, but burst open the door of the compulsion under which he has been living. It will not meet him with mistrust but with trust. It will not appeal to his fear but to his courage. It will instil courage, and not fear into him. This is the case because the command, as we have seen, is itself the form of the grace of God, the intervention of the God who has taken the curse from us to draw us to Himself—the easy yoke and the light burden of Christ, which as such are not to be exchanged for any other yoke or burden, and the assumption of which is in every sense our quickening and refreshing (586).
Even when the "do this" or "do not do this" of God "harasses" the sinner, the command has the form of a liberating Word, and in this way, is inextricably linked with the gospel of God:
Do this, because in so doing you may make it true that your rejection has been rejected in the death of Jesus on the cross, that for His sake your sin has been forgiven. Do this, because in Jesus Christ you have been born anew in the image of God. Do it in the freedom to which you have been chosen and called, because in this freedom you may do this, and can do only this. For this, and not for any other reason, do it. You may do it. And: Do not do this—not because you again hear an outer or inner voice which seeks to make it doubtful or dreadful for you, not because there is any power in heaven or on earth to prevent or spoil or for some reason forbid it. No, but: Do not do this, because it would be a continuation of the fall of Adam, because it would not correspond to the grace addressed to you but contradict it, because you would have to do it as the captive which you certainly are not, because you, the free man, are exempted from the necessity of doing it—really exempted by the fact that you have been made righteous and glorious in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that you have actually been cut off by Him from this very possibility. This is how the command of God speaks (587).
The command is only the form of the Gospel of God, in virtue of which—not in and by ourselves, but in and by Jesus Christ—we are free. This is what characterises the command of God, distinguishing it from all other commands, not just relatively but absolutely, with the distinction of heaven over earth (588).
Barth reviews the scriptural evidence for these claims in a small print section of pp. 588-593. Under other claim we exist as sinner in bondage, these are our pseudo-Lords and pseudo-tyrrants, and yet under the command of God we receive real freedom, truth, and permission (593ff). What is exposed in this freedom is that we are our own lords, and our permissiveness is a kind of tyranny that is finally overcome with the gospel comes. The true freedom and joy we receive in Jesus Christ overcomes the anxiety and fear of self-lordship and permissiveness (589-602).

The command of God comes in Jesus Christ and brings obligation without legalism and gives permission without license.
Obligation—the obligation of the real command—means permission. That was the first point. But the second is that permission—the permission which is the proper inmost form of the divine command—also means obligation. The New Testament passages in which this emerges have all led us close to the point where we can see the decisive reason for this, and for having to state it in this way and not differently. We must now consider this point if our two propositions are to stand. What we have to describe as the form of the divine claim and to defend against a legalism which as such would rather amount to lawlessness is not an ethical principle which is distinguished from others by its attempt to identify authority with freedom. If equal justice is to be done on both sides, the propositions that the right obligation is the true permission, and the right permission the true obligation, cannot possibly be deduced from a general concept of command, even of God’s command. If the two propositions are to be brought together and related, as it were, in a vacuum, and something intelligible is to result, then necessarily either the conception of obligation or that of permission will become so flabby that either the one or the other loses its proper seriousness, the result being either an obligation limited by the permission or inversely a permission limited by the obligation. To identify authority and freedom is impossible as such. The reality of the form of the divine command, in which it demands as permission and is the Law as Gospel, is something which is in principle incomprehensible. Definition and construction in principle lead inevitably either to legalism on the one hand or to lawlessness on the other (602).
It is important to note that the permission and obligation of the command is revealed and operative in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is spiritual.
A further result, however, is that the unity of authority and freedom which characterises the form of the divine command as opposed to all others, is revealed and present to us as a promise and only as such, and therefore only in faith. The propositions of Christian ethics are propositions of Christian dogmatics. This means that as with all the other propositions of dogmatics the truth in them is contained and lies in the Word of God, that it can be known only in the Word of God, and must again and again be sought and caught in the Word of God and therefore in faith. Their truth is spiritual truth, i.e., truth which is revealed and operative in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (603).
It is also fulfilled and take place in Jesus Christ (605). In that ways, the nature of the command of God is also personal, it meets us in the person of Jesus Christ (607). For that reason the command of God demands a personal decision of us!
The obedience which the command of God demands of man is his decision for Jesus Christ. In each individual decision it is a special form, a repetition and confirmation of this decision (609).
The command of God is “personal” because it claims our obedience in relation to this definite person, Jesus Christ (609).
But in virtue of its personal character, understood in this way, the divine command demands a genuine decision. No other command can do this. All other commands claim us in definite relationships, for definite attitudes and actions. In other respects they leave us neutral. It is only with this limitation that even other persons can claim us for themselves. Of course, the command of God itself challenges me with a limitation of this kind. The command of God requires that I should do this and not do that. But within this limitation it is distinguished from other commands by the fact that in itself it is unlimited, that in and with all its individual demands it demands myself—myself for Jesus, my subordination to this name and its law (609-610).
The command of God is eternal because its demand binds us to Jesus, and, doing that, it secretly fills every moment of our life. There is no end to the question as to our relation to this person. It is always being put to us afresh. When did we not live in the illusion that we belong to ourselves? When was it not necessary for us to be called out of this illusion and to be reminded that we belong to Jesus? As well for us that the demand of the command of God does actually have the force of this summons, and that it does not actually come to a full stop! If it did not continually re-emerge there would really be for us only lost time, lost life. For in face of it, when and where would we not find ourselves failing, retreating, deviating from the straight course of repeating and confirming the decision that it demands ? But the command does not fail. It continually puts itself to us in this form. In this form it binds us to the eternal will of God and therefore to His saving grace. It has all the constancy of the divine faithfulness in contrast to our unfaithfulness. We never dare lose sight of this mark of the form which the divine command takes that as our bond to the person of Jesus it spans the whole of the time granted to us in a continual present (612-613).
Barth closes with a long small print section (613-630) in which he looks closely at the story of the rich young ruler in order to stress this final and decisive Christological determination of the form of the divine command.
The narrative describes very fully the form of the divine claim. It shows that the demand of the living divine command made in the person of Jesus aims at the genuine, joyous and sustained decision of man for this person and therefore at the fulfilment of the one entire will of God. It shows this negatively in the figure of the rich man who was unequal to this demand, and positively in the disciples of Jesus who have become obedient to it (613).