If the life of the church is not just a semblance, the knowledge of God is realized in it. This is the presupposition that we have first to explain in the doctrine of God. We have to learn how far we can know God and therefore speak and hear about God.
Barth believes this entire chapter works out the implications of Anselm in Proslogium 2-4.
Truly there is a God, although the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
AND so, Lord, do thou, who dost give understanding to faith, give me, so far as thou knowest it to be profitable, to understand that thou art as we believe; and that thou art that which we believe. And indeed, we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is there no such nature, since the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God? (<scripRef passage="Psalms 14:1">Psalms xiv. 1</scripRef>). But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak ‑‑a being than which nothing greater can be conceived ‑‑understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist.
For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his understanding, but he does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, he both has it in his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made it.
<pb />Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.
Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.
God cannot be conceived not to exist. ‑‑God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. ‑‑That which can be conceived not to exist is not God.
AND it assuredly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist. For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even <pb />be conceived not to exist;. and this being thou art, O Lord, our God.
So truly, therefore, dost thou exist, O Lord, my God, that thou canst not be conceived not to exist; and rightly. For, if a mind could conceive of a being better than thee, the creature would rise above the Creator; and this is most absurd. And, indeed, whatever else there is, except thee alone, can be conceived not to exist. To thee alone, therefore, it belongs to exist more truly than all other beings, and hence in a higher degree than all others. For, whatever else exists does not exist so truly, and hence in a less degree it belongs to it to exist. Why, then, has the fool said in his heart, there is no God (<scripRef passage="Psalms 14:1">Psalms xiv. 1</scripRef>), since it is so evident, to a rational mind, that thou dost exist in the highest degree of all? Why, except that he is dull and a fool?
How the fool has said in his heart what cannot be conceived. ‑‑A thing may be conceived in two ways: (1) when the word signifying it is conceived; (2) when the thing itself is understood As far as the word goes, God can be conceived not to exist; in reality he cannot.
BUT how has the fool said in his heart what he could not conceive; or how is it that he could not conceive what he said in his heart? since it is the same to say in the heart, and to conceive.
But, if really, nay, since really, he both conceived, because he said in his heart; and did not say in his heart, because he could not conceive; there is more than one way in which a thing is said in the heart or conceived. For, in one sense, an object is conceived, <pb />when the word signifying it is conceived; and in another, when the very entity, which the object is, is understood.
In the former sense, then, God can be conceived not to exist; but in the latter, not at all. For no one who understands what fire and water are can conceive fire to be water, in accordance with the nature of the facts themselves, although this is possible according to the words. So, then, no one who understands what God is can conceive that God does not exist; although he says these words in his heart, either without any or with some foreign, signification. For, God is that than which a greater cannot be conceived. And he who thoroughly understands this, assuredly understands that this being so truly exists, that not even in concept can it be non‑existent. Therefore, he who understands that God so exists, cannot conceive that he does not exist.
I thank thee, gracious Lord, I thank thee; because what I formerly believed by thy bounty, I now so understand by thine illumination, that if I were unwilling to believe that thou dost exist, I should not be able not to understand this to be true.
The only legitimate and meaningful questions in this context are the following. How far can human beings know God? How far is God knowable? These questions are legitimate and meaningful because they are genuine questions of church proclamation, and therefore genuine questions of dogmatics. How human beings know God and how God is knowable has to be a matter of continual reflection and appraisal for the teaching church, and one has to say it continually to the hearing church so that one may call it to new witness. The knowledge of God with which we are here concerned takes place, not in a free choice, but with a very definite constraint. It stands or falls with its one definite object. Because it is bound to the Word of God given to the church, the knowledge of God with which we are here concerned is bound to the God who in the Word gives knowledge of God to the church for human beings to know the true God. Bound in this way, it is the true knowledge of the true God. Uncertainty will never be possible in this constraint of the Word of God and therefore in the knowledge of the God revealed therein. On the other hand, certainty will never be possible in freedom from the Word of God and therefore in the alleged knowledge of God that rests upon a free choice of this or that “God.” It will presuppose the reality and possibility of the knowledge of God as grounded in itself and as already distinguished from the unreal and impossible knowledge of all false gods. Therefore, in its polemic against them it will have to show, not that they are false gods, but only to what extend they are false gods. God shown in the Word as the true God has already manifested the fact that they are false gods. It will testify both to the truth of the true God and to the falsity of the false gods simply on the ground that these facts are previously and finally testified by the Word of God and need from the church only this repetitive and confirmative witness. That the knowledge of God in its fulfillment by the revelation of the Word of God is bound to its one, determined and uniquely distinct object means that God enters into the relationship of object to the human being as the subject. God gives himself to humanity in the Word as a real object. God makes humanity accessible for God. God lets humanity consider and conceive of God. God seeks us in the Word. It is really not the case, therefore, that if we have a knowledge of God in the form of that experience, we have reached a higher or the highest step on a way which began with an objective perceiving, viewing and conceiving of God, as though that were only an early and sensuous mode of thought. The fact that humanity stands before the God who allows human beings to know God in the medium of the Word, means that we have to understand humanity’s knowledge of God as the knowledge of faith.
We must now
discuss the assertion that the knowledge of God is the knowledge of faith. In
the first instance, faith is the total positive relationship of humanity to the
God humanity knows in the Word. Faith is humanity’s act of turning to God, of
opening up human life to God, and of surrendering to God. Faith is the Yes that
humanity pronounces in the heart when confronted by this God, to whom humanity
knows itself bound. Faith is the obligation in which, before God, and in the
light of the clarity that God is God and that God is God of this human being,
to the point where the human being knows and explains him or her as belonging
to God. We must describe faith as knowledge. The turning, the self-opening, the
surrender in faith, the Yes of faith, faith as obligation, love, trust and
obedience in faith, all this presupposes and includes within itself the union
and the distinction that humanity fulfills between self and the God whose
existence and nature make it all possible and necessary. The orientation that
unites and distinguishes is the knowledge of God in faith. Without it, faith
could not be all those other things as well. As knowledge, it is the
orientation of humanity to God as an object. In the bible, faith means the
opening up of human subjectivity by and for the objectivity of the divine, and
in this opening up the re-establishment and re-determination of human
subjectivity. If God is not object in this particularity, there will be no
knowledge of God at all. God is not God if human beings consider and conceive
God as one in a series of like objects. The primary objectivity of God is the
divine reality, as it exists in Trinity. The secondary objectivity of God is
the objectivity that God has for human beings in revelation, in which God
offers the divine self in such a way that human beings know God consistent with
the self-knowledge of God. The difference is that of the particular form of
this objectivity suitable to human beings. For human beings, the objectivity of
God is mediate. God meets us under the sign and veil of other objects. In,
with, and under the sign and veil of these other objects we believe in God and
pray to God. We believe in God in clothed objectivity. That we know God in
faith has a double significance. God stands before humanity as object.
Knowledge of God in faith is always this indirect knowledge of God, knowledge
of God in the works of God, and in these particular words. Faith differs from
unbelief, erroneous faith, and superstition is that faith is content with this
indirect knowledge of God. Faith does not think that the knowledge of God in the
works of God is insufficient. Faith is grateful to know the real God in the
works of God. Faith knows God by means of the objects chosen by God. This
knowledge of faith, attested in both Old and New Testaments, is the knowledge
of God from the works of God, is also the content of knowledge in the message
The final point is that, in view of all this, what becomes of the knowing human being? The knowing human being, the faith of this person as direction to God, the human self-distinction from God and self-union with God, all follows upon the previous action of God. Knowledge of God as knowledge of faith is in itself obedience. Faith is an act of human decision corresponding to the act of divine decision, the act of the divine being as the living Lord, and the act of grace in which faith has its ground. In this act, God posits God as our object and us as those who know God. However, the fact that God does so means that our knowing God can consist only in our following this act, in us becoming a correspondence of this act, in us as considering and conceiving and becoming corresponding to the divine act. This is obedience of faith.
To summarize, we started out from the fact that we are concerned with the problem of the knowledge of God as bound to the Word of God. The task we set ourselves was to understand how this happened. We first established that it is as such objective and real knowledge. It is not identical with God, but it has its object in God. This knowledge is the knowledge of faith, in which God becomes object to humanity. This knowledge is a particular, separating and sanctifying object distinguishing between itself and the knowing humanity, so that we have to understand knowledge of God necessarily as an event outstanding in its relationship to other events. We saw that this objectivizing of God always occurs concretely in the use of a medium, in the putting on of a veil, in the form of a work of God; and therefore knowledge of God occurs in the fact that people make use of this medium. However, we are not to think of this medium as apart from the grace in which God the Lord controls this medium, uses this medium, and is itself the power of this medium. We can only understand this knowledge of God as the bestowal and reception of this free grace of God. Finally, one can fulfill this knowledge of God only in our relationship to this act, and therefore only in an act, the act that is the decision of obedience to God.
This analysis has shown us all along the line that we can understand the standing of humanity before God only as a second act. This first act is its presupposition, determination, and restriction. One can fulfill the second act only in confirmation and acknowledgement of this first act. However, this first act consists in God standing before humanity. If God does have the precedence, how can humanity take even a single step forward? God encounters humanity in such a way that in this encounter God is and remains God and thus rises up humanity to be a knower of God. That this is the case is God’s own being and work, which humanity can only follow. If we want to clarity as to what humanity is and does when humanity knows God, step by step we need clarity as to whom God is and what the God humanity knows does. If we want to see how humanity stands before God, we have to see how God stands before humanity. My thesis is this: The existence of God, whom we must fear above all things because we may love God above all things, remains a mystery to us because God has made God so clear and certain to us. This is God before humanity, God as God encounters humanity and acts towards humanity according to the knowledge of God as bound to the Word of God. God is the One whom we ought to fear above all and ought to love above all is decisive and definitive for everything that we can say about what humanity can know about God. God is the One whom we may love above all things. God exists, and is the object of our knowledge, as the One whom we ought to love above all things. To be bound to the Word of God means that we may love above all things the One who speaks this Word to us. We emphasize the word “may.” Binding to the love of God is permission, liberation, and authorization. We do not yet believe, trust, obey, or have faith, if our love to God is not an exercise of this permission. The permission with which we have concern is three-fold. First, in consists in the fact that God is the One who is worthy of our love, so that in loving God disappointment does not await us. Second, the permission consists in the fact that God offers knowledge of God to us, so that we can in fact love God as the One who exists for us and will bring human beings to love God. Third, it consists in the fact that God creates in us the possibility, willingness, and readiness, to know God. God is the One whom we must fear above all things because we may love God above all things. We must fear above all things the One who speaks this Word to us. This time, the emphasis falls upon the word “must.” The compulsion of which we speak is three-fold. First in that because God is who God is, we ought to fear God, so that escape from God is unimaginable. Second, it consists in the fearful encounter with God, so that God exists for us in such a way that it is obvious that God wills that we should fear God. Third, it consists in God opening our eyes and ears to the fearfulness of God, so that we realize our fear before God. God stands before humanity as the One whom human beings may love and must fear above all things. God stands before humanity as the One whom human beings may and must love in such a way that there is no other love and fear and therefore no other permission and compulsion. Fear and love are the two concepts that Luther used in his Smaller Catechism, even if I want to reverse the order from that of Luther. Knowledge of God is in obedience to God. This obedience is not that of a slave but of a child. It is not blind but seeing. It is not coerced but free. The New Testament does not suggest that faith needs obedience to find its completion. The only alternative is to understand faith as obedience, to the extent that we now distinguish faith from any other sort of trust of the heart by grounding it in the must of the fear of God that is inseparable from the may of to God.
George Plasterer would make this note. I confess that personal experience of the fear of God is not something of which I am consciously aware, as if 2005. I do not doubt that the bible speaks of this fear. I do not doubt that many people have this fear. My question to myself is why I have no conscious experience of fearing God.
We need to consider a second pair of concepts. The One whom we must fear and may love remains a mystery to us because God has made the divine self so clear and certain to us. The clarity and certainty in which God offers the divine self to us correspond to love towards God, as God permits us to have it. How can there be reconciliation if there is no revelation? Faith means receiving God’s revelation. By receiving God’s revelation, we make use of the fact that we may love God. However, the mystery in which God offers the divine self to us corresponds to the fear that we must have before God. How can there by reconciliation without judgment, and so how can revelation be without mystery? We begin with the positive fact that God is the One who has made God clear and certain to us. We are bound to the existence of God on the strength of being bound to the Word. This does not mean that we have procured for ourselves in some way or other clarity and certainty about the existence of God. God makes God so clear and certain to us. So clear that we may love God and no longer be without God. God sees to it that God not only does not remain hidden from us, but is known so well that we know our existence only in that relationship of love and fear. Knowing ourselves, we must also know God. The acknowledgement of the fact that revelation has taken place is faith, and the knowledge with which the revelation that has taken place begins is the knowledge of faith. For the knowledge of faith, the existence of God is the problem already solved in and by the clarity and certainty of the existence of God in His revelation. God is the One who remains a mystery to us. The true God does not stand before us unless God is and remains a mystery to us. Mystery suggests that we know God only because God himself to be known by us. In this clarity and certainty, we may refer to several texts in John.
John 1:9 (NRSV)
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
John 1:4 (NRSV)
4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
John 9:5 (NRSV)
5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.
John 6:69 (NRSV)
69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 17:3 (NRSV)
3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
John 14:6 (NRSV)
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:9-10 (NRSV)
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
To summarize, where God stands before humanity as the One who awakens, creates, and upholds human faith, and where God offers the divine self to humanity as the object and content of the knowledge of his or her faith, God does it in this being and action. God is the One who remains mystery to us because God has made Himself so clear and certain to us. In this way, God awakens, creates, and upholds our knowledge of God as a work of obedience. Within obedience, one cannot destroy the knowledge of God, because God cannot cease to be the object of knowledge within this obedience. The truth of this rests in the fact that we do not begin with ourselves, but with God. We are not making God in our own image. We do not understand humanity in its own light. In all these determinations, we understand humanity as the one whom God sets before God. That fact that we know God only through God does not have a basis in an understanding of the capacity for knowledge. God speaks to humanity in the Word. Thereby, God gives the divine self to humanity so that humanity may know God. Therein, God humanity knows God. In this covenant, and therefore through the Word of God which sets up this covenant, there is given to humanity all the truth and reality, the enlightenment and salvation that God has to say to humanity, that is bestowed by God upon the human being standing before God. Humanity for its part can then say and hear about God in the church. Therefore, to know God in the Word means to know God as God is. The true God stands before humanity. Humanity knows God in this way or not all. In this Word, God is Lord, Creator, and the One who promises. God lets us know the true God in this self-demonstration. God is from eternity to eternity the triune God, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The fact that, humanity is indebted to God for everything and owes God everything has its ground in the eternal Fatherhood of God, of which any other fatherhood can be only an image and likeness. That self-demonstration constrains us to gratitude and indebtedness and to the knowledge of God the Father of our Lord, because in eternity God is the Father of the eternal Son and the source of the Holy Spirit. Further, the fact that according to this self-demonstration, God is and does everything for human beings who still owe everything to God has its ground in the reality that God is eternally the Son of the Father, eternally equal to the Father, and therefore eternally loved by the Father. That self-demonstration constrains us to adoration of the faithfulness and grace of God, and therefore to the knowledge of God the Son as our Lord, because in eternity God is the only Son, begotten of the Father who is also the source of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the fact that according to that self-demonstration God is the One from whom we have to expect everything has its ground in the fact that God is eternally the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, and of one essence with them both. That self-demonstration constrains us to hope, and therefore to the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, because in eternity God is also the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, and their unity in love.
In this context, we can understand texts that speak of the hidden quality of God, in apparent contradiction of the revealed character of God.
18 For who has stood in the council of the Lord
so as to see and to hear his word?
Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it?
Isaiah 40:13-14 (NRSV)
13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
or as his counselor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Job 15:8 (NRSV)
8 Have you listened in the council of God?
And do you limit wisdom to yourself?
Romans 11:33-34 (NRSV)
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
1 Timothy (NRSV)
16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
1 John (NRSV)
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’
46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
By proceeding downwards from the triune existence of God, we can understand how God stands before us. God in revelation offers knowledge of God and we gain knowledge of God. If God unveils God to us, the revelation has the characteristic of revelation of the truth beside which there is no other and above which there is none higher. I know God in consequence of the fact that God knows me. I do not yet know God here and now as I already know God. Faith cleaves to God by cleaving to the work of God, taking place in the creaturely sphere. This work as such stands before us always as a fragment. That is, it is a provisional part or moment of the history of the covenant between God and us.
We must now try to reach a basic clarity about the nature of this limitation of our knowledge of God based on the revelation of God and the mode of faith.
First, when God offers knowledge of God to us as the triune God, God permits something God has created or an event in the time and place God created to speak for God. On the ground of and through its union with the Word of God, this creature is the supreme and outstanding work and sign of God. The existence of this creature in his unity with God means the promise that other creatures may attest in their objectivity what is real only in this creature, which is the objectivity of God. Note how the New Testament puts this.
14 “And to the angel of the
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
What from the first point of view is simply the fulfilling and consequence of the incarnation, is, from the second, the accomplished selection of a creature by God’s disposition and grace, and from the third, the promise given to the creature in general. When God becomes visible for us through it, God accepts the fact that God will remain invisible, as the One God knows as eternal Trinity. God becomes known to us, but in the means and sign that God uses to be known by us, and therefore in a means foreign and improper to the nature of God. When God raises us into the reality of God through the speech of this creature, God lowers Himself to us. All of this is already true of the humanity of Jesus Christ. We might call this a sacramental reality, when there is unveiling there is also veiling. When God establishes divine lordship it means the self-humiliation and self-alienation of God. When God reveals the divine self, the revelation confirms divine hiddenness as well.
limitation of our knowledge of God, which is also its determination, consists
in this: when God offers knowledge of God to us in the truth of the Trinity,
what happens is this. Humanity knows God, from outside, for in an incomprehensible
way there is an outside in relation to God, as Thou. We know God as God allows
humanity to know God as Thou. However, we know God neither as God knows us nor
as we know each other. We must not be surprised if we know God as Thou only in
such a way that at the same time God remains unknown to us as
Third, we shall now try to see and understand the same order along a third line of approach. When God allows human beings to know God as the triune God, God lowers this divine self to the time human beings experience. In revelation, God lowers the divine self to a place and time where human beings can know God according to the measure of human cognition. God lowers the divine self and God lets human beings know this divine self in truth as the One God is, yet, not at all, as God knows the divine self, but rather in a temporal way. Temporality means in repetition, in a cognition that progresses from present to another, which constantly begins afresh in every present, in a series of single acts of knowledge. The fact that God stands before humanity and humanity knows God does not happen at a moment in time. It happens in the whole circumference of this center, in the whole circumference of sacramental reality, in a succession of attestations and cognitions, which all expect and indicate each other. The whole truth is always truth for us temporally. Truth always needs repetition. It has to be become truth afresh in a new attestation and cognition. Again, it does so in such a way that our standing before God in truth is a walking before us in ever-new forms of the one revelation of God with us. Again, it does so in such a way that while God’s revelation is always ready for us, we on our side are never ready. For God has not finished with us, but given us time. In our creaturely time, although it is our time, and therefore the time of our sin, God has given us His divine time. God allows us our time in order that in it God may always have God’s time for us, revelation time.
We can have no right understanding and no right explanation of the revealed Word of God without in understanding and explanation of the knowledge of God whose Word is attested in the bible and proclaimed in the church. We must begin with the fact that there is a readiness of God to have humanity know God. If humanity does not have a readiness for God, the question of the knowability of God will never become a problem for us. The grace of God makes it possible for humanity to know God. This grace means in the revelation of God, in the power and effectiveness of which there is knowledge of God, we have to do with a divine encroachment. However, the very attempt to fulfill the revelation of God for ourselves can blind our eyes in a most destructive manner to the fact that it actually has been and is fulfilled by God, and therefore from within, as the first step on the way of God. The first encroachment that we allow ourselves by trying to obtain the presence of God titanically will thus involve the second. Disillusioned by the failure of this undertaking, we resist and withdraw from the presence of God as it becomes real on God’s initiative and by the work of God’s self-revelation in God’s own divine encroachment. Grace is the majesty, freedom, undeserved quality, unexpected quality, the newness, the arbitrary character, in which the relationship to God and therefore the possibility of knowing God becomes open to humanity by God. Grace is the orientation in which God sets up an order that did not previously exist, to the power and benefit of which humanity has no claim. In its singularity, humanity can only recognize and acknowledge this grace as it is actually set up, as it is powerful and effective as a benefit that comes to humanity. Grace is God’s good-pleasure. Precisely in God’s good-pleasure, we find the reality of our being with God and of the being of God with us consists. Jesus Christ is God’s revelation, and the reality of this relationship in Jesus Christ is the work of the divine good-pleasure.
No analogy in human experience can make God as Lord, Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer accessible to us. My opponent here is Roman Catholic theology, where God is knowable even without revelation.
God has called creation good. God has formed humanity into the image and likeness of God. For that reason, an analogy exists between God and humanity. This analogy exists because of the grace and love of God that is the source of creation. God is knowable at various levels apart from the specific revelation of God in Jesus Christ, even if, within a Christian framework, all other knowledge of God must have some reasonable consistence with what we know of God through Christ. In other words, God leaves no one alone.
Barth would disagree. Therefore, whatever one may say about the inadequacy of all other analogies, you acknowledge an analogy between God and humanity, and therefore one point at which God can be known even apart from revelation. You acknowledge the analogy of being, even if their relationship to being is quite different, and even if they have a quite different part in being. As himself a being, humanity is able to know a being as such. However, if this is so, then in principle humanity is able to know all being, even God as the incomparably real being. Therefore, if God is, and if we cannot deny the being of God, creation, or our being, necessarily we must affirm the knowability of God apart from revelation. For, it consists precisely in this analogy of being that comprehends both God and us.
One would think there was nothing simpler and more obvious than this. Why is it, then, that our statement on the knowability of God is not so simple and self-evident that we cannot settle for the last time the question of a basis of our knowledge of God in ourselves and in our relationship to the world, but seems as though it must continually arise again in different forms and phases?
First, we have to do here with the attempt of humanity to answer the riddle of its own existence and of that of the world, and in that way to master self and world. With the attempt to strike a balance between self and world, even with the attempt to put these questions in the belief that humanity can regard the supposed goal of the answers humanity receives, or even the supposed origin of the questions humanity as a first and final thing and therefore as God. This attempt is possible and practicable. This attempt does really exist in an infinite variety of forms. We can say at once that prior to any theology this attempt is the meaning and content of the natural life of humanity. Certainly, we have the various attempts of humanity. We have the answers and questions along these lines. We have the images of God and the various contents we give to our knowledge of God.
However, nowhere do they have such force, and even in the aggregate they are not so impressive, as to compel us to admit, that humanity’s ability stands in a relationship to the real God, and can therefore be claimed as a natural knowledge of God. In none of its forms are the achievements of natural theology so imposing that they compel us to state that God is naturally knowable.
Second, is the practical desirability or necessity of this hypothesis so evident and urgent that we must try to find a readiness of God other than that which is present in the grace of Word and Spirit?
Second, we find the readiness of God for humanity to know God is to find the basis of conversation between the church and the world, between faith and unbelief. This basis is presumed to be necessary to the existence and activity of the church. What is in mind is the possibility that the proclamation of the bible and the church will contact something that is familiar. What is the nature of this pedagogy? Clearly, its art is this. Theology will have to have its own part in that life-endeavor of humanity, in the attempt of humanity to master self and world. In a wise and friendly manner of the fact that after all it is only a game, and in order to prepare humanity for that which it does take seriously, and to which it wants to lead humanity. The idea will be this. The real decision on faith or unbelief, on knowledge or ignorance of God, can and will occur only in and with humanity’s encounter with the revelation by God. However, the sphere of the life-endeavor of the humanity, which involves a certain natural knowability of God, can be considered as a preliminary stage, a game that is played with humanity with a view to leading humanity beyond this preliminary stage and place before humanity the actual decision itself. If this question has to be affirmed, the pedagogic necessity of a natural theology as a prelude to real theology will obviously force itself upon us. We must concede at the outset the legitimacy of the question concerning a common basis of communication between the church and the world, between faith and unbelief, the task of pointing the way that leads from the ignorance to the knowledge of God. How can it fail to be the highest and most comprehensive work of love to point this way that is for every person the one way of salvation? However, the moment this is conceded, the question has to be put in all its sharpness: what is this world to be? In addition, it is very much to the point if on this question of the “How” we begin by stating that this conversation must in all circumstances be pursued by the church in full candor towards the other partner and therefore with faith as the starting-point. A mask must meet one. One must not first be deceived by being addressed from his or her own standpoint of unbelief. If we are really going to address this other person from faith with any prospect of being heard by one who does not believe, then we must say what we have to say out of faith. That person can then come to grips with it, and it will be able to bring him or her to the point of decision of faith itself. On the one hand, the conversation may succeed between unbelief and the faith hat does not speak properly and sincerely. On the ground of unbelief, there may be instructions, conversions, and decisions corresponding to the intention of faith masked as unbelief. Within its own sphere, unbelief may be led to the possibilities, and persuaded by the quality of the possibilities, of which it is hoped that the decision for them will form the preparation of the decision of faith. On the other hand, the conversation may fail. We cannot see how the pedagogy of natural theology is able to escape this double dilemma. For if the subject of the educative process sees how preliminary and unreal is the action by which natural theology thinks it can point unbelief beyond itself, the effect will necessarily be a hardening, because a faith that obviously treats neither itself nor even unbelief seriously is not trustworthy and can only effect a hardening. At this point, it is the guilty of definite error, not only concerning the subject, but now also concerning humanity, in regard to the world, in regard to unbelief. It is an error that not only injures faith but also and directly love. It is a theological error that reveals itself to be such by the fact that it is obviously a pedagogic error as well. The unbelieving person who is the partner in this conversation is not a child playing games, to whom we are in the habit of speaking down in order the more surely to raise the person up. If we think we can play with this person, we will get our fingers bitten. How will that help this person’s education? Unbelief, and therefore ignorance of God, is an active enmity against God. It is not in any sense a hopeful and lovable inexperience that can be educated above itself with soft words and in that way led at least to the threshold of faith. Unbelief is hatred against the truth and therefore deprivation of the truth. If we do not meet it sincerely and with the truth, we cannot make clear to the person the truth that the person hates, nor approach the person with the truth of which the person is deprived. Faith consists precisely in the life lived in consequence of God’s coming down to our level. They do not need any particular art to draw near to them. They are already with them. For they stand with their witness of faith, as poor sinners alongside other poor sinners. They are not superior to them.
Third, the bible itself encourages us to reckon with the knowability of God apart from specific revelation, and thus encourages us to reflect on a genuine Christian natural theology. We might reflect upon several texts that lead this direction.
Psalm 19 (NRSV)
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Romans 1:19-20 (NRSV)
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;
Romans 2:12-16 (NRSV)
12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Acts 17:22-34 (NRSV)
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Further, the Psalms encourages all things to praise God, as well as all lands, all the earth, and all people. Everything that has breath offers praise to God. The earth belongs to God, the blessings of creation come from God, and that God remains Lord of all.
Psalm 100:1 (NRSV)
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Psalm 66:4 (NRSV)
4 All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.” Selah
Psalm 67:5 (NRSV)
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Psalm 82:1 (NRSV)
1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
Psalm 150:6 (NRSV)
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 24:1-2 (NRSV)
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
Psalm 50:10 (NRSV)
10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
Psalm 95:4-5 (NRSV)
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
Psalm 36:6-10 (NRSV)
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Psalm 65:7-14 (NRSV)
7 You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
What the bible sometimes describes as death, it will also describe as sickness. What the bible sometimes describes as darkness, it also describes as twilight. What it sometimes calls incapability it also calls weakness.
Of course, Barth will none of this understanding of such texts. Humanity does not seek after God. Humanity is full of sin and evil, shaped in iniquity. Everyone has sinned and come short of the glory of God. Therefore, the only proper terms for humanity is that it is under the sign of death, darkness, and incapacity.
Yet, what unites humanity with God is grace from the side of God and faith from the side of humanity.
The biblical witness points to God in revelation and therefore to
the true God. However, to understand to what it points, and what this
pointing means, we must be clear from where it points and to what end. First,
from where does it point? The bible points from none other than the standpoint
of revelation. Second, to what end does the bible point? The bible points to
the end of humanity in the world. The revelation of God confronts another
person disclosed by revelation. However, this otherness of humanity is the
truth of humanity. Revelation is the truth, the truth of God and the truth of
human beings in the world. Hence, our answer to this question is that the biblical
witnesses point also to humanity in the world in order to interpret the
revelation of God in its necessary and compulsive direction and relation to the
one to whom God addresses it. This suggests that revelation will characterize
human existence and all that it involves, including the whole place in which
humanity exists, as one that one cannot legitimately withdraw from the claim of
revelation. After all, the most real and original right under which humanity
stands is the right that God has over humanity who claims human existence in
revelation from God and lives in the service of God is the truth and unveiled
reality of human existence. By pointing
to humanity in the world, the biblical witness points through humanity to the
human being of the revelation of God. They do not consider taking humanity in
the world seriously and addressing humanity in its self-understanding. Rather,
the biblical witness says to humanity that humanity no longer really exists as
such. Human self-understanding is a monstrous misunderstanding. For the
original and proper truth of humanity becomes open through the revelation from
God. The biblical witness points through humanity to the One with whom God is
well pleased, to the man Jesus of Nazareth, to the judgment fulfilled in Him,
to the grace that humanity has found before God in Christ. They point to Christ
as the origin and future of human beings in the world. The self-understanding
humanity develops is not of interest to the biblical witness. The biblical
witness points to a lost truth that comes to humanity in revelation.
Consequently, we make synthetic statements rather than analytical statements
concerning humanity. Such prophetic and apostolic pointing is toward the future
truth of humanity from the standpoint of the revelation of God. From that
standpoint, we can properly understand Psalm 8 and Psalm 104, two nature
psalms. Now, we can put and answer our last question independently: To what is
the reference properly made when the bible refers to humanity in the world? Their
pointing to humanity in the world is an eschatological pointing; but as such,
it intends us to take it seriously. We can even see a creation history in the
bible. Genesis 1 & 2 already contains theological reflection upon human
life in the world. We find in Romans 1:18-32 an accusation against humanity
that goes well beyond the self-understanding humanity possesses. The
proclamation of kerygma is the proclamation of revelation and of something new.
The proclamation is the truth of revelation proclaimed by the apostle of Jesus
Christ. Proclamation is not timeless, general, and abstract truth. It does not
have the character of anthropology, philosophy of religion, or apologetic. One
cannot understand the biblical witness concerning human life in the world apart
from proclamation. Of course, Paul does make contact with the human being in
the world, but not from the standpoint of something already present on the
human side of the equation, but rather, newly understood in the proclamation.
We can see this in Acts in 17. The apparent failure of his preaching in
Fourth, we started out from the proposition that apparently nothing is more simple and self-evident than the knowledge that we find the knowability of God only in the readiness of God to have others know God. We can accept knowledge of God gratefully only out of the free grace and mercy of revelation from God as the inaccessible made accessible to us. Therefore, a theology that seeks another knowability of God is incontestably impossible in the sphere of the church. Incontestably, because from the very outset a theology of this kind looks in another direction than where God becomes known in Christ, and therefore involves a violation of the Christian concept of God. Why, then, is all this not so simple and self-evident? This question raises the matter of the readiness of humanity for knowledge of God, a point that will require an independent investigation.
In the first part of this section, we have understood the ability to know God consists first in the readiness of God to have humanity know God, something that arises from the grace of revelation. However, in this readiness of God, we have already embraced the readiness of humanity. Humanity is already ready to know God. We are not guilty of presumption if we assume this.
It seems at first relatively simple to classify what must always belong to the readiness of humanity as it is included in the readiness of God. As we have seen, the readiness of God is the grace of God. Hence, the readiness of humanity must obviously be the readiness of grace. What does this mean? Obviously, this human receptivity, this human openness for grace, is what it means. However, that means human openness for the majestic, free, undeserved unexpected, openness of God for humanity established in the authority God has. We may also say this openness is for the miracle that God is Lord, Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer is for human beings, and not just in God. First, we begin with the need of humanity for this grace. Humanity cannot dispense with this miracle. God will not become knowable to human beings otherwise than through grace. The human situation is objectively such that humanity has need of the grace of God, and that humanity depends upon this grace. Humanity cannot exist just as well without knowing God. Humanity cannot know God just as well without this grace. Second, to this openness of humanity is a definite knowledge of human need and knowledge of grace. We cannot know one without the other. Without seeing the grace of God, no one can see his or her own need. Third, this openness of humanity is a subjective willingness of humanity to accept grace for its need. This suggests the human willingness to let the divine encroachment overcome him or her as the answer to his or her own deprivation of God and inaptitude to know God. This openness assumes the willingness not to evade the miracle of grace, but resolutely to accept it. So far, everything is tolerably clear and obvious. The readiness of humanity to know God consists in the human need for grace, knowledge of grace, and willingness for it. How can there be a knowability of God for humanity without the fulfillment of this one and threefold presupposition? The completely closed human being that stands against the readiness of God may equally well accompany it. Indeed, we must say straight out that simply as such, simply as the openness of humanity, this completely closed quality always accompanies humanity. The deepest and most real need of humanity for the miracle of grace does not lie in the fact that humanity needs it objectively, and that humanity has objective need that it should come to humanity as grace. Rather, humanity is in position to cover up and hide from who humanity is, which reveals the need of humanity for grace. To be who humanity is, one must assume, not this needy human being, but a rich human being who can live without the grace of God and who can even allot it to itself. On the side of humanity first: humanity lives an existence that is guilty, which is a real straining at human limits, and which ends with death. Humanity can doubt the meaning of its existence. Humanity can fear and despair. Humanity is openly or secretly aware of this position and one can address humanity on this basis. Therefore, humanity is just as genuinely in need of grace. The lie against this with which humanity tries to make light of this lost condition, the lie in which humanity plays the rich person, is not reality. We have to understand humanity better than humanity wants to understand itself. Namely, we have to understand humanity entangled in guilt and submerged in death, as those filled with fear and despair. We cannot deprive this human being of a genuine knowledge both of need and grace, and finally of a real willingness for this grace. Considered in the reality of human existence, humanity has already broken through the inclination to close itself against the readiness of God for humanity. In this, within human reality, God is knowable to humanity. We have to take account of the same reality on the side of God. God has revealed the divine self to humanity, and in this revelation of grace, has come to humanity. In consequence, we have not only the right but also the duty to consider God only in divine reality as disclosed by the grace of revelation. In consequence, we have the right and the duty to make the presupposition that humanity can really believe in the fact that God’s grace will come to help humanity in wretchedness. Is not this a necessary presupposition of the proclamation of the church in word and sacrament, and of the Word of God that establishes and upholds the church? This leads us to consider natural theology. Humanity will always be the one who wants to carry everything, even, like Atlas, the whole world. Under no circumstances will humanity let someone carry it. Therefore, at the deepest level, humanity will always be an enemy of grace and a hater and denier of what human beings genuinely need. If God’s revelation is alongside a knowledge of God proper to humanity as such, it is obviously no longer the revelation of God, but a new expression for the revelation that encounters humanity in its own reflection. The genuine revelation of God is the possibility that humanity does not have to choose. The triumph of natural theology in the church is the absorbing and domesticating of revelation is the process of making the gospel respectable. The real hero in the process is always the person committed to natural theology who maintains a typical respectability by intending to put oneself in an orderly relation with grace, thereby affirming grace.
I say this, against Barth, who believed that the person committed to natural theology holds one’s own against grace, but knowing that the best way to do it is not to contradict the proclamation of grace, but to put oneself into an orderly relation with grace. Such a person does not want to deny grace, but to affirm it.
Is there no readiness of humanity for the knowledge of God? The only way we can affirm such readiness is to say that, at a profound level of human existence, humanity is a contradiction of being both an enemy of grace and a friend of grace. When a person genuinely lives in relation to Christ, such a person still must deal with the remnants of his or her rebellion against grace. The church is always the world as well. Humanity is always both an enemy of grace and a friend of grace. In this theological reality, the contradiction of individual and corporate human life consists. The self-understanding humanity develops reveals both an open quality to God and a closed quality to God. The reason some persons, such as Barth, resolve anthropology and Christology is that they have already done their work in philosophy, psychology, and sociology. They have already experienced their culture. They bring such reflection with them as they reflect upon the significance of Christ. Miraculously, people like Barth can find everything he needs in terms of human existence in Christ. He can do this, only after he has drunk at the trough of the great thinkers of the world. I find it far better to acknowledge the genuine knowledge we gain of human life in the world, of human destiny, and of God, as we reflect upon human life. At the same time, the Christian needs to acknowledge that we do not live our lives independently of Christ. In fact, we live and think in the presence of Christ and in reference to Christ. Clearly, for the Christian, things that seem to contradict directly what we know of God and humanity justly deserve rejection. Yet, we do not go the path of deceiving ourselves into thinking that all our thinking derives from Christ. Our life experience, our culture, our family, and our other reading as theologians, conditions what we see when we come to the apostolic witness to Christ. We can open ourselves to what we genuinely learn from each other as we search internally and in relationship with others. All persons reflect the image of God. Therefore, we can expect to learn from human beings who share what they have sensed God saying to them in other religions, in psychology, in sociology, in political theory, and in philosophy. God has left no one alone. All persons express the closed quality of their lives in reference to grace, as well as the open quality of human life to grace. The contradiction of humanity is that it is both an enemy of grace and a friend of grace. For the Christian, that which consistently helps us discern grace is its consistency with Christ. Precisely because we can know humanity in Christ, we can expect some genuine grasp of the human condition in human self-understanding. Precisely because we know God in Christ, we can expect some genuine grasp of God throughout the human religious experience. Again, for the Christian, the consistency of human self-understanding and religious experience with what we find in Christ is essential.
Of course, for Barth, we cannot reinterpret humanity as an enemy of grace into a friend of grace. So far, we have considered only the Christological perspective and the light it sheds on human life in the world. No anthropological or ecclesiological assertion is true in itself and as such. Its truth subsists in the assertions of Christology. We can certainly say to humanity that humanity can believe. However, if we want to understand and say truly what this means, we must understand and say it of the One in whom humanity believes. We can say to humanity that individuals become something other than their self-understanding suggested through the judgment and grace of God. In Christian doctrine, we have always to take seriously the basic Pauline perception of Colossians 3:3, that our life is our life hid with Christ in God. With Christ means never at all apart from Him, never at all independently of Him, and never at all for itself. Humanity never exists for itself. The Christian person is the last to try to cling to understanding his or her own existence apart from Christ. Humanity exists in Jesus Christ alone. Humanity also finds God in Jesus Christ alone. The being and nature of humanity in and for themselves as independent bearers of an independent predicate, have, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, become an abstraction that can be destined only to disappear. Therefore, if we want to press forward to a positive answer to our question, the Christological aspect of the problem must now be permitted at once ruthlessly and totally to replace every other. We can anticipate the positive answer to our question by stating simply that the readiness of humanity included in the readiness of God is Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the knowability of God on our side, as He is the grace of God itself, and therefore also the knowability of God on the side of God. The Son of God has taken to Himself the accusation that God directed against us, the judgment that God passed upon us. He has borne the punishment that was rightly ours. As the Son of God, He could enter into our place, into the place of every individual person, of the whole human race. As the Son of God, He has actually done it. It is easy to reply at once with the fact that, at this point, we have come to the possibility, necessity, and reality of faith. In doing so, we shall again say something that is no doubt correct. How can the victory of grace, won in Jesus Christ over human enmity against grace, be relevant, valid and saving for us except as we believe in Jesus Christ? Basically, then, the right answer can only be that as the one and only man ready for God, Jesus Christ has not only lived, died, and risen for us once in time, so that the abounding grace of God might be an event and at the same time revelation among us. He also, at the same time, is the One who stands before His Father now in eternity for us, and lives for us in God as the Son of God.
Thus, our appropriation of what Christ has won for us has not first to be executed by us. For this reason, life in the Holy Spirit is the life of faith. Faith does not consist in an inward and immanent transformation of humanity, although there can be no faith without such a transformation. Faith is more than all the transformation that follows it. As the work of the Holy Spirit, it is humanity’s new birth from God, based on which humanity can already live here by what it is there in Jesus Christ and therefore in truth. Faith is the temporal form of humanity’s eternal being in Jesus Christ, its being that finds its ground in the fact that Jesus Christ intercedes for us before the Father. In Jesus Christ, we are ready for God in the height of God and therefore also in our depth. To believe means to believe in Jesus Christ. However, this means to keep wholly and utterly to the fact that our temporal existence receives, has, and again receives its truth, not from itself, but exclusively from its relationship to what Jesus Christ is and does as our Advocate and Mediator in God. Yet, this faith remains firmly planted in good reasons for belief and action in reference to Christ. Human life is not a matter of receiving definite answers, as if in a scientific or mathematical equation. Human life is not a matter of precise historical research. Rather, much of human life moves forward with dimensions of faith, trust, intuition, and probability. We do not have the human capacity to abandon everything and suspend ourselves in mid air. We are still human beings who demand from ourselves and others good reasons, even if we also recognize that absolute proof does not come to humanity in its temporal and spatial existence.
Barth disagrees. Faith is not a standing, but a being suspended and hanging without ground under our feet. Conversely, in faith, we abandon whatever we might otherwise regard as our standing, namely, our standing upon ourselves, because in faith we see it is a false and unreal standing, a hanging without support, a wavering, and falling. We abandon it for the real standing in which we no longer stand on ourselves, and in which we obviously do not stand on our faith as such, but on the ground of the truth of God and therefore on the ground of the reconciliation that has taken place in Jesus Christ and is confirmed by Christ to all eternity.
This, then, is the positive answer to our question. There is for humanity, included in the readiness of God, a readiness of humanity for God and therefore for the knowledge of God. The enmity of humanity against grace and therefore the closed quality of human life against God is not the final thing we can say about humanity. The final word is that we have peace with God.
Romans 5:1 (NRSV)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
In this peace, we stand in such a relationship to God that the knowability of God that God has bestowed upon us in grace that we receive and accept. In this way, we speak genuinely about self, because in the realty of Jesus Christ, God has accomplished everything for us. The question before us is one in which we face the question of autonomous humanity and natural theology. What I have suggested is that humanity always has both an open and a closed quality in reference to God. Humanity can justify itself, while it can also seek to understand itself in reference to divine reality. In the process, we recognize the working of grace throughout human history and culture. Independent, autonomous humanity does not exist, for we are already in intimate connection with the physical environment, with the social and global setting, and with Eternity. Humanity is not alone, and therefore is not without grace.
The affirmation of a natural and original knowledge of God and union with humanity with God, that does not need grace and its revelation, is simply the necessary self-exposition and self-justification of humanity as such. We can understand natural theology only as the attempt, in opposition to the rule just formulated, to confer again on humanity as such an independent word and right in the sphere of faith and the church, and therefore not only to fail to assert the unique sovereignty of Jesus Christ in this sphere, but even to contest it.
What is the secret of the vitality of natural theology? From the standpoint of a theology of the Word of God that has a true understanding of itself, we do not need to contest natural theology as such. The business of proclamation and theology is the Word of God. In the process, proclamation and theology needs to take both Jesus Christ and humanity seriously. They need to take seriously both the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of humanity. Although this is a difficult task requiring discernment, it also acknowledges what in fact occurs with every theologian and preacher influenced profoundly by culture, by tradition, by rational discourse, and by experience, as well as shaped by the Word.
For Barth, proclamation and theology cannot take both Jesus Christ and humanity seriously, but only Jesus Christ and humanity in God. They cannot testify to the work of the Holy Spirit and then to the work of humanity that has its root and summit in natural theology, but only to the work of the Holy Spirit. They cannot serve two masters, but only the one real Master.
Nothing is more misleading than the opinion that the theological statement of the hiddenness of God says roughly the same thing as the Platonic or Kantian statement, according to which we are to understand the Supreme Being as a rational idea withdrawn from all perception and understanding. We find in the Christian tradition a statement of the incomprehensibility of God. We find this in the First Epistle of Clement 33:3, Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, Anselm, the Fourth Lateran Council (1224), Aquinas, and the Reformed Confessions.
Let us first try to come to a closer understanding of the content of the statement of the hiddeness of God. The assertion of the hiddenness of God tells us that God does not belong to the objects that we can always subjugate to the process of our viewing, conceiving, and expressing, and therefore subjugate to our spiritual oversight and control. In contrast to that of all other objects, the nature of God is not one that lies in the sphere of our power. Human beings cannot fully apprehend God. We must not base the hiddenness of God on the fact that the Infinite and Absolute we cannot fully apprehend. What we shall have to say is that God is not a being whom we can spiritually appropriate. Put another way, we are masters of what we can apprehend. Put another way, we are originally and properly one with what we can apprehend. Of ourselves, we do not resemble God. We are not masters of God. We are not one with God. We are not capable of conceiving God. However, this means, with a backward reference so to speak, in respect of the views to which we must relate our concepts, that no human being has ever seen God. However, God is invisible and inexpressible because God is not present as the physical and spiritual world created by God is present. God is present in this world created by God in the revelation in Jesus Christ, in the proclamation of the Christ, in the witnesses and sacraments of Christ. Christ is visible only to faith. The emphasis in the confession of the hiddenness of God is not primarily that of humility but first and decisively that of gratitude. Because God forgives us our sins, we know that we need forgiveness, and that we are sinners. Because God views and conceives the divine self in the Word, we know that God is not viewable and conceivable in any other way, and that therefore we are incapable of viewing and conceiving God of ourselves. The assertion of the hiddenness of God denotes our impotence. Early church writers were already clear that there are no words, not even the most simple of basic Christian words, in the use of which we do not have to take into account this inner limitation of all human language. It is most important to establish all this expressly. After all, it follows inevitably that the inner limitation that divides and separates our viewing, thinking, and if we overlook, forget, and deny speaking as such from the being of God, and if this happens in responsibility towards the revelation of God, we lose the external limitation. Further, we also lose the character of the revelation of God as the source and norm of our knowledge and speech about God, and the unconditioned subordination of the latter to this source and norm. It therefore lies in the nature of this revelation that we can meet it only with the praise of thanksgiving. To thank means to accept with the confession that we have not won or deserved what we have received, that we have not foreseen this accepting, and that we have had no claim to it. To thank means to acknowledge that it is a question of accepting a pure gift, whose reality has no basis elsewhere than in the goodness of the Giver, in view of which we can only glorify this kindness of the Giver. By thanking God for the revelation of God, we shall glorify God in the hiddenness of God. In the revelation of God in Christ, the hidden God has indeed made God apprehensible, even if indirectly, to faith, and through a sign. The pertinence of theology consists in making the exposition of revelation its exclusive task. How can it fail to be humble in the execution of this program, when it has no control over revelation, but revelation has constantly to find it? If we presuppose this happening, theology is as little vanity as the “old wife’s” stammering. If she may stammer, surely theology may also try to speak.
Knowledge of God is the presupposition and goal of all Christian doctrine. If the church lives, if its faith and its confession are real, it comes from the knowledge of God and comes to the knowledge of God. If it is also a human undertaking and action, if it also arrives at its goal, this is in consequence of the fact that God does not wish to have self-knowledge without also giving humanity the grace shown in revelation. We must first establish the fact that subsequently, secondarily, and improperly, humanity is included in this event in the height, being, and essence of God, so that God is now the object of self-cognition and the object of cognition by humanity. We can say such things based on a philosophical definition of the absolute. In self revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit, we can see the fact that God is the object of our cognition. We can find God as the One who in the depths of the being of God is none other than the One who loves us, and therefore bestows the divine self upon us, positing God as the object of our cognition. However, because we find God as this One, it does not mean that we can see why and how God is this One. With this as a starting-point, we must now consider the success of the human undertaking to view and conceive God, and therefore the truth or veracity of our human knowledge of God. The success of this undertaking, if it attains success, obviously consists in the veracity of the human knowledge of God, namely, in the fact that, knowing God, we do not have to do with something else or someone else, but validly, compulsorily, unassailably and trustworthily with God. Our undertaking to view and conceive God will not, then, involve self-deception, and our attempt to speak of God will not involve the deception of others. The undertaking and the attempt are on the way to success as true as it can be as our knowledge, which cannot coincide with the self-knowledge of God. The veracity of our knowledge of God is the veracity of the revelation of God. This statement we now have to expound. The truth of the revelation of God consists first and decisively in the fact that it is God’s revelation. The revelation of God is authentic information about God because it is first-hand information, because in it God is witness and teacher of God. The fact that the revelation of God has to do with us makes our knowledge of God true. We must go further. The veracity of the revelation of God verifies itself by laying claim to the thinking and speaking of humanity. Our thinking, which we execute in views and concepts, is our responsibility to ourselves. Our speech is our responsibility to others. In this twofold responsibility, it claims us. We cannot be responsible to ourselves and others without at the same time being responsible to the revelation of God, as those whom this revelation concerns. We must go still further. We have seen that to the will of God to reveal the divine self corresponds the power of God to do so. As there is no contradiction against the will of God, so also there is no real hindrance against the power of God. We are saying that the claim made upon us by the revelation of God does not demand anything impossible, and therefore that it is not an impotent and ineffectual claim. Again, for the sake of the veracity of our knowledge of God, the veracity of the revelation of God will necessarily make us humble. By the grace of God, we shall truly know God with our views and concepts, and truly speak of God with our words. However, we shall not be able to boast about it, as if it is our own success, and we have performed and done it. We have known and spoken, but God will have credit for the veracity of our thinking and speaking. There remains for us the task of defining more precisely the character and bearing of this participation of our knowledge in the veracity of its goal. We have good grounds to ask about the veracity that is proper to it be reason of its goal, in virtue of its participation in the truth of the revelation of God, in virtue of the divine unveiling as the goal of the way of God and our way. What sort of participation is it?
First, we can understand it only as participation in the revelation of God. First, it does not have its necessity in itself. It does not happen on its own account. An object evokes it. Our knowledge of God as participation in the veracity of the revelation of God consists in an offering of our thanks. This means further that it can consist only in an acknowledgment of the revelation of God. It takes place in the sphere of our humanity and claims our very best, and therefore our best thinking and speaking to this end. However, this does not mean that it is abandoned to our arbitrary selection of this best according to our own choice and pleasure. True gratitude enquires, and it does not enquire in a soliloquy, but it enquires after God, to whom it wants to show gratitude. However, this means that it cannot take place except in joyfulness. There can be no acknowledgment of the revelation of God unless we ourselves are involved. However, we are placed strictly under the rule of the object and become obedient. If the revelation reaches us, if it becomes for us the necessary basis of our knowledge, this does mean that it approaches us from without. It also means that it does actually come to us and therefore into us. It does not cease to transcend us, but we become immanent to it, so that obedience to it is our free will. However, because God remains transcendent to us even in the revelation of God, the subjectivity of our acknowledgment of the revelation of God means our elevation above ourselves. This makes our knowledge of God a joyful action.
Second, now if the participation of our knowledge of God in the veracity of the revelation of God consists in the offering of our thanks, we shall have to go rather further back and say that it will always be also an act of wondering awe. Awe refers to the distance between our work and its object. This distance is certainly overcome. However, it is still a distance that is overcome only by the grace of God, the distance between here and there, below and above. In awe, we gratefully let grace be grace, and always receive it as such.
Third, this relationship is to be regarded as a positive relationship, that is, one in which there exists a real fellowship between the knower and his or her knowing on the one hand the known on the other. However, if this fellowship is not to be denied, in what doe sit consist? We approach the topic of analogy. If in this fellowship, there can be no question of either parity or disparity, there remains only what is generally meant by analogy: similarity, partial correspondence and agreement. However, how does this partial correspondence and agreement arise? Both in God and in our work, God is Another. In revelation, God controls the property that belongs to God, elevating our words to their proper use, giving God to be their proper object, and therefore giving them truth. This analogy of truth comes into being in virtue of the decision of the grace of God, which is to this extent the grace of revelation.
We must take a final step. We must now be clear that this positivity is definitely restricted. This goal of our knowledge of God also means its limit to forward progress. If our knowledge of God is true, our words stand in a correspondence and agreement with the being of God. It can only be a question of similarity, of analogy, and therefore of partial correspondence and agreement between our words and the being of God. However, we still have to explain the partial that denotes that the goal is also the limit of our knowledge of God. Therefore, in this connection, the partial that we have to use in explanation of the concept of analogy means that it is a question of these two parts that, in themselves and in their relation to each other, are quite incalculable. God is always God and humanity is always humanity in this relationship. Unveiling and veiling thus designate the way that God goes with us, not a contradiction that God pronounces against us, into which God impels us, and which we have to suffer and bear as such. From first to last on this way it is a question of the one saving fulfillment of fellowship between God and us. In the fulfillment of this fellowship God has to be hidden from us to be revealed to us, to become revealed and yet to remain hidden, so that becoming revealed, the Yes that God says to us, is the goal and end of the way of God, no matter how hidden it may be under the No. Our concern is with the success of the undertaking to answer the revelation of God in faith based on human views and concepts, and therefore with the veracity of human knowledge of god. We have tried to explain this along three lines. First, we have tried to define the veracity under consideration as the veracity of God revelation that claims us and sustains us in it. Second, we have explained that this participation of ours in the veracity of god is the relationship of thanks, in which our knowing receives the character of a permission of our viewing, conceiving, and speaking. Third, we have discussed this similarity in relation to is origin, emergence, and actuality, all of which have confronted us with the reality of revelation. These three lines of thought in their mutual relationship still need to be finally consolidated and secured.
God is who God is in the act of revelation. God seeks and creates fellowship between God and us, and therefore God loves us. However, God is this loving God without us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the freedom of the Lord, who has the life of God within the being of God.
God is. Dogmatics can say little more than this. Dogmatics need to be quite careful when, like Melanchthon in his Loci of 1521, tries to base the doctrine of God upon the general idea of God rather than revelation. Questions concerning the being of God involve the action and work of God as revealed in the Word of God. The subject of this section is God, and not the general philosophical notion of Being. We cannot discern the being of God in any other way than by looking where God gives us the self of God to see, and therefore by looking at the works of God, at this relation and attitude, in the confidence that in these works, we do not have to do with any others. We focus on the works of God and therefore with God and his being as God. What does it mean to say God? What or who is God? If we want to answer this question legitimately and thoughtfully, we cannot turn our thoughts anywhere else than to the act of God in revelation. What God is as God is something that we shall encounter at the place where God deals with us as Lord and Savior. The act of revelation as such carries with it the fact that God has not withheld the self of God from humanity as true being. God has given no less than the self of God to humanity as the overcoming of their need, as light in their darkness. In the revelation of God, which is the content of the Word, we have to do with the act of God. Generally, this means an event or happening. However, as such, this event is in no sense one that one can transcend. The event is not an event that has merely happened and is now a past fact of history. The revelation of God is this as well. However, it is also an event happening in the present, here and now. However, the event that took place is an accomplished fact. The event is also future, the event that lies completely and wholly in front of us, that has not yet happened, but which simply comes upon us. The historical completeness of this event, the full contemporary character of the event, also makes it truly future. The event or act of God is final, one that one cannot surpass or compromise.
The being of God is life. The emphatic description of God in both testaments is of God as the living God. The act of God is pure and simple. What is the specific freedom of the event, act, and life of God in the revelation of God? Acts happen only in the unity of spirit and nature. If one is to deny such a unity concerning God, then there is no true, real history of the acts of God in any genuine sense. God would have no decision or work. God would not bring revelation or reconciliation. We could not speak of creation or redemption as happening or decision. We could have no eternal witness of the Son through the Father, no eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, and no inner life of god. Now that we are clear about this, we are free to state the opposite truth that the specific freedom of the event, act and life of God in the revelation of God and in eternity is the freedom of the spirit. The being of God is being that knows, wills, and decides of itself and moves itself. If God is only a higher degree of the movement that we know well enough as our own, the difficulty becomes to what extent beyond this that we can understand God as self-motivated, and therefore to what extent there necessarily has to be a particular idea of God. The danger is that when we speak of God, do we simply speak of ourselves, only shouting or with an exclamation mark? Kant places God behind the limits of reason and the postulates of moral law. Hegel makes the movement of absolute spirit in history the movement of God. Schleiermacher describes the source of our sense of dependence upon the Whole as our consciousness of God. Ritschl spoke of the practical and ethical significance of the idea of God. Does each of these persons, in their own way, simply provide their intuition about the human condition with the exclamation mark that behind it is God?
Barth now says that the revelation of God draws its authority and evidence from itself, rather than any human foundations. The commandment, grace, and promise of God have a unique force because they have no reference to human strength or weakness. The work of God is triumphant because it is not bound to our work, but precedes and follows it. The righteous demands of God on humanity, and the faithfulness of God in covenant with humanity, are irresistible and irrevocable because of their confirmation they need only God, and no corresponding relation of humanity.
Contrary to Barth, we need to recognize that each of these authors has made connections between the way human beings live and the way God is active in the world.
Kant and Ritschl raise valid points in our reflections upon the way God is present in the world. The ethical and moral character of the church is an important dimension of its life together. Ethical life asks us to consider the proper end or purpose of human life. One of the emphases that the New Testament borrowed from Judaism was the combination of religion with morality. The second century of the Christian era saw the defense of Christianity arise that it was similar to the philosophical schools in promoting character and morality. We forget that in the past, the separation of morality from ritual in religion was quite standard. The Enlightenment re-emphasized the importance of the ethical and moral nature and therefore the communal nature of the church. The individualism of the Enlightenment led to a perfectionist and legalistic emphasis, but we need to remember the core truth here. The church needs to show its ethical and moral quality in the way it embodies these qualities in its fellowship and institutional life. The way the church relates to its culture, the way the church structures itself, the values it upholds, the way it handles conflict and difference, the way it embodies whatever degree of unity it can embody, reflect ethical and moral concerns. The church identifies itself with quite human desires and dreams at this point, as it struggles with other human groups and governments in moving toward what is best for the human race. The church recognizes that what honors God also honors humanity.
Hegel raises a valid point concerning the end or purpose of human history. His mistake was to focus upon the unfolding of his view of freedom as the end or goal of history. From the Christian perspective, Jesus Christ is the content or goal of that history. Yet, Hegel raises again the question of ends, this time in relation to human history.
Schleiermacher raises the valid question of the natural quality of belief in God. Religion is not an imposition upon human hope, dreams, and desires. Rather, human beings have a sense or intuition of a meaningful and whole human life that can take place only in the context of a larger of whole, of which we have admittedly dim awareness. This dependence of finite and temporal beings upon a vaguely sensed whole is the origin of the human desire for a connection with the divine.
At the same time, Barth makes the valid point that human beings can discern the ways of God in the world only as God addresses humanity in specific, finite, and temporal ways. In this sense, we need to bring the event or act of revelation into relation with human hopes, dreams, and desires. The act or event of revelation will point the way to the fulfillment of these hopes, dreams, and desires.
Every statement of what God, and explanation how God is, must always state and explain what and how God is in the act and decision of God.
The essence of God that human beings see in the revelation of the name is the being and act of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. We must ask what this name has to say to us about the particular being of God in the act of God.
God is the one who seeks and creates fellowship between God and us. God does not have to do it. God already has what God seeks. Creation is already a seeking and creating of fellowship. Revelation heightens this seeking and creating of fellowship. This seeking and creating finds its crown and final confirmation in the future destiny of humanity as redeemed in Jesus Christ, in his destiny for eternal salvation and life. What God does in all this, God is: and God is no other than the one who does all this. God wills to be ours. God wills that we should belong to God. God wills to belong to us and God wills that we should belong to God. God wills to be who God is in this relationship of fellowship. The life of God leans toward this unity with our life. God has nothing higher than this to give than a relationship with God. In the gift of a relationship with god, God has given us every blessing. We recognize and appreciate this blessing when we describe the being of God in the statement that God is the one who loves. That God is God consists in the fact that God loves. In the expression of this love, God seeks and creates fellowship with humanity. The act of God is that of the one who loves.
First, the reality of God as the one who loves concerns itself with a seeking and creation of fellowship for humanity for its own sake. The love of God has only to be the love God has to be everything for us.
Second, the reality of God as the one who loves concerns itself with a seeking and creation of fellowship without any reference to an existing aptitude or worthiness on the part of the one loved. The love of God does not have the condition of any reciprocity of love.
Third, the reality of God as the one who loves is an end in itself.
Ritschl defined the love of God as the constant will that summons another person to the achievement of his or her own supreme destiny, and in such a way that the one who loves follows her or own final purpose. For him, the rule of God consists in the moral association of the human race through the motive of universal love. This rule is the sunnum bonum of the human race. As God wills both the universal end of the human race and the peculiar purpose of God, God is love. God loves sinners in light of their eternal destiny. Of course, the danger of this approach is that the rule of God becomes little more than human self-consciousness in its elevated moments.
Fourth, the reality of God as the one who loves is necessary, for love is the being, essence, and nature of God. We cannot tie the love of God to the existence of an object outside of God. The actuality of love of God is in the action of God and in the living God. The revelation of the name discloses the nature of God. God loves. God loves as only God can love. God’s loving is itself the blessing that as the one who loves God communicates to the loved. God’s loving is itself the ground of love of God toward humanity.
We have defined the being of God as a being in act, and therefore we have defined God as person. The One who loves us, who seeks and creates fellowship between God and us, also informs us what a person is. Some theological traditions, such as idealism, discuss the personality of God prior to the Trinity, thereby separating revelation from the discussion of the personality of God.
We now need to reflect upon the depth in the divine being, without which our reflections upon the life of God would be incomplete. We have discussed the life of God and then the love of God. We have discussed the being of God in act and then of the being of God as the one who loves. The being of God as one who lives and loves is being in freedom. In this way, freely, God lives and loves. In this way, God is God, and distinguishes God from everything else that lives and loves. In this way, God is distinguished from other persons. God is the one, original, and authentic person through whose creative power and will alone all other persons are and are sustained. Freedom is more than the absence of limits, restrictions, or conditions. Freedom in its positive and proper qualities means to be grounded in one’s own being, to be determined and moved by oneself. This is the freedom of the divine life and love. Aseity is not the act of God in self-realization. When we have established this first proposition that God is the one who is free within the divine self, we can express the aseity of God in a second proposition, that God is the one who is free from all origination, conditioning, or determination from without, by that which is not God. Against the background of these presuppositions we will now attempt a general explanation of the divine freedom in this secondary connotation of the idea, as the absoluteness of God. The fact that God is free in relationship to all that is not God means noetically that one cannot classify God or include God in the same category with anything that God is not. However, behind this noetic absoluteness of God there stands decisively the ontic absoluteness of God. This is decisive because in the revelation of God it is really a question of the ontic absoluteness of God, from which the noetic absoluteness of God inevitably follows. Therefore, God can indeed be sufficiently beyond the creature to be his or her creator out of nothing and at the same time be free enough partially or completely to transform its being or to take it from it again as first God gave it. However, God can do even more than this. God can so indwell the other that, God is its creator and the giver of its life. God does not take away this life. God is free to maintain distance from the creature and equally free to enter into partnership with the creature. God is free to lift the creature itself, in the most vigorous sense, into unity with the divine being of God.
In this section, we have written about the aseity of God and of the primary and secondary absolutness of God. The only reason we have to distinguish between the living and loving of God is because God is not merely the idea of love, but the one who loves in the very act of existing. We do not mean that God first lives, and then God loves. God loves, and in this act, God lives.
God lives the perfect divine life in the abundance of many individual and distinct perfections. Each of these is perfect in itself and in combination with all the others. For whether an individual and distinct perfection is a form of love in which God is free, or a form of freedom in which God loves, it is nothing else but God as one, simple, and distinctive being.
The being of God consists in the fact that God is the one who lives in freedom. I want to discuss the doctrine of the attributes of God in this way. We might also write of perfections, appellations, or virtues. The old problem of the doctrine of the attributes of God is so far-reaching that, in this section, we must first devote to it a general treatment, and then develop it concretely in the two following sections.
Let us first attempt to define the problem as such. According to Scripture, allo the glory of God has concentrated, gathered up, and unified itself in God as the Lord of glory. We next turn our attention to the question of the possibility, legitimacy, and necessity of speaking here of perfections, of the glory of God as a multiplicity of perfections, and therefore of the latter in their individuality and diversity.
First, the multiplicity, individuality, and diversity of the divine perfections are those of the one divine being and therefore not those of another divine nature allied to it.
Second, the multiplicity, individuality, and diversity of the perfections of God are those of the simple being of God, which is not therefore divided and then put together again.
Third, the multiplicity, individuality and diversity of the perfections of God are rooted in the being of God and not in the participation of God in the character of other beings.
The further fundamental question to which we must now turn is this: to what extent do these many individual and various perfections of God exist? How do we come to recognize them as such, and to speak of them based on the revelation of God, and in responsibility to this revelation, without reservation in respect of their truth? The problem of the derivation and distribution of the divine attributes is part of traditional theology. Each attribute is the characteristic being of God as God reveals who God is in the act of revelation. Contrary to this, some seek a psychological framework, such as in the intellect and will of God, or in the feeling of God. Others seek a basis for the attributes of God in the religious consciousness, as suggested by Schleiermacher. Others seek an historical intuition for the attributes of God, as we might think of in Ritschl. However, we need to focus our point of departure for reflecting upon the attributes of God upon the way God is present in revelation, in which God is partly revealed and partly concealed. This unity and this distinction correspond to the unity and distinction in the being of God between the love of God and the freedom of God. God loves us. Because we can trust the revelation of God as the revelation of the being of God, God is the one who loves. As such, God is completely knowable to us. However, God loves us in the freedom of God. Because here too we can trust the revelation of God as a self-revelation, God is free. God is completely unknowable to us. That God loves us and that God does so in the freedom of God are both true in the grace of the revelation of God. The two fundamental features of the being of god necessarily indicate the two directions in which we shall have to think, now that it can no longer be a question of analyzing our knowledge of God as such, but of presenting the One already known. In the following sections, then, we shall have to treat of the perfections of divine love and the perfections of divine freedom. Three decisive points are at stake.
First, it is in the nature of the case that when we speak of the love of God we have occasion to think chiefly of God in the fellowship of God with the other.
Second, the division of the divine perfections according to this twofold principle can involve the temptations of attempted epistemological deduction.
Third, the order in which I formulate these two series of divine attributes is a matter of importance.
The divinity of the love of God consists and confirms itself in the fact that within the divine self and in all the works of God, God is gracious, merciful, and patient, and at the same time is holy, righteous, and wise.
God is the one who in the Son, Jesus Christ, loves all the children of God. The being of God is the loving of God toward all that God has created. God is all that God is as the one who loves. All the perfections of God are the perfections of the love of God. The freedom of God is no less divine that the love of God. The love of God is divine only as far as God exercises it in freedom. The love of God is no less divine than the freedom of God. The freedom of God is divine only as far as this freedom is the freedom in which God loves.
We begin our consideration of divine love with a study of the concept of divine grace as it stands directly confronted with, controlled by, and purified by, the concept of divine holiness.
Grace is the distinctive mode of the being of God in so far as it seeks and creates fellowship by its own free inclination and favor, unconditioned by any merit or claim in the beloved, but also unhindered by any unworthiness or opposition in the latter. It is in this distinctive characteristic that we recognize the divinity of the love of God. The Hebrew word for this is chesed and the Greek word is charis. Grace is a gift. This must be our a priori definitive description. The giver, God, makes God the gift, offering the divine self for fellowship with the other, and thus showing the divine self in relation to the other to be the One who loves. Everything depends here on the immediacy of the relation and on the fact that the being and action of God. People in the bible pray in the following way.
Psalm 109:26 (NRSV)
26 Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love.
Psalm 106:4 (NRSV)
4 Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you deliver them;
Psalm 119:88 (NRSV)
88 In your steadfast love spare my life,
so that I may keep the decrees of your mouth.
Psalm 143:8 (NRSV)
8 Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
In prayer, people in the bible will also pray, “Be gracious
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
The Roman Catholic conception of divine grace is in opposition to what I have just said. Forgiveness cannot be an object of uncertainty. It cannot be accepted and treated lightly. It meets us, not in spite of, but in and with all the holiness, righteousness, and wisdom of God. It claims us, cleansing, judging, and redeeming us. It is also our true and final consolation. God is in it. God reveals the essence of God in this streaming forth of grace. This is how God loves. This is how God seeks and creates fellowship between God and us. By this distinctive mark, we recognize the divinity of the love of God. In this way, graciously, God acts outwardly towards those whom God made in a way consistent with who God is from eternity.
We now place this concept of the grace of God alongside that of the holiness of God. Our notion of grace is not able to grasp in its clarity and richness all that grace is in God. If we have concern about the truth of the God who is wholly grace, we cannot cling to our idea of grace as though our understanding of God had no need to grow, as though this idea of ours enabled us to acquire control over God. We are not making any crucial change of theme when we go on to speak of the holiness of God. We simply continue speaking of the grace of God. If we are to go on to speak of the one rich grace of God, we must develop further concepts. The common factor linking the biblical concepts of the grace and the holiness of God is seen in that both point to the transcendence of God over all that is not God. When we speak of grace, we think of the freedom in which God turns in good will and favor towards another. When we speak of holiness, we think of this same freedom that God proves by the fact that in this turning towards the other God remains true to God and makes the will of God prevail. The bond between the concepts of grace and holiness consist further in the fact that both point to God’s transcendence over the resistance that the being of God and action encounters from the opposite side. That God is gracious does not mean that God surrenders God to the one to whom God is gracious. God neither comprises with the resistance of humanity, nor ignores it, nor calls it good. Therefore, the one to whom God is gracious comes to experience the opposition of God to humanity. Possibly the most emphatic text on the holiness of God is in Hebrews.
Hebrews 10:26-31 (NRSV)
26 For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
To believe in God means that we bow to the opposition of God to us, accepting, and allowing the good will of God toward us to be our ground of confidence and hope. The holiness of God consists in the unity of the judgment of God with the grace of God. God is holy because the grace of God judges and the judgment of God is gracious. The holiness of humanity and of human actions, of things and places, is constituted by their serviceableness in the fellowship founded and initiated by God between God and humanity. Unholiness is unserviceableness to this end. The holiness of God describes the form of the attitude in this fellowship. Sin is whatever disturbs and makes this fellowship impossible. For this reason, the attitude of God in this fellowship is characterized by holiness, exclusiveness, the condemnation and annihilation of sin. The holiness of God involves peril to the people with whom God has fellowship. Ritschl went against this view by saying that the wrath of God in the Old Testament has the restriction of occasional outbursts. He thereby undermined the eschatological reality of divine wrath, which in turn logically removes divine grace and love. If God does not meet us in jealous zeal and wrath, then God does not meet us at all. In that case, all our asseverations about divine love, God would in fact leave humanity to itself. In the manifestation of wrath and judgment comes the pardon, reconciliation, calling, and commissioning of the prophet, which was obviously from the outset the secret meaning of this whole revelation of the holiness of God. To accept the grace of God means to respect the holiness of God, and therefore to accept, heed, and keep the laws of God, to fear the threats of God, to experience the wrath of God and to suffer the punishment of God. Otherwise, acceptance of grace is indistinguishable from heathen quietism. However, respect for the holiness of God, if it is not a vain heathen religion of fear, can only mean directly to accept the grace of God in thankfulness, to allow it to bring contentment and replenishment.
In the relationship between this love and its object, and therefore in the grace of God, we have to do with the turning of a need. The free inclination of God to those God has created, denoted in the biblical witness by grace, takes place under the presupposition that the creature is in distress and that God’s intention is to espouse the cause of humanity and to grant humanity assistance. Because the gracious love of God consists in this inclination, it is merciful. The being of God is mercy. The mercy of God lies in the readiness of God to share in sympathy and stamps all the being and doing of God. It lies in the will of God, springing from the depths of the nature of God and characterizing it, to take the initiative for the removal of this distress. The love and grace of God are not just mathematical or mechanical relations, but have their true seat and origin in the movement of the heart of God. Rooted in the original, free, and powerful compassion of God is that which characterizes everything God is and does. From the outset, God is open, ready and inclined to the need, distress, and torment of another. The compassionate words and deeds of God are not grounded in a subsequent change, in a mere approximation to certain conditions in the creature that is distinct from God, but are rooted in the heart of God, in the life and being of God as God. The heart of God is suffering, even when we think that we are the sufferers and that we have a right or obligation to lament. The heart of God is wounded, and wounded through our heart. How can we reverse the relationship and behave as though we have to suffer in the void, distinctly, eternally, or on our own account? In the recognition and confession of the mercy of God, we dissolve what we are accustomed to take so seriously as the tragedy of human existence. There is something far more serious and tragic, the fact that our distress is freely accepted by God, and that in God it becomes real agony. That this is the case is due to the mercy of God.
We now turn
to the righteousness of God. Our point of departure must be that the
righteousness of God is a determination of the love, and therefore of the grace
and mercy, of God. The love, grace, and mercy of God have the determination of
righteousness necessarily, as they have that of holiness. It does not follow
logically that God is righteous, that what God wills, does, and realizes in
this fellowship is what corresponds to the worth of God. How can God be good both
to the good and to the evil? How then, can God have mercy on the wicked and yet
at the same time and in this very way be righteous? This is how Anselm poses
the problem in Proslogion
9-11. The revelation of God is wholly the Law, manifesting the will of God as
righteousness, and distinguishing it from all unrighteousness. The activity of
God is wholly the execution of this Law. God cannot affirm the nature of God
any more strongly than as the righteous God, which God demonstrates that grace
that pardons the sinner. For this grace is thoroughly the proof of the
existence of the righteous God. It is so from every point of view: its
foundation in the will of God, its execution in the death of Jesus Christ, and
its application to believers. God does not need to yield the righteousness of
God a single inch when God is merciful. Faith in the righteousness of God means
necessarily a choice and decision in favor of the righteousness of God as
opposed to our righteousness. In this connection, it is important to notice
that the people to whom God in the righteousness of God turns as helper and
Savior is everywhere in the Old Testament the harassed and oppressed people of
The people who live by the faith that this is true stand under a political responsibility. Such people know that the right enjoys the special protection of the God of grace. As surely as they live by the grace of God, they cannot evade this claim. They cannot avoid the question of human rights. They can only will and affirm a state based on justice. By any other political attitude, they reject the divine justification.
We are warned against the too convenient and facile way of thought that has simply divested the concept of divine righteousness of the notion that is necessarily bound up with the concept of judgment, that of a decision about good and evil. The righteousness of God is a righteousness that judges and therefore both exculpates and condemns, both rewards and punishes. How far is the mercy of God at the same time the righteousness of the judgment of God? How far is the righteousness of God recognizable in the fact that as belonging to God, the divine righteousness is also saving and victorious mercy? The revelation of God in Jesus Christ supplies to this question the answer that the condemning and punishing righteousness of God is in itself and as such the depth, power and might of the mercy of God. If we are earnestly to cleave to God, if we are to accept the salvation accomplished in God and offered to us through God, we are really to look forward in faith rather than backward, we cannot try to overlook or evade by reservations the essential realization that God also is angry, condemns and punishes. If we truly love God, we must love God also in the anger of god, condemnation and punishments, or rather we must see, feel, and appreciate the love of God to us even the anger, condemnation and punishment of God. We cannot avoid the conclusion that it is where the divine love, grace, and mercy the meaning and intention of Scripture as a whole attest with supreme clarity. The unique event of Jesus Christ embodies that love, grace, and mercy. According to the unmistakable witness of the New Testament itself, they encounter us as a divine act of wrath, judgment, and punishment. We find this emphasis on God taking on the wrath of God in the cross in several New Testament texts.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Galatians 4:4 (NRSV)
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
Romans 8:3 (NRSV)
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
This sending means a self-offering grounded in the free will of the Father and the Son in fulfillment of the divine love turned toward the cosmos and the world of humanity. However, it is the case that God in the suffering or sending of the Son, and the Son himself in accepting this mission and allowing himself to be sacrificed, has exposed himself to an imposition. In this love, God has been hard upon God, exacting a supreme and final demand. God did not spare the Son. Christ was rich, and for our sake, He became poor, as in II Corinthians 8:9. The Son did not snatch at being equal with god, but humbled Himself, as in Philippians 2:6-7. In what consists this sternness of God against God, this self-abasement of God in the Son? According to Philippians 2:7 it consisted in the fact that in a self-emptying, in a complete resignation not of the essence but of the form of the Godhead. God took up our human form, the form of a servant, in complete likeness to other people. Humanity found God in the fashion of a man. Like all people, He was born of a woman. However, what does it mean to take the place of humanity, to be a person, to be born of a woman? It means for the Son, that He came under the Law, that is, that He stepped into the heart of the inevitable conflict between the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of humanity. God took this conflict into the being of god. God bore it in God to the bitter end. God took part in it from both sides. God endured it from both sides. God was not only the God who is offended by humanity. God was also the person whom God threatens with death, who falls a victim to death in face of the judgment of God. If God really entered into solidarity with us, it meant necessarily that God took within God, in likeness to us, the flesh of sin. God shared in the status, constitution and situation of humanity in which humanity resists God and cannot stand before God but must die.
First, the fact that the Son of God took our place on Golgotha and thereby freed us from the divine anger and judgment, reveals first the full implication of the wrath of God, of the condemning and punishing justice of God. It shows us what a consuming fire burns against sin. It thus discloses too the full implication of sin, what it means to resist God, to be the enemy of God, which is the guilty determination of our human existence.
Second, because it was the Son of God who took our place on Good Friday, what had necessarily to happen could happen there. There could happen there, that which could not have happened to us without causing our annihilation. That is to say, the righteousness of god in condemnation and punishment could take its course in relation to human sin.
Third, because it was the Son of God, because it was God who on Good Friday suffered for us, the destruction that took place there of the suffering and death that resulted from human disobedience to God could justly satisfy and indeed fulfill the righteousness of God.
Fourth, because it was the Son of God, that God who took our place on Good Friday, the substitution could be effectual and procure our reconciliation with the righteous god, and therefore the victory of the righteousness of god, and therefore our own righteousness in the sight of god. Only god, our Lord and Creator, could stand surety for us, could take our place, could suffer eternal death in our stead a the consequence of our sin in such a way that it was finally suffered and overcome and therefore did not need to be suffered any more by us. No creature, no other human being could do that. However, the Son could do it. Jesus Christ could take our place with this effectiveness because as the Son of God, God became a person and had therefore the freedom and power to be in humanity as that individual who became the Head and Representative of us all. Therefore, Jesus Christ could not only to speak to us in the name of God, but also, in our name, to speak to God.
After speaking of the grace and mercy of God, we reasonably consider next the perfection of the divine patience as a special perfection of the love and therefore of the being of God. We might refer to several passages in the Old Testament.
Ezekiel 34:6 (NRSV)
6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Jonah 4:2 (NRSV)
2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
17 they refused to obey, and were not
mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their
necks and determined to return to their slavery in
Psalm 86:15 (NRSV)
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 103:8 (NRSV)
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Psalm 145:8 (NRSV)
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Love in general does not necessarily bear the character of grace or of mercy. We must now continue that it does not necessarily bear the character of patience. Patience exists where God gives space and time with a definite intention, where God allows freedom in expectation of a response. God acts in this way. God makes this purposeful concession of space and time. God allows this freedom of expectancy. The abyss in the heart of God is so deep that in it the reality distinct from God can be contained in all its wretchedness. It does not have to perish. God allows independent beings to live as the object of divine mercy, to live under the divine righteousness, to live under the full and strict outworking of what the encounter with God and by the intervention of God for these independent beings entails. We shall see at once that this patience is the divine being in power and not in weakness if we consider in detail the testimony of scripture to the revelation of God from this particular standpoint. One example is the story of Cain in Genesis 4:1-17, in which God does not will the death that Cain deserves. Another example is the flood story of Genesis 6-9, in which I Peter 3:20 rightly points out that the fact that God saves one family shows the patience of God. An impatient God would be petty, human, weak, and finally a false god. What is the real intention of God when God exercises patience? We might even ask where the patience of God is. The New Testament has a decisive testimony to this reality.
Hebrews 1:3 (NRSV)
3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
The patience of God does not leave humanity to fend for
itself. The jealous zeal of God in and for those whom God has made is something
that the Incarnation of the Word powerfully shows. It is also clear that God
does not experience disappoint or self-deception with respect to the sincerity,
or insincerity, of the human penitence for which God waits with patience. Even
the judgments and punishments of God, the whole severity of the conduct of God
That God within the being of God and in the works of God is gracious and therefore holy, merciful, and righteous, patient and wise, is the proof and essence of the divinity of the love of God according to the main theme of the section and the explanations already adduced.
These perfections of God and the fact that God turns to those whom God has made and takes their misery to heart, could still stand perhaps in the shadow of a slight of suspicion. They are true, no doubt, but it might easily be otherwise. Why is it that God is gracious and merciful? We cannot try as it were, to justify God from above, measuring God by this or that standard of value and reasonableness. Nor is it as if there is no answer to this Why? In God, or as if we cannot understand this answer or know God as the One in whom there is an answer to this question. The answer is that God is wise. The wisdom of God characterizes the whole activity as reliable and liberating, as something in which we can have confidence, just because the wisdom of God consists in and finally evinces itself as the firmness and self-consistence of God. The special contribution imparted by the concept of wisdom to the clarifying of grace and holiness, mercy and righteousness, is that God is not the slave of the patience of God when in the dealings of which these other ideas speak God gives us time, and therefore allows space and ground as the Creator, Sustainer, and Lord of the world.
The divinity of the freedom of God consists and confirms itself in the fact that within God and in all the works of God is One, constant, and eternal, and therewith also omnipresent, omnipotent, and glorious.
My presentation of the divine freedom has the character of an attempt or suggestion, since we cannot appeal directly to biblical texts in this matter.
We begin with the unity of God. All the perfections of the freedom of God can be summed up by saying that God is One. To this extent, all the perfections of the love of God, real and operative in the freedom of God, and all the perfections of the divine being taken together, can be summed up in this one conception.
First, we take unity in the sense of uniqueness. What do we mean when we say that it belongs to God to be unique? God alone is God. God is the only one of the kind God is. There is not another God, either a second god or many gods. In comparison with everything else, God is unique. Whatever its nature and mode of existence, it is not God. It cannot stand beside God as a second of the kind God is or a multiple of the kind God is.
The other side or meaning of the unity of God is that God is simple. This signifies that in all that God is and does, God is wholly and undividedly God. At no time or place is God composed out of what is distinct from God. Being simple in the sense described, God is incomparably free, sovereign and majestic. In this quality of simplicity are rooted, fixed and included all the other attributes of the majesty of God: the constancy and eternity of God, the omnipresence, omnipotence and glory of God. Nothing can affect God, or be far from God, or contradict or withstand God, because in God there is no separation, distance, contradiction or opposition. God is Lord in every relationship, because God is the Lord of God, unconditionally One as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in the whole real wealth of the being of God. For every distinction of the being of God and working is simply a repetition and corroboration of the one being and, in the one being, of all that God was from eternity and therefore from all time, and of all that God will be in eternity and therefore for all time. When we say that God is one, unique, and simple, we mean something different from when we ascribe unity to any other quantity. Anything else to which we can ascribe unity is one side by side with one or many others which as r comparable with it and belong with it to a species it is one instance in a genus. It is, therefore, only relatively unique. However, God is an instance outside every genus. God is unique, in a way that is itself unique and one cannot denote by any concept. Everything else is only relatively simple. However, God is simple without the least possibility of either internal or external composition. The unity of God is the freedom of God, the aseity of God, the deity of God. “Monotheism” is obviously the esoteric mystery behind nearly all the religions with which we are familiar, as well as most of the primitive religion. “Monotheism” is an idea that one can directly divine or logically and mathematically construct without God. The artifice adopted by Islam consists in its developing to a supreme degree what is at the heart of all paganism, revealing and setting at the very center its esoteric essence, that is, so-called “monotheism.” In the love of God above all, God reveals the being of God as the One who is incomparable and therefore unique; which means that God reveals the being of God as the true and essential God. We might note two important biblical texts in this regard.
Deuteronomy 4:32-40 (NRSV)
32 For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? 33 Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, while you heard his words coming out of the fire. 37 And because he loved your ancestors, he chose their descendants after them. He brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than yourselves, to bring you in, giving you their land for a possession, as it is still today. 39 So acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Keep his statutes and his commandments, which I am commanding you today for your own well-being and that of your descendants after you, so that you may long remain in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.
Deuteronomy 6:4 (NRSV)
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
None of this has anything to do with the ambiguous charm of the number “one” or the subjective and objective monism of human self-consciousness and world consciousness. The freedom of /god and therefore the simplicity of God are the freedom and simplicity of the love of God. In Scripture, the utterly simple is God in the actuality, the superior might, the constancy, the obviousness, or even more simply, the factuality, in which God is present as God and deals as God with the humanity God has created.
Because and as God is one, unique, and simple, God is for this reason omnipresent. Omnipresence is a determination of the freedom of God. It is the sovereignty in which, as the One God is, existing and acting in the way that corresponds to the essence of God, God is present to everything else, to everything that is not God but is distinct from God. The presupposition of all divine sovereignty is that of the divine omnipresence. The whole divine sovereignty is based on the fact that for God nothing exists that is only remote. All of this considers divine spatiality. The perfection in which God omnipresent, and therefore not nowhere but somewhere, does mean indeed that God is everywhere undividedly and completely as the One God is and in all the fullness of the being of God. It does not mean that God is in the least hindered from being present everywhere in a particular way. Otherwise, it could not be the perfection of the freedom and love of God. God is present to other things, and is able to create and give them space, because God possesses space apart from everything else. The space everything else possesses is the space that God gives it out of the fullness of God. The fact is that first, God has space for God and that subsequently, because God is God and is able to create, God has space for everything else as well. In distinction from this basic form of the divine omnipresence, it is also the omnipresence of God. The love that God has in God as the triune God has also turned and manifested itself in freedom outwards.
We have spoken about the general and special presence of God in creation. By the general presence, we understood the presence of God in creation in its totality. By the special presence of God, we speak of the presence of God in the definite and distinct action of God in the work of revelation and reconciliation within creation.
distinction with the presence of God is the presence of God in the Word of God
as revelation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. God is present in these other
places too. Indeed, God is present everywhere. However, God is present in them
and everywhere because and as God present here. God is first present here, and
then there and everywhere. God is present here primarily, there and everywhere
secondarily. God is present to
All the perfections of the freedom of God and therefore of the love of God, and therefore the one divine essence, we recognize and express in the idea that God is constant. We might recall several biblical texts that remind us of this truth.
14 God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’ ”
19 God is not a human being, that he should lie,
or a mortal, that he should change his mind.
Has he promised, and will he not do it?
Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Malachi 3:6 (NRSV)
6 For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.
Psalm 102:23-24 (NRSV)
23 He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
24 “O my God,” I say, “do not take me away
at the midpoint of my life,
you whose years endure
throughout all generations.”
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Hebrews 6:13-20 (NRSV)
13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. 17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
In the tradition of Christian theology, this idea raises the question of the immutability of God. God is immutable, the subject determining the predicate, and the subject by the revelation of the divine self. If the immutable as such is in fact be God, this is undoubtedly the most dangerous assumption conceivable not only for the doctrine of God in particular, but fro every statement about God. After all, the purely immobile is death. Divine immutability includes life. In biblical thinking, God is certainly the immutable, but as the immutable God is the living God and God possesses a mobility and elasticity that is no less divine than the perseverance of God, and which confirms the divinity of this perseverance no less than its own divinity naturally requires confirmation by the divine perseverance of God.
In the bible, God does in fact repent.
Genesis 6:6-7 (NRSV)
6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
God can certainly repent of having promised or demonstrated
the help of God to
The Incarnation could logically mean curtailment or compromise of the immutable divine nature. However, in reality, it means the revelation of divine immutability in its perfection, a perfection that we recognize in God the Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer only because God is the God revealed, present, and active in the way God is present in Jesus Christ. We can see this in Paul.
Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV)
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In this text, Jesus Christ emptied himself. Paul did not believe that in all this Jesus Christ surrendered, lost, or even curtailed His deity. Positively, this self-emptying refers to the fact that, without detracting from His being in the form of God, He was able and willing to assume the form of a servant and go about in the likeness of humanity. In this way, those whom God created could know Christ only as one of the entities God created. He alone could know Himself as God. In other words, He was ready to accept a position in which people in the world could know Jesus as God. God concealed the divine glory of Jesus from the world. So far from being contrary to the nature of God, it is of the divine essence to possess the freedom to be capable of this self-offering and self-concealment, and beyond this to make use of this freedom, and therefore really to effect this self-offering and to give the divine self up to this self-concealment. The meaning and the goal of this self-emptying is the self-humiliation of God. In this above all, God conceals from humanity who God is. Yet, here above all God is truly God. Thus, above all because of this, God will also reveal the deity of God by the power of God. The self-emptying of God and self-humiliation of God does not compromise the deity of God. Rather, self-emptying and self-humiliation reveal the true divinity of God.
As an aside, this is the first shadow that hangs over the orthodox doctrine of the divine decree. The second is that not only in its less good elements, but also in what are undoubtedly its good elements, in marked contradiction to the bible passages quoted in support, it is so obviously an abstract general doctrine of the essence and relation of God to the created world, in other words, a general doctrine of providence.
We must now move to the doctrine of the divine omnipotence, with the earliest creeds considering this the one attribute of God necessary to state.
The first step is to recognize that we are not dealing with any kind of power, or power in itself, or even omnipotence in itself and in general. We have to do with the power of God, and in this way with omnipotence and real power.
The second step is to recognize that the might of God never at any place precedes right, but is always and everywhere associated with it. Like all true might, the might of God is legitimate power as the power of the holiness, righteousness, and wisdom of God grounded in itself and in the love and freedom of the divine person. The might of God is the power that is the origin of legality and that God always exercises in the fullness of this legality. The might of God is the power that never lacks the dignity of the Trinity and Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer.
The third step is to recognize that the omnipotence of God is naturally the power manifest in the activity of God. The omnipotence of God is the power in the activity of the One who fulfills this work, and who reveals God as the One God within this work.
Our fourth step is to maintain that the omnipotence peculiarly belonging to God is the very specific capacity that has real content, is not neutral, and is concrete. God has the power, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be God and to live of and by God.
Our fifth step is to maintain that as the concrete power of God, determined in relation both to God and to the world, the power of God is power of everything. This means the power of all powers, the power in and over them all. By the power of God, God creates and tolerates other powers. In this, the power of God is always power in over and over them, and God is always first and last the only one who is full of power. God is not at any point limited or determined by them, but at every point, God limits and determines them.
God knows and wills, which are the only ways God can be omnipotent.
First, the divine knowledge and will as the knowledge and will of the divine omnipotence and therefore as itself omnipotent, we must affirm first that with the two statements “God knows” and “God wills” we are describing the one total essence of God. The knowledge of God is who God is, and again the will of God is who God is.
Second, the knowledge of God is the will of God and the will of God the knowledge of God.
Third, the divine knowledge and will, being divine, is free, superior in relation to all the objects distinct from itself. Rightly understood, to speak of God willing all things consists in God having power over all things. Within this sphere, which is itself the only sphere of being, God wills everything. The something God wills can therefore mean that God loves, affirms, and confirms it, that God creates, upholds, and promotes it out of the fullness of divine life. This willing by God can also mean that in virtue of the same love God hates, disavows, rejects, and opposes it as that which withstands and lacks and denies what is loved, affirmed and confirmed by God and created, upheld and promoted by God. God still wills it in the sense that God takes it seriously in this way and takes up this position over against it.
Fourth, the divine knowledge possesses the character of foreknowledge in relation to all its objects. The knowledge of all things is what it is in eternal superiority to all things and eternal independence of all things. A knowledge of them that is complete in every respect, which not only eternally corresponds to them and follows them as human knowledge corresponds to and follows its objects, but is eternally their presupposition. It is not that God knows everything because it is, but that it is because God knows it. The right understanding of the freedom of the will of God excludes all those views that seek to represent the relation between God and the reality distinct from God as a relation of mutual limitation and necessity. The right understanding of the freedom of the will of God also excludes all non-deterministic and deterministic standpoints – the two really belong together. Pelagianism and fatalism are heathen insertions into Christian teaching.
Fifth, we turn to what I might call the essential nature of the divine knowledge and will, its character as real knowing and willing. Nothing less is at stake here than the spirituality and personality of the omnipotent God, and therefore the love in which God is the free God, and should be taken with absolute seriousness and not merely understood as figurative or isolated facts. Our ability to understand the divine knowledge as real knowledge also depends on it. The same is true of our ability to understand the divine will as real will without affecting the fact that it embraces everything as a single act and is completely free in itself. Because the will is also involved, we will have to put the question in a twofold form. However, first we must ask to what extent the divine knowledge is real, divine, true, and genuine knowledge. We have now to speak of the genuineness and reality of the divine will, of its character as a true will. We have now to make explicit the recognition of the spirituality and personality of this One who acts in omnipotence and omnipresence. The will of God is in all things as the eternal living act of God, and it is wholly and utterly free in itself. In this, it is true, genuine power and will.
How can an omnipotent will really be a will, a purpose, the setting of a goal, or a resolve? We are again overlooking the fact that omnipotence of God does not merge into the omni-causality of God. If we were, we would have to speak of God as One who is the prisoner of the power of God, and therefore not of divine omnipotence at all.
If God does not know and will, God does not love either. A mere blind force can possess power and efficacy, but it cannot love. There is love only where there is knowing and willing. However, the divine knowing and willing meets us in the divine revelation and reconciliation, wholly and altogether as love. As the love of God meets us there, the knowing willing of God also meets us. Because the love of God meets us, we must now say as the final thing about the omnipotence of God that we must recognize the omnipotence of the divine knowing and willing, the only real divine omnipotence, as the omnipotence of love. It is in this way that God knows and wills, in the love of God. This is what we mean by knowing and willing in its divine origin and truth. This is the eternal knowing and the eternal will that determines all other knowing and willing by the grace of creation. It is love. It seeks its own only in fellowship with another. With the statement that the omnipotence of God is the omnipotence of the knowing and willing of God, we have confirmed the one essence of God in its twofold nature, that the freedom of God is the freedom of the love of God. We can see this in Paul.
1 Corinthians (NRSV)
24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
God in the sense in which God is simultaneous, without separation, distance, or
contradiction. Eternity is not time, although time is a form of the creation of
God. We distinguish time from eternity by the fact that in it, beginning,
middle, and end are distinct and even opposed as past, present, and future.
Eternity is the duration that is lacking to time, as one can see clearly at the
middle point of time, in the temporal present and in its relationship to the past
and the future. Eternity has and is the duration that is lacking to time. It
has and is simultaneity. Eternity is not an infinite
extension of time both backwards and forwards. Time can have nothing to do with
God. The infinity of its extension cannot help it. For even and especially in
this extension, there is the separation, distance, and contradiction that mark
it as time and distinguish it from eternity as the one God created from the
Creator. It is quite correct to understand the idea of eternity and therefore
God in this clear antithesis. In this duration, God is free. God is free to be
constant, and so we may put our trust in the fact that God is. The reason why
God is free to be constant is that time has no power over God. As the One who
endures, God has all power over time. God is God in the concept of the eternity
of God. This means that it is a poor and shortsighted view to understand the
eternity of God only from the standpoint that it is the negation of time.
Boethius gives the positive quality of eternity. Aquinas offered the definition
of “Total, simultaneous and complete possession of unlimited life.” This
positive meaning of the concept of eternity suggests that the statement that
God is eternal tells us what God is, rather than what God is not. We cannot
understand the eternity of God as pure timelessness. Since it became time, and
God, without ceasing to be the eternal God, took time and made it the
possession of God, we have to confess that God was able to do this. God was not
only able to have and give time as the Creator, but in Jesus Christ, God was
able to be temporal. True eternity includes this possibility, the potentiality
of time. True eternity has the power to take time to itself, this time, the
time of the Word and Son of God. Eternity has the power itself to be temporal
in Christ. In Jesus Christ, eternity has been revealed
as its power. A. Ritschl saw eternity as the
unchanging continuity and identity of the divine will in relation to its goal,
so that in all the changes in things that denote the alteration in the working
of God, God remains the same and maintains the final goal and plan in which God
creates and governs the world. The will of God is directed
God is pre-temporal in that the existence of God precedes human existence and the existence of all things.
God is supra-temporal in that eternity embraces time on all sides. The eternity of God accompanies time. Time may also accompany the eternity of God which creates it and in which it has its goal. The eternity of God goes with time. The eternity of God is in time. Time itself is in eternity. Its whole extension from beginning to end, each single part of it, every epoch, every life-time, every new and closing year, every passing hour, are all in eternity like a child in the arms of its mother. Time does not limit eternity. Eternity is in the midst, just as God is in the midst with us. It is not a divine preserve. On the contrary, by giving us time, God also gives us eternity. Our decisions in time occur with a responsibility to eternity that is not partial but total, and we may and must understand and accept the confidence with which we can undertake them as a complete confidence that we gain from eternity. Having loved us from eternity, and granted us from eternity our existence, fellowship with God, life in hope and eternal life itself, God also loves us here and now, in the temporality ordained for us from eternity, wholeheartedly and unreservedly. The result is that any doubt or lack of assurance is a burden that we impose on ourselves, while from the side of God there is only one message even to our life in its temporality. Jesus Christ is taken seriously when we see that as He comes between the two spheres, He makes the one really past and the other no less future, constituting time itself the way from this past to this future. Again, we rightly understand the existence and antithesis of the two spheres when He is seen in this relationship to them. Jesus Christ is the One who has made the antithesis of these spheres the antithesis between past and future, thus making time itself something new by giving it its center in Himself. For He has not merely explained and interpreted it as the way from this past to this future, from the old to the new aeon, but has made in this way, in the power of the Creator of time and of all things. This conception of time, the conception of human existence moving in Jesus Christ out of the first and into the second sphere. The fact that we have time and live in time means, from a Christian point of view and therefore in reality, that we live in this turning. The future is not this empty time. The future is the coming new age with all its benefits for which we are set free in Jesus Christ.
God is post-temporal, in that we move to God as we come from God and may accompany God. We move towards God. God is, when time will be no more.
We now reach the discussion of the glory of God. God has and is glory. We can say that the glory of God is the dignity and right of God to prove and declare, to denote and to become conspicuous everywhere apparent as the One God is. God does this negatively by distinguishing God from what is not, and positively by showing God in various ways. It is further the dignity and right of God to create recognition for God, in some sense to impose or intrude in such a way that no one can overlook God or forget God. We cannot possibly avoid God, nor can the reality that is distinct from God exist at all without God. Looking back on what has been said, we may say that the glory of God is the competence of God to make use of the omnipotence of God as the One who is omnipresent, and to exercise lordship in virtue of the ever-present knowledge and will of God. However, we must add at once, the glory of God is not only the right of God, but also the power of God to do all this. It is the power of the divine being of God to be inn control and to act as God. As it is this right and power, it is also the actual accomplishment of all this. To sum up, the glory of God is God in the truth, capacity, and act in which people know God as God. This truth, capacity, and act are the triumph, the very core, of the freedom of God. For at the core of the being of God, and therefore in the glory of God, is the freedom of God to love. God is the One who seeks and finds fellowship, creating and maintaining and controlling it. God is relationship in the Trinity and the basis and prototype of all relationship. In the fact that God is glorious, God loves. The New Testament term is doxa. What is the more precise meaning of the honor and the glory of God, of God as the source and radiance of light? How far does it belong to God in the fullness of the divine God to be glorious in the sense described, to have and to be the source and radiance of light, the possibility and actuality of that outshining, the self-declaration to which we have referred?
First, if we start from our first answer, we must say that the glory of God consists in the fact that the being of God is the fullness and self-sufficiency of God.
Second, as the living God is the source of light, God also is the radiance of light. Standing in contrast to all other beings and marked off from them, God is the radiance of light that reaches all other beings and permeates them. Distance does not separate God from them, but changes such distance into proximity. The omnipotence of God is the positive meaning of the freedom of God. Thus, the light of God is omnipotent light, and so omnipresent light.
Third, what reaches us through them is the power, kingdom, and glory of God, and therefore who God is.
Fourth, the glory of God is revealed when God is not present in vain, when the distinction and worth of the person of God are recognized and acknowledge as such, when to that extent they reach over to us. When there is light and light shines, there is an illuminating and an illumination.
The final thing that we must say in this connection about the glory of God is that it is God in the truth, power, and act of the self-glorification of God on and in and through that which is dark in itself because it is distinct from God and is not divine, but opposed to the divine.
The concept that lies ready to our hand here, and which may serve legitimately to describe the element in the idea of glory that we still lack, is that of beauty. If we can and must say that God is beautiful, to say this is to say how God enlightens, convinces, and persuades us. The concept of the beauty of God describes the shape and form in which revelation takes places and the form of its power. The concept of the beauty is to say that God has this superior force, this power of attraction, which speaks for itself, which wins and conquers, in the fact that God is beautiful, divinely beautiful, and beautiful in the unique way God is beautiful. God has beauty as a fact and a power in such a way that God acts as the One who gives pleasure, creates desire and rewards with enjoyment. God does it because God is pleasant, desirable, full of enjoyment, because God is the One who is pleasant, desirable, full of enjoyment, because first and last God alone is that which is pleasant, desirable and full of enjoyment. God love us as the One who is worthy of love as God. This is what we mean when we say that God is beautiful. We do not need to develop an aesthetic view to speak in this way. We cannot include the concept of beauty with the main concepts of the doctrine of God. It is not a leading concept. We speak of the beauty of God only in explanation of the glory of God. However, some texts point us this direction.
Psalm 104:1-2 (NRSV)
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
Psalm 45:2 (NRSV)
2 You are the most handsome of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
We must also include the Song of Songs as part of the biblical material that helps us reflect upon the importance of beauty.
In all this, glory awakens joy, and is itself joyful. Glory is not merely a glory that is solemn, good, and true, and which in its perfection and sublimity, might be gloomy or at least joyless. Joy in and before God has an objective basis. Glory is something in God that justifies, obliges, summons and attracts us to do this. That which attracts us to joy in God is the inalienable form of the glory of God and the indispensable form of the knowledge of the glory of God. Beautiful in the love and freedom of God in the essence of God as God and in all the works of God, beautiful in the form in which God is all this. In fact, theology is a peculiarly beautiful science. An extreme form of Philistinism would find theology distasteful. The theologian who has no joy in his or her work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk, sloth, in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. However, we must know that God can keep us from it. The being of God speaks for the beauty of God in the revelation of God. All that we can do here is to indicate by several examples the fact that this is so. First, we note that the unfolding of the being of God in the attributes of God has a beauty to it. Second, the tri-unity of God has a beauty to it. A third example of this beauty is the Incarnation. These are the ways the being of God attracts us in its beauty. What we wanted to know was how God in the glory of God, in the self-declaration of God, makes God clear to humanity. The statement about the beauty of God answers this question in an appropriate parenthesis. The glory of God is the truth power, and act of the self-declaration of God and therefore of the love of God. Beauty forces us to look away from self, away from other created things and toward God. Glorifying and honoring God can only mean following God. To give honor to God means that in our existence, our words and actions, God conforms us to the existence of God. We accept our life as determined by the co-existence of God, and therefore reject any arbitrary self-determination. Self-determination comes about when those whom God created honor God in harmony with the predetermination of God instead of in opposition to it. It happens when we accommodate ourselves, not to the dominion of any power, but to that of the One to whom alone there belongs right and might. In this sense, then, the glorifying of God consists simply in the life-obedience of the creature that knows God. It has no alternative but to thank and praise God.
The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that one can say or her, it is the best. God elects humanity. God is for humanity as the One who loves in freedom. Election has its ground in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because God is both electing God and elected humanity in One. Election is part of the doctrine of God because originally the election by God of humanity is predestination not merely of humanity, but of God as well. The function of election is to bear basic testimony to eternal, free, and unchanging grace as the beginning of all the ways and works of God.
Theology must begin with Jesus Christ, and not with general principles. Theology must also end with God, and not with supposedly self-evident general conclusions from what is particularly enclosed and disclosed in God. We should still not have learned to say, “God,” correctly if we thought it enough simply to say “God.” We must not be so exact, so clever, so literal, that our doctrine of God remains only a doctrine of God. We must demonstrate its Christian character by avoiding such abstraction. This fact, that God is God only in this way and not any other, we must now make explicit.
If it is true that it pleased the fullness of God to dwell in Jesus Christ, as in Colossians 1:19, then in a Christian doctrine of God this further step is unavoidable. Jesus Christ is indeed God in the movement of God toward humanity as represented in the one man, Jesus of Nazareth, in the covenant of God with this people, and in the being and activity of God among and toward humanity. Without the Son sitting at the right had of the Father, God would not be God. However, the Son is not only very God. The Son is also called Jesus of Nazareth. The Son is also humanity, and as such the Son is the Representative of the people that in Him and through Him is united as He is with God, being with Him the object of the divine movement. That we know God and have God only in Jesus means that we can know God and have God only with the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, and with the people that He represents as the Son. Apart from this person, and part from this people, God would be a different or alien God. According to the Christian perception, such a god would not be God at all. According to the Christian perception, the true God is in this movement toward humanity. Further, in the Son and through the Son God moves toward other people in their unity with the Son.
We approach two aspects of the one truth. In the decision by which God institutes, maintains and directs this covenant, in the decision to be “in Jesus Christ,” God accomplishes something quite definite. God executes this decision in the movement God makes toward humanity, and therefore toward the Jesus of Nazareth and the humanity that He represents as the Son. The decision God made was to have this covenant partner. God also made the decision as tow ho this partner is and what will befall this partner. Of the election in the sense of the election of divine grace, the choice that God makes in grace, thus making the movement, and instituting, maintaining, and directing this covenant. What we have in mind is the election of grace. Election is a question of grace, and that means the love of God and the freedom of God. We must deal first with grace. The fact that God makes this movement in the institution of the covenant, the primal decision “in Jesus Christ,” which is the basis and goal of all the works of God. That is grace. Speaking generally, election is the demonstration, the overflowing of the love that is the being of God. God, who is entirely self-sufficient, who cannot know isolation, willed even in all divine glory to share divine life with another and to have that other as the witness of the glory of God. This love of God is grace. Divine love is the form of the deepest condescension. It occurs even where there is no question of claim or merit on the part of the other. Divine love is overflowing, free, unconstrained, and unconditioned. Divine love is merciful, making this movement of condescension, in such a way that, in taking to itself this other, it identifies itself with its need, and meets its plight by making it its own concern. Divine love is patient, not consuming this other, but giving it place, willing its existence for its own sake and for the sake of the goal appointed for it. God elects another in love to have fellowship with God. God ordains that God should not be entirely self-sufficient as God might be. In this concept of election, we find reflected more clearly the other element in the being of God, that is, the freedom in which God is the One who eternally loves. The concept of election means that grace is truly grace. It means that God owes the grace of God to no one, and that no one can deserve it. It means that grace cannot be the subject of a claim or a right on the part of the one upon whom it is directed. It means that it is the determination and decision of the will of God. Encountering humanity in this free love, God becomes the companion of humanity. That is what God determined to do “in Jesus Christ.” In virtue of divine ascendancy and of this relationship, God must have both the first and the last word concerning those with whom God has chosen to partner. God is the judge of this partner in the most comprehensive sense. God is for this covenant partner both the One by whom humanity will experience judgment and also the One according to whom humanity must judge itself. God is for humanity the criterion, the standard, the question of the good or the evil, the rightness or the wrongness, of human being and activity.
We must now
take up in a specific way the doctrine of predestination. In the Old Testament,
we find this teaching under the concept of the election of
1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
2 Thessalonians (NRSV)
13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruitsfor salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
11 And he said to them, “To you has been
given the secret of the
Ephesians 1:3-4 (NRSV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
For Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, the concept of double predestination dominates, in that God elects to grace and wrath. Reformed dogmatics thought they ought to balance against the concept of the election of grace that of an election of wrath.
We may establish first a point that all serious conceptions of the doctrine have in common.
They all find the nerve of the doctrine in the fact that it characterizes the grace of God as free and divine. In electing, God decides according to the good pleasure of God, which is holy and righteous. Because the God who elects is constant, omnipotent, and eternal, the good-pleasure by which God decides, and the decision itself, are independent of all other human decisions. Grace is the divine movement and condescension because of which people belong to God and God to people. All serious conceptions of the doctrine do at least aim at this recognition of the freedom of the grace of God. They aim at an understanding of grace as grace. For what kind of grace is it that is conditioned and constrained, and not free grace and freely electing grace? What kind of God is it who in any sense of the term has to be gracious, whose grace does not belong to the personal and free good-pleasure of God.
All serious conceptions of the doctrine also agree that in this free decision of God, we have to do with the mystery of God as the divine resolve and decree whose basis is hidden and inscrutable. God did not admit human beings into the counsel of God as God made this election. Nor can we subsequently call God to give an account or answer in respect of it. The will of God knows no source. The will of God is an absolute source, the ultimate source of all. As such, that it wills to be known, honored, and obeyed.
A third point unites all serious conceptions of the doctrine of predestination. To the confession of the mystery of the freedom of God in the election of grace they all quite definitely relate, in some sense as basis, the confession that in the mystery of divine freedom, God always does that which is worthy of the righteousness of God. We are not bowing before the caprice of a tyrant. Our submission cannot be such that a remaining and increasing complaint and resistance still accompanies it. Rather, of ourselves, of our own better knowledge, we will be silent.
We must take as our starting-point the fact that this divine choice or election is the decision of the divine will that God fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and which had as its goal the sending of the Son of God. As such, election has always in God the character of grace. Election is divine freedom as the One who loves in freedom. We must not seek the ground of this election anywhere else than in the free love of God. A basis for election in anything other than this free love of God would not be the election fulfilled in Jesus Christ. What takes places in this election is always that God is for us and for the world God created, independent of God while also maintained by God. The election of God has the sending of the Son in view. In the Son and through the Son, God moves toward the world. God creates and sustains the world. However, more importantly, God works on it and in it by giving the divine self to it. The election of God means that the will for fellowship God actively demonstrated to the world in a way that surpasses anything that could be expected or claimed. If we describe this movement as election, then we also emphasize this movement as the active demonstration of the love of God. The Gospel of John memorably describes this love.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Whatever may be the inner link in the election by God between that giving of the Son and the faith in the Son by which the intended salvation is effected, we can say this much. In this election, God loved the world. This election is a work in which God meets the world in a way that is for Jesus of Nazareth, and in Him for the whole race, and therefore for the world. God does not meet the world with indifference or hatred. God does not will to be without the world or against the world, a fact seen clearly when we speak of election. When we speak of election, we speak of the gospel. God has decided for this loftiest and radical movement toward that which God has created, ordaining and constituting God as its friend and benefactor. When we hear of the election by God, we also hear the Yes of God to the world.
What is the source of the doctrine of predestination? We need to recall the basic rule of all church dogmatics. No single item of Christian doctrine has any legitimate ground unless we can understand and explain it as a part of the responsibility laid upon the hearing and teaching church towards the self-revelation of God attested in Scripture.
First, the tradition of the church is an occasion and a supplement to the doctrine of election. We need to ask of this tradition its true origin, and to what extent it may or may not be properly adapted in this respect to serve as supplement.
Second, we must enquire into the foundation of the doctrine in the divine revelation quite independently of its value and usefulness. We must then construct and expound the doctrine in accordance with that foundation. With this procedure, we can determine the pedagogic value and usefulness of the doctrine. Of course, Calvin saw this value in the trust of the mercy of God, it demonstrates the glory of God, and it inclines us to a true humility.
Third, we must seek the facts in the self-revelation of God attested in Scripture. We do not have the right to go to the bible with a question dictated to us by experience that has only an empirical basis, in order then to understand the statements of the bible as an answer to this question. In that case, we seek confirmation of the presuppositions that underlie the question. Both Augustine and Calvin are victims of this approach.
Fourth, the concept of predestination is not unequivocal. Who and what is it that in authority, time, and logic is prior to everything else. God is prior to everything else. God is prior even in election. Otherwise, God would not be God. God is the Almighty and therefore free. What we must enquire is whether it is in fact correct to do it. We might need to understand the divine government of the world in the light of the divine election of grace. We can believe and understand election itself. We might also believe and understand that God rules the world, and the world God really rules. We do this has we recognize and proclaim the electing God, the Lord, the Subject of that all-comprehensive activity? As the electing God, God is the Almighty. Thomas Aquinas placed predestination to that of divine providence. Bonaventura did the same. Calvin broke with this tradition. The Subject of the election is always unconditioned, the One whose freedom and love has determined limited who God is in particular, and as such to be omnipotent and sovereign. The true God is Lord and Ruler of all things and all events. Nothing is outside God. Everything is efficacious and significant by the will of God. God predetermines everything. Yet, God does not rule absolutely. On the contrary, such a god is a false god and idol. We can conceive of the rue God only as God is actual as Lord and Ruler. We shall do so as we conceive of God in the determination and limitation that are peculiar to God, which is the characteristics of the presence and activity of God in the world. What makes God the divine Ruler is the fact that the rule of God is determined and limited. God has concretely determined and limited God after the manner of a true king. We can never expect any decisions from God except those that rest upon this concrete determination and limitation of the being of God, upon this primal decision made in the eternal being of God. We will not consider predestination in a concept of the deity of God that is true deity because it is self-determined and self-limited. In so doing, we shall perceive both fact and the extent that the true God is the true Ruler of the world, the omnipotent sovereign over all things. We must know first who this Ruler is and what God wills and does in that rule. However, this concrete aspet of the rule of God results from our consideration and concept of the election. It is there that God is who and what God is, in contrast with all false gods and idols.
We can now attempt to give a positive answer to the question of the origin of the doctrine of election. The election in some sense does denote the basis of all the relationships between God and humanity, between God in the earliest movement toward humanity and humanity in its earliest determination by this divine movement. It is in the decision in favor of this movement, in the self-determination of God and the resultant determination of humanity, in the basic relationship that is enclosed and fulfilled within God, that God is who God is. The primal relationship belongs to the doctrine of God. The doctrine of God would be incomplete without the extension necessitated by this relationship, without the inclusion of the decision that precedes, characterizes, and gives rise to all the work of God. The decision in which God gives the divine self to humanity, and based on which God is the One who has willed and done this, who has indeed given the divine self to humanity.
Who and what is the God who is to be known at the point upon which Scripture concentrates our attention and thoughts? Who and what is the God who rules and feeds the people of God, creating and maintaining the whole world for its benefit, and guiding it according to the good-pleasure of God, according to the good-pleasure of the will of God as it is directed towards this people? Our attention and thoughts should and must be concentrated, and then from first to last the bible directs us to the name of Jesus Christ. It is in this name that we discern the divine decision in favor of the movement towards this people, the self-determination of God as Lord and Shepherd of this people. Under this name, God became a human being who then became the representative of the whole people that hastens towards this human being and derives from God. Under this name, God realized in time and became an object of human perception and Covenant-partner of the people determined by God from eternity. Under this name, God possesses this people. Under this name, God established and equipped the people that bear the name to be a light to the nations, the hope, the promise, the invitation and the summoning of all peoples and the demand and the judgment set over the whole of humanity. As all these things occurred under this name, the will of God was done. In these occurrences, we know the good-pleasure of the will of God, and therefore the purpose and orientation of the work of God, as Creator of the world and Controller of history. We will discover no grater depth in the being and work of God than that revealed in these happenings and under this name, Jesus Christ. As we have to do with Jesus Christ, we have to do with the electing God. For election is obviously the first, basic, and decisive thing that we have always to say concerning this revelation, this activity, this presence of God in the world, and therefore concerning the eternal decree and the eternal self-determination of God that bursts through and is manifested at this point. Already this self-determination, as a confirmation of the free love of God, is itself the election or choice of God. God chooses to be God in this determination. God chooses to move toward humanity and accept humanity as a partner in covenant. God chooses in Jesus Christ to give life to the people of God. God chooses to be part of the history of a people. God chooses a people under its head, Jesus Christ, to be a sign of blessing and judgment, an instrument of love, and the sacrament of the movement of God toward humanity. God chooses to work with this people with the end in view. If we would know who God is, and what the meaning and purpose of election by God is, then we must look away from all others, and excluding all side-glances or secondary thoughts, we must look only upon and to the name of Jesus Christ, and the existence and history of the people of God enclosed within Christ. If we listen to what the bible says concerning humanity, then at the point where our attention and thoughts are allowed to rest there is revealed the elect person, and united in Christ and represented by Christ as an elect people. However, just as truly there is revealed the electing God. The elect One is true human being according to the self-revelation of God, and that revelation, being the revelation by God, has the decisive word concerning humanity as well. In other words, if we would know what election is, then we must look away from all others, and excluding all side-glances or secondary thoughts we must look only upon the name of Jesus Christ and upon the actual existence and history of the people whose beginning and end are enclosed in the mystery of the name, Jesus Christ. We perceive that the statements of Scripture concerning God and humanity converge at this point. Therefore, we must formulate and understand the statements concerning the election by God of humanity, for election takes place at this point.
We have answered positively the question of the basis of the doctrine and the standpoint that we ought to take up in relation to it. Election is that which takes place at the very center of the divine self-revelation. In face of the whole history of the doctrine, we have inserted a corrective and brought a standard to light. The name of Jesus Christ, according to the divine self-revelation, forms the focus at which the two decisive beams of the truth forced upon us converge. We find on the one hand the electing God and on the other the elected humanity. It is to this name, then, that all Christina of this truth must look, from this name that it must derive, and to this name that it must strive. This view is not an innovation, as the following texts suggest.
Ephesians 1:4-5 (NRSV)
4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Barth admits that he does not place the discussion of predestination in a self-evident location. No previous dogmatic writer has done this. Such an innovation is one for which Barth needs to give account. Some elements of the reformed tradition placed it immediately after the doctrine of God and before a discussion of creation. Another tradition placed it after a discussion of creation and providence. Another tradition disconnects it from the doctrine of God and places it after a discussion of human nature and sin, and thus as an aspect of the doctrine of salvation.
In the position granted by Barth, he believes he follows the teaching of election in the biblical testimony to God and to the work and revelation of God. God elects humanity. God determines to move toward humanity, and then determines humanity for God. Such determination is the substance and basis of the prophetic and apostolic testimony. In this self-determination, God wills for humanity to God, to love and fear and God, to believe in and worship God as Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer. We must understand every portion of the biblical witness in light of this reality. In virtue of this self-determination, God wills to be God in Jesus Christ. As such, God is the Lord of Israel and the church. As such, God is the Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer of the universe and humanity. The doctrine of election deals with this primal decision. We treat of the doctrine as understood in this way within the context of the doctrine of God. We put it at the head of all other doctrines. It has a relationship to all that follows as a witness to the fact that all the works of God and ways of God have their origin in the grace of God. In virtue of this self-determination of God, God is from the first the gracious God. This self-determination is identical with the decree of the movement of God toward humanity. This movement is always the best thing that could happen to humanity. The reality and revelation of this movement is Jesus Christ. Nothing has its purpose, being, or continuance apart from grace. Even sin, death, the devil and hell do not constitute any exception to the general rule. For even in these, the knowing and willing God is gracious, even though they take effect as negation. Even the enemies of God are the servants of God and the servants of the grace of God. Thus, one cannot know God and the enemies of God at all unless one knows both they and their negative character and whole work of negation in the service that they render as instruments of the eternal, free, and immutable grace of God. God is gracious and continues gracious even where no grace exists. By grace, one can recognize the lack of grace. In the beginning, God is gracious. To know God always means to know the gracious God, even in sin and death, even under the dominion of the devil, even in the abyss of hell. Conversely, where can there by any true or serious knowledge of sin and the devil, of death and hell, if there is not also a knowledge of the gracious God?
The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in the free grace of God determines the divine self for sinful humanity and sinful humanity for God. God therefore takes upon God the rejection of humanity with all its consequences, and elects humanity to participation in the glory of God.
John 1:1-2 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
“In the beginning was the Word.” The sentence tells us what was in the beginning. It does so in the form of a declaration about the Word. The Word was in the beginning. The Word as such is before and above all created relaites. It stands completely outside the series of created things. It precedes all being and all time. It is like God. There was no time when the Word was not. This Word was in the beginning is distinct from God. Within the sphere of this creation there is no time that is not enclosed by the eternity of this Word, no space that does not have its origin in its omnipresence and which is not for this reason conditioned by it. There is no possibility of escaping or avoiding this Word. However, the question arises, where, except in or with God, can there be any being that is “in the beginning” in this sense. The answer to this question is given in the second statement. “And the Word was with God.” Here the emphasis falls beyond all doubt ukpon the two final words. This statement constitutes an assertion concerning the Word. It declares that there was no being “in the beginning” in this sense except in and with God. However, the Word itself was in and with God. It was because the Word was “with God” in this sense that it could also be “in the beginning.” However, how could it be “with God” in this sense? What do we mean when we say that it belongs to God, or that its being is at the being of God. The answer to this question is given in the third statement; and as in the first two, we mujst again find our subject in “the Word.” “And the Word was God.” The sentence tells us tha the Word was itself God. It participated in the divine mode of being, in the divine being itself. If it is correct, then the exegesis of the 4th century was on the right rack with its doctrine of the homoousion, or unity of substance of the three distinctive divine persons. The step taken in the third sentence is this, that the Word can be with God, and it can be “in the beginning,” because as person it participates in its own way with the person of the Father in the same dignity and perfection of the one divine being. John honored the title itself by applying it a few lilnes later as a predicate of Jesus. He offered no other exegesis of the concpe tgapart from that to which he made this predication. Having touched lightly on this aspect of the concept, John moves forward quickly to his own conclusion. The Word was the bearer of life, thelife that was the light of people in their age-long battle with darkness. The Word became flesh. The Word was made known to us as the unknown God. Jesus was the life which was light, the revelation of God, the saying, or address, or communication in which God declares who God is ot us. However, as this revelation God was not something other outside and alongside god. The Word was God within the revelation.
This teaching in John is quite consistent with other New Testament teaching.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
Colossians 1:17-19 (NRSV)
17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
Colossians 2:9-10 (NRSV)
9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
1 Corinthians (NRSV)
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
2 Corinthians 4:4 (NRSV)
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Hebrews 1:3 (NRSV)
3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 3:9 (NRSV)
9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;
In the name and person of Jesus Christ we are called upon to recognize the Word of God, the decree of God and the election of God at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of our own being and thinking, at the basis of our faith in the ways and works of God. Alternatively, in this person we are called upon to recognize the beginning of the Word and decree and election of God, the conclusive and absolute authority in respect of the aim and origin of all things. In the decision of God, all the works of God, both inward and outward, rest upon the freedom of God. We say that in so far as these works are done in time, they rest upon the eternal decision of God by which time is founded and governed God elects. It is this that precedes all other being and happening.
The point of this reflection upon biblical texts is this. The choice and election of God is the decision by God that John describes in John 1:1-2. Because of whom Jesus is, this is an election of grace. In the beginning, God anticipated and determined in the power of love and freedom, knowing and willing, that the goal and meaning of all the deals of God with the as yet non-existent universe should be the fact that in the Son, God would be gracious towards humanity, uniting God with humanity. In the beginning, the Father chose to establish this covenant with humanity by the giving up the Son for humanity. In the beginning, it was the choice of the Son to be obedient to grace, and therefore to offer up Himself and to become a human being in order that this covenant might be made a reality. In the beginning, it was the resolve of the Holy Spirit that this covenant with humanity would not disturb the unity of God. In its simplest and most comprehensive form, the dogma of predestination consists in the assertion that the divine predestination is the election of Jesus Christ.
However, the concept of election has a double reference, to the elector and to the elected. The name of Jesus Christ has within itself the double reference; the One called by this name is both God and person. Thus, we may divine the simplest form of the dogma into the two assertions, that Jesus Christ is the electing God and that Christ is elected humanity.
Jesus Christ is the electing God. We must begin with this assertion because by its content it has the character and dignity of a basic principle, and because the other assertion, that Jesus Christ is elected humanity, can be understood only in the light of it. First, Christ is the reconciliation between God and humanity. Christ is not only the Elected. Christ is also the Elector, and in the first instance, we must understand the election of Christ as active. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, as the Subject of this predestination. After all, it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Only as we believe in the Son can we also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election. Of Jesus Christ, we know nothing more surely and definitely than this, that in free obedience to His Father He elected to be a human being and to do the will of God. If God elects us too, then it is in and with this election of Jesus Christ, in and with this free act of obedience on the part of the Son. The election of Jesus Christ is the eternal choice and decision of God. Our first assertion tells us that Jesus Christ is the electing God. We must not ask concerning any other but Christ. In the depth of the Godhead, we shall not encounter any other but Christ. There is no such thing as Godhead in itself. Godhead is always the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, the Father is the Father of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There is no such thing as an absolute decree. There is no such thing as a will of God apart from the will of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ reveals to us our election as an election that Christ makes, by the will of Christ that is also the will of God. Christ tells us that He is the One who elects us. In the very foreground of our existence in history we can and should cleave to Christ because in the eternal background of history, in the beginning with God, he only decree which was passed, the only Word that was spoken and which prevails, was the decision that was executed by Christ.
Jesus Christ is elected humanity. In making this second assertion, we are at one with the traditional teaching. However, the Christological assertion of tradition tells us no more than that in His humanity Jesus was one of the elect. In virtue of His divinity, He was ordained and appointed Lord and Head of all others, the organ and instrument of the whole election of God and the revelation and reflection of the election of those who were elected with Him. It tells us that before all created reality, the eternal divine decision as such has as its object and content the existence of this one created being, the man Jesus of Nazareth, and the work of this man in His life and death, His humiliation and exaltation, His obedience and merit. It tells us that in and with the existence of this man, the eternal divine decision has as it subject and content the execution of the divine covenant with humanity, the salvation of all humanity. In this function, this man is the object of the eternal divine decision and foreordination. Jesus Christ is not merely one of the elect, but the elect of God. From the very beginning, as elected man He does not stand alongside the rest of the elect, but before and above them as the One who is originally and properly the Elect. Even as the object of predestination, we must still understand Jesus Christ as truly the beginning of all the ways and works of God. Further, the election of the man Jesus is specifically His election to suffering. For this reason, it is the basic at of the divine election of grace. Further still, we have to see our own election in that of the man Jesus because His election includes our election within itself and because our election has its ground in Him. As Augustine observed, the Son is the Son only by grace. The elected man Jesus was foreordained to suffer and to die. This formulation of the message of Christmas in John 1:14 already includes within itself the message of Good Friday. For “all flesh is as grass.” The election of the man Jesus means that a wrath is kindled, a sentence pronounced and finally executed, a rejection actualized. It has been determined from all eternity. The election of the man Jesus carries within itself the election of a creation that is good according to the positive will of God and of humanity as fashioned after the divine image and foreordained to the divine likeness. However, this involves necessarily the rejection of Satan, the rebel angel who is the very sum and substance of the possibility that is not chosen by God. The very essence of the creature in its misunderstanding and misuse of its creation and destiny and in its desire to be as God, to be itself a god. Satan is the shadow that accompanies the light of the election of Jesus Christ. In the divine counsel, the shadow itself is necessary as the object of rejection. In himself and as such, humanity will always do as Adam did in Genesis 3. For this reason, humanity incurs the rejection that rests upon its temptation and corruption. Humanity stands under the wrath of God as the only answer God gives to the creature that abuses and dishonors its creatureliness. Exposed to the power of this divine negation, humanity is guilty of death. However, this humanity is, in the election of the man, Jesus, is loved by God from eternity and elected to fellowship with God. Humanity was powerless against the insinuation of the tempter and seducer, thus became the enemy of God, and therefore incurred rejection and death. God, in love for humanity, transfers from all eternity the rejection that all people incurred to Christ, in whom God loves and elects them, and whom God elects at their head and in their place. For this reason, Christ is the Lamb slain; the crucified Jesus is the image of the invisible God. If others find election based upon the election of this man, Jesus, then that election is free grace. The ones who “in Him” God elects and makes partakers of grace are those who could see in themselves only lost sinners oppressed of the devil. If Christ did not stand at their head, God would reject them forever. They have nothing that they can call their own except their transgression. Yet, these transgressors are the ones on whose behalf God wills and extends the eternal love of God for Jesus Christ.
We have laid down and developed two statements concerning the election of Jesus Christ. The first is that Jesus Christ is the electing God, and therefore Christ is the Subject of the eternal election of grace. The second is that Jesus Christ is elected humanity, and therefore Christ is the object of the eternal election of grace. These two statements contain the whole dogma of predestination. Both statements speak of the one Jesus Christ, and God and humanity in Jesus Christ are both Elector and elect. In the beginning with God was this One, Jesus Christ. That is predestination.
Since I have strayed far from the classical formulation of the doctrine of election, I will need to spend some time justifying this departure.
First, I will begin with some epistemological observations. The eternal will of God is the election of Jesus Christ. Previous interpretations of the doctrine considered the Subject and object of predestination as unknown. How do we know that Jesus Christ is the electing God and elected humanity? How do we know that we must ground all that one can say concerning this mystery in the name, Jesus Christ? We may ask the older exponents of the doctrine how they on their side know about God and humanity who are unknown. The decisive point is the reading of the bible itself. It is the question where and how we find in the bible itself the electing God and elected humanity, and therefore that reality of the divine election as a whole that must shape our thinking about the election and form the object of all our individual reflection concerning it. Proportionately, the passages in the bible that speak expressly of the divine election and predestination are not numerous. In the bible, the eternal God is the electing God. God acts as the electing God. Further, God elects temporal humanity. In respect of the divine work of creation, reconciliation, and redemption as attested in the bible, we are in agreement with the classical exponents of the doctrine in that to a greater or less degree of distinctness all of us understand the name and person of Jesus Christ as the consummation and meaning of all that God says and does. Jesus Christ is the goal of the divine purpose for humanity. Yet, we must ask whether these Reformed thinkers applied themselves to these passages as constantly and continuously as they should have done, whether they were always as faithful to their own insights as we should expect, in this matter of predestination. We must answer these questions in the negative. How is it that anyone who interprets the bible accurately in the matter of eternal election can refer it to some other reality, and not to Jesus Christ?
Second, with the traditional teaching and the testimony of Scripture, we think of predestination as eternal, preceding time and all the contents of time. We know the will of God apart from predestination only as the act in which from all eternity, God affirms and confirms who God is. Under the concept of predestination, we say that in freedom God tied who God is to the universe. Under the concept of predestination, we confess the eternal will of the God who is free within the divine self, even in the sense that originally God wills and affirms who God is. However, we depart from the tradition when we say that for us there is no obscurity about this good-pleasure of the eternal will of God. 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, mercy, and righteousness of this good-pleasure, we do not need to do so merely as a bald statement of fact. As we understand the freedom of the predestinating God, it opens up itself to our knowledge. It is this positive understanding that constitutes our deviation from Reformed tradition. The core of this innovation is that we must not separate ourselves from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We find the disclosure of predestination in Christ. As the self-revealing God, God is the electing God. The eternal will of God is the same as the eternal will of God above time, which reveals itself in time. It is a question of revelation. It is a question of the knowledge of the will of God. Even under this aspect, it is still a mater of the intelligent reverence, worship, and love of God. The will of God is Jesus Christ, and we know this will in the revelation of Jesus Christ. If we acknowledge this, then we cannot seek any other will of God. This will is the will of God. We must abide by it because God abides by it, because God allows us to abide by it. This decree of God is clear.
Third, the eternal will of God in the election of Jesus Christ is the will of God to give who God is for the sake of humanity as created by God and fallen from God. According to the bible, this was what took place in the incarnation of the Son of God, in His death and passion, in His resurrection from the dead. We must think of this as the content of the eternal divine predestination.
What was it that God elected in the eternal election of Jesus Christ? Primarily, God elected or predestinated God. God determined to give and to send forth the Son. God determined to speak the Word of God. The beginning in which the Son became obedient to the Father was with God. The form and concretion of the will of God, was reached in God. All the freedom of God and love of God were identical with this decree, with the election of Jesus Christ. That is the one side of the matter. The other side is that God elected humanity. The decision of God and the ordination of God concerned humanity. God predestinated the Son to existence as the son of David. God decreed that God would sound forth the Word of God in the world of humanity. It was this man, Jesus Christ, who was in the beginning with God. For the present, we must be content with the simple assertion that there is already, a double predestination. It is obvious that when we confess that God has elected fellowship with humanity for God we are stating one thing, and when we confess that God has elected fellowship with God for humanity we are stating quite another. Both things together are the divine election. However, if the object is twofold so also is its content. It is one thing for God to elect and predestinate God to fellowship with humanity, and quite another for God to predestinate humanity to fellowship with God. If the Reformed teachers of predestination were right when they spoke of a duality, of predestination to salvation and perdition, then we may say already that in the election of Jesus Christ, God has ascribed to humanity the election of salvation, and the election of perdition to God in the Son.
speak first of this negative side. For in the eternal predestination of God,
the first thing is that God has elected God as the Friend and Partner with
humanity. God has elected fellowship with humanity. What was involved when God
elected to become the Son of Man in Jesus Christ? In giving the divine self to this
act, God ordained the surrender of the impassability of God. The very fact that
humanity was not God, but a creature, even though humanity was a good creature,
had meant already a certain jeopardizing of the honor of God as whose
instrument humanity had been created. Will humanity
live by the Word of God? What a risk God ran when God willed to take up the cause
of created humanity even in the original righteousness of humanity, when God
constituted God as the God of humanity and ordained God to solidarity with
humanity! God does not merely give God up to the risk and menace, but God
exposes who God is to the actual onslaught and grasp of evil. For if God became
a human being, what else can this mean but that God declared God guilty of the
contradiction against God in which humanity was involved. God submitted who God
is to the law of creation by which such a contradiction could
be accompanied only by loss and destruction. God became the object of
the wrath and judgment to which humanity brought itself. God took up the
rejection that humanity had deserved. God tasted the damnation, death, and hell
that ought to have been the portion of fallen humanity. If we would know what
it was that God elected for God when God elected fellowship with humanity, then
we can answer only that God elected our rejection. God helped it belong to God.
God bore it and suffered it with all its most bitter consequences. For the sake
of this choice and for the sake of humanity, God exposed the divine self to
immense risk. God elected human suffering to become part of the divine life. Election
by God is an election of grace, an election of love, an election to give the
divine life, an election to empty and abase the divine life for the sake of the
elect. Judas who betrays Christ, God elects as an apostle. In the sentence of
Pilate, God elects a revelation of the judgment of God on the world. God elects
the cross of
We now turn to the other aspect of this same reality. What did God elect in the election of Jesus Christ? We have said already that not only did God elect fellowship with humanity for god, but God also elected fellowship with humanity. God willed humanity and elected humanity with the promise of eternal life. Life as a witness to the overflowing glory of God is eternal life. In this foreordination humanity exists in the beginning of all things, in the decree of God with God. We state at once that we have to do here with the positive content, the Yes of predestination. The danger-point of the susceptibility of humanity to temptation, and the zero-point of the fall of humanity, were thus included in the divine decree. God willed that the object of this election should be God and not humanity. God removed from humanity and took upon God the burden of the evil that unavoidably threatened and actually achieved and exercised dominion in the world that god had ordained as the theater of the glory of God. God removed from humanity and took upon God the suffering that resulted form this dominion, including the condemnation of sinful humanity. For this reason, we cannot ascribe any autonomy to the world of evil or to the will of God as God directs it towards and assents to it in a permissive form. In Jesus Christ, we can see and know this whole sphere of evil, as something that God has already overcome, something that yields, and something that God has destroyed by the positive will of the overflowing glory of God. God has elected and ordained humanity to bear the image of this glory. That alone is what we see and know in Jesus Christ in relation to humanity. The suffering borne on the cross of Golgotha by humanity in unity with the Son of God, who is as such a sacrifice for the sins of the world, is a stage on the road, an unavoidable point of transition, to the glory of the resurrection, ascension and session. However, the Son of God is not glorified. God who humbled the divine self according to the decree of God had no need of glorifying. God does not experience glorifying, but rather, in the power of the deity of God, God realizes and accomplishes it. It is evident that by an act of renunciation God diverts to humanity the portion that rightly belongs to God. The glory, goodness, and blessedness that we find in the sphere of creation no longer belong to God. God has given away what belongs ot God. God has given away the divine self and all the prerogatives of the Godhead. God has given them to the man, Jesus, and in Christ to the creature. There can be no doubt that in the overflowing of the glory of God is sacrificial love. Love seeks not its own, bujt the things of others. This corresponds to the humiliation that the Son of God accepted on behalf of the lost humanity, and to the whole exaltation conferred upon humanity by this divine favor. The thought of the predestination of God can awaken only joy. It is a way willed by God. At the end of this way, the glory of God is revealed in the fact that God removed the threat and became our salvation. In the light of the end, there is no place for anything but joy. Only the end affects us, only grace. For this reason, in relation to the divine predestination we must look always to that end. This is not a matter of optimism. It is a matter of being obedient and not disobedient, of being thankful and not self-willed. In obedience and thankfulness, we can only rejoice at the double predestination of God.
because it is identical with the election of Jesus Christ, the eternal will of
God is a divine activity in the form of the history encounter and decision
between God and humanity. The eternal will of God that is the predestination of
all things is the life of God in the form of the history, encounter, and
decision between God and humanity. This history, encounter, and decision God already
willed and knew from all eternity, and to that extent prior to all external
events, are already actual before God and for God.
When we look at the content of the divine predestination, at once we can say
that the divine life, which God actively expressed in this predestination from
the very beginning, is the life of the love of God. The fact that the love of
God was there at the very beginning of all things, as the purpose and power of
this overflowing of the inward being of God as the living God, is not in any
way limited or questioned but rather confirmed by the truth that the divine
predestinating is done in freedom. There is a single but comprehensive autonomy
of the creature that is constituted originally by the
act of eternal divine election and which has in this act its ultimate reality.
We cannot over-emphasize the freedom of God and sovereignty in this act. We
cannot assert too strongly that in the election of grace it is a matter of the
decision and initiative of the precedence over the One who is
elected. We can hardly go too far or say too much along these lines,
more particularly when we remember between God and humanity in the person of
Jesus Christ. Who has the initiative in this relationship? Who has the
precedence? Who decides? Who rules? God. God founds
and maintains the union between God and humanity. God awakens humanity to
existence before God and summons humanity to the service of God. God in the Son
is the person of human beings. All that humanity can and will do is to pray, to
follow, and to obey. The motive for this establishment of the kingdom is not in
an autocratic self-seeking, but a love that directs itself outwards, a
self-giving to the creature. It is still true that God wills to be God even in
the relationship God has with the reality distinct from God. It is still true
that in this will, the glory of God ordains for itself this overflowing as the
predestination of all things. The goodness of the will of God and work depends
upon the fact that in the smallest things as in the greatest, God wills,
fulfills, and reveals who God is. However, God wills, fulfills, and reveals
recognizing the distinct reality of the creature, granting, and conceding to it
an individual and autonomous place side by side with God. 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. I note a further limitation of the traditional Reformed teaching
at this point. There can be no doubt that understood in this way the concept
could and did help forward the cause of Deism. Deism separated the Creator of
the world from the world process. The decree of God is a living decree, a
decision that is intuitively more living than any
decree of humanity. It is also spirit and life in a way impossible even for the
very best of the written laws of humanity as best expounded
or applied. As against this tendency, we must remember that predestination,
like creation and reconciliation, like vocation, justification, sanctification,
and glorification, describes a divine activity, and that there is no reason why
we should suddenly substitute for this concept a concept of isolated and static
being. When we speak of the divine predestination, we speak of an eternal
happening. In principle, predestination God does not conceal from us. It takes
place in the foundation and existence and guidance of
The election of grace, as the election of Jesus Christ, is
simultaneously the eternal election of the one community of God 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
The community is the human fellowship that in a particular way provisionally forms the natural and historical environment of the man, Jesus Christ. Its particularity consists in the fact that by its existence it has to witness to Him in face of the whole world, to summon the whole world to faith in Christ. Its provisional character consists in the fact that in virtue of this office and commission it points beyond itself to the fellowship of all people in face of which it is a witness and herald. The community that has to be described in this way forms the inner circle of the other election that has taken place in and with the election of Jesus Christ. In so far as, on the one hand, it forms this special environment of the man, Jesus, the inner circle, but on the other hand, it is itself of the world or chosen described as mediate and mediating in respect of its mission and function. It is mediate, as far as it is the middle point between the election of Jesus Christ and the election of those who have believed, and do and will believe, in Christ. It is mediating as far as the relation between the election of Jesus Christ and that of all believers is mediated and conditioned by it.
Who and what is Jesus Christ in His relation to the community of God? We have the answer for this in a proper exegesis of Romans 9-11. We might begin with the opening verses.
Romans 9:1-5 (NRSV)
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Romans 9:6-7 (NRSV)
It is not as
though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to
Galatians 4:21-31 (NRSV)
21 Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law,
will you not listen to the law? 22 For it is
written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by
a free woman. 23 One, the child of the slave, was born according to
the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the
promise. 24 Now this is an allegory: these
women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from
“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married.”
28 Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. 29 But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” 31 So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.
Romans 4:9-25 (NRSV)
9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, 12 and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Romans 9:10-13 (NRSV)
10 Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11 Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12 not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written,
“I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau.”
Romans 9:14-29 (NRSV)
14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.
God’s Wrath and Mercy
19 You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23 and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they shall be called children of the living God.”
Isaiah cries out concerning
“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,
have fared like
Romans 9:30-33 (NRSV)
30 What then are we
to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that
is, righteousness through faith; 31 but
“See, I am
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 10:1-21 (NRSV)
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
I ask, did
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But of
Romans 11 (NRSV)
Israel’s Rejection Is Not Final
(Cp Ps 69.22—23; Isa 29.10)
ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I
myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of
Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected
his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah,
how he pleads with God against
“God gave them a sluggish spirit,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and keep their backs forever bent.”
The Salvation of the Gentiles
11 So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israeljealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14 in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! 16 If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.
if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were
grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do
not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that
support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 You will say,
“Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20
That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you
stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches,
perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the
severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness
toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise
you also will be cut off. 23 And even those
25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.”
28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
God as such rejects the human being who is isolated over against God. However, to be this human being can only be by the choice of the godless human being. The witness of the community of God to every individual person consists in this. This choice of the godless human being is void. This person belongs eternally to Jesus Christ and therefore is not rejected, but rather elected by God in Jesus Christ. The rejection that this person deserves because of his or her perverse choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ. This person has an appointment to eternal life with God based on the righteous, divine decision. The promise of this person’s election determines that as a member of the community, he or she shall bear witness to the whole world. Further, the revelation of this persons’ rejection can only determine him or her to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled.
matter before us, Barth again admits that he departs from Reformed tradition.
The problem of the divine election is not exhausted in
the problem of the election of individual human beings. On the contrary, the
former embraces the latter. The latter can be appraised
only in its connection with the former. However, its connection with the former
consists in its relation to the problem of the election of Jesus Christ and
with this the election of
We might also note secular versions of election, such as in Nazi and Communist theories.
However, the term “individual human being,” which we have provisionally used, is ambiguous in this context. We must now clarify it by a definition of those who, in and through the community, are the object of divine predestination. People have an individuality in relation to the human group: the family, the nation, the state, society, the total complex of human nature and history. The event that stands under the sign of divine predestination does not take place between God and one of these groups, but between God and individual human beings. The sing itself already refers to them. This election has been made in Jesus Christ. The community is its necessary medium. However, it object is individual human beings. Certainly, these individuals in their group relationships, in the callings, obligations, duties, restrictions, and potentialities, which are given in such relationships. However, individuals are actively responsible in these relationships, and not the groups themselves or any single group. There are no predestined families and no predestined nations, nor predestined humanity. There are only predestined individuals, predestined in Jesus Christ and by way of the community. It is individuals who are chosen and not the totality of humanity. God seeks, calls, blesses, and sanctifies the many, the totality, the natural and historical groups, and humanity itself, in and through the individual. Predestined humanity is not met by honor and approval, but by justification by grace alone, by forgiveness. Such humanity is not the object of divine election in virtue of a life that is acceptable and welcome to God, but because God covers, transforms, and renews his or her unworthy and rebellious life. Such humanity the sovereign God encounters, not with a natural Therefore, but with a miraculous Nevertheless. Such humanity God chooses for the sake of the will of God. Such humanity God makes a partner of the covenant of God quite apart from and contrary to his or her own merit or ability. Predestined humanity is humanity made usable to God by the Holy Spirit.
We have described the election of the individual more precisely as the election in Jesus Christ of the godless human being who is shown to be elect in the fact that as a hearing and believing recipient of the promise of the election of the person, the person may live the life of the elect. Barth admits he has traveled far from the classical Reformed doctrine of predestination. We have interpreted the concept of the divine decree by the main articles of Christology: The unity and difference of the divine and human nature, the humiliation and the exaltation, the prophetic, high-priestly and kingly office of Jesus Christ. We have understood Jesus Christ as the one Elector and Elect, and again as the one Rejector and Rejected. We have understood predestination as the election of the community to be the witness of this determination and non-determination of the many decided in the election of Jesus Christ. These are the propositions by which Barth says he departs from Reformed tradition.
To the distinction, peculiar to the elect, of the relationship of God to them and their relationship to God, there corresponds objectively their difference from other people. This difference is their calling. However, their calling, the work of the Holy Spirit is that by means of the community the election of Jesus Christ may be proclaimed to them as their own election, and that they may be assured of their election by faith in Jesus Christ, in whom it was brought about. It is from this solidarity of the elect and the rejected in the One Jesus Christ that there arises a very definite recollection for the elect and an equally definite expectation for others. The recollection for this elect is this. The distinction of the relationship of God to them, and of their relationship to God, is originally and properly the distinction of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Son and Friend of God. It is with Christ that God is well pleased because God recognizes the countenance of God in Christ. Christ is the secret of God, which is the basis of the fact that there is such a distinction for others also. Apart from Christ, the elect cannot be elect, but they and all people are inevitably rejected. Prophecy and announcement is the form the witness to Christ takes in the Old Testament.
The election of a person, takes place with a very definite purpose. What is this determination of the elect? To what is the person elected? We must now consider this question further.
comprehensive and decisive answer is that an elect person is elect in, with,
by, and for Jesus Christ. To this determination from Christ and to Christ
everything that one might otherwise regard as his or her natural and historical
determination is subject. In Christ, persons are who they are, and will be who
they will be. Their fulfillment and their limitation are in Christ. The Yes and
No of their lives are eternally spoken in Christ. Who
they are or may be in Christ, by their individuality or personality as given
them by God, is revealed in the fact that the Holy
Spirit in accordance with their election calls them. The particular meaning and
order of their being are based upon and will also be
actualized and revealed in the fact that that Jesus Christ is for them.
As Jesus Christ is for them, the goal and content of their own lives are
foreordained. The purpose for which God chose them is to be the kind of person
for whom Jesus Christ is. Every election of individuals is an election in the
sphere of the community. We reach back to the basis of the true doctrine of
predestination if we begin with the statement that the determination of the
elect consists in the fact that people allow themselves to beloved by God. They
live as those whom from all eternity God, incomprehensible and unmerited
goodness, will not renounce. This is indeed the determination of Jesus Christ,
in our flesh, to be the One loved of God from and to all eternity. This is the
What do gratitude, and therefore blessedness, and therefore being loved by God mean? Clearly, participation in the life of God in a human existence and action in which there is a representation and illustration of the glory of God and its work. There can be no question of anything more. Gratitude is the response to a kindness that one cannot repeat or return. One can only recognize and confirm an answer that corresponds to it and reflects it. Gratitude is the establishment of this correspondence. The gratitude of the elect for the grace of God cannot be anything more than the establishment of this correspondence. The elect are those who stand in the service and commission of the gracious God. Because of their election, God summoned them by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
individual is as such a messenger of God. This is their service and commission.
It is for this purpose that they may represent and portray the glory of the
grace of God. It is in this that they may be grateful and blessed. God sends
them. They are apostles. The reason for this is the election of Jesus Christ to
be an apostle of grace. Its context is the apostolate of grace that is the
meaning and order of the life of the whole community of God. The determination
of the elect is to allow the light that has kindled within them to shine. The
determination of the elect is to pass on the good news of the love of God for
humanity that they have received. The determination of the elect is to make the
calling, in which God has given them a share, their own concern in respect of
all others. It is not within the power of the elect to elect others, or to call
others. They have not called or elected themselves. However, it certainly is
within their power to be a faithful, joyful, and earnest witness to the
election and calling of these others. It is a modest task. They do not need to
inquire as to the worthiness or unworthiness of the recipient of their message.
While they are responsible for delivering it, they are not responsible for its
success. Finally, the determination of the elect consists in the fact that in
and with their election and calling, in and with the service for which they are
intended and which they have to perform, the ongoing of the reconciling work of
the living God in the world is included and takes place. The election of each
individual involves an opening up and enlargement of the closed circle of the election
of Jesus Christ and His community in relation to the world, or an invasion of
the dark kingdom of the lies that rule in the world, a retreat and shrinkage of
its godless self-glorification. The existence of each elect means a hidden but
real crossing of frontiers, to the gain of the
To what does God elect individuals? The New Testament answers this question with its portrayal of the existence of the apostles: their calling, appointment and mission. It is in them, in their being and their deeds, that the Church can and should recognize itself as the assembly of the elect for all time. It is in them that each individual member of the Church can and should recognize the meaning and purpose of their own election.
What is their determination? According to the New Testament, it is simply the transmission of the assurance and promise that have come upon themselves. The determination of elect is therefore the attestation, the proclamation of Jesus Christ in the sphere of the world. The world consists of people who have not yet heard the name of Christ, who have not yet come to believe in Christ, who have not yet been benefited by the work that as the prophet, priest, and king of God, all of which Christ performed for them as well. The people of the world stand under the lordship of Christ, but have not yet recognized and confessed Christ as Lord, or given thanks to Christ as Lord. The determination of the apostles is to go into this world with the task of baptizing it. Through the apostles, this is the determination of the Church, and in the Church, it is the determination of all its members, of the elect. If God elects an individual, it is that he or she may be a witness to Jesus Christ, and therefore a proclaimer of the glory of God.
individuals are those who isolate themselves from God by resisting their
election as it has taken place in Jesus Christ. God is for them. They are
against God. God is gracious to them. They are ungrateful to God. God receives
them. They withdraw from God. God forgives them their sins. They repeat them as
though God had not forgiven them. God releases them from the guilt and
punishment of their defection. However, they go on living as the prisoner of
Satan. God determines them for blessedness and for the service of God. They
choose the joylessness of an existence that accords with their own pride and
aims at their own honor. Rejected people exist in their own way alongside the
elect. We do not fully understand the answer to the question concerning the
determination of the elect if we refuse to consider the situation of these
others, the rejected. What is the will of God for them? What is the purpose,
the goal and content, the planned outworking and fulfillment, the meaning and
order of their existence as itself an object of the divine predetermination?
The rejection of humanity is the rejection borne eternally and by Jesus Christ
in the power of divine self-giving. God rejects the rejection. Because this is
so, the rejected human being is other than the elect. Only as such do they
share as rejected people in the grace of creation and providence. They also
stand in the sphere of the eternal covenant of divine grace. The election and
First, in the reality of the existence peculiar to them, it is the determination of the rejected to manifest the recipients of the Gospel whose proclamation is the determination of the elect. The rejected has not simply vanished or been destroyed. Thanks to the divine wisdom and patience, they can take differed forms within the appointed limit. In this capacity, they represent the world and the individual as far as they are in need of the divine election.
Second, in the distinctive character of their existence, the rejected has the determination constantly to manifest that which is denied and overcome by the Gospel. The rejected are the people whose only witness is to themselves and their false choice as those isolated over against God, the people who at the deepest level and in the deepest sense has nothing at all to say. They are the ones who live in a false service as well as in a false liberty. They are the people who are deceived because they deceive themselves.
Third, the rejected have the determination, in the distinctive limitation of their existence, to manifest the purpose of the Gospel. The rejected have no future. As those who will to be their own master, they can only achieve their own destruction. However, the purpose of the divine election of grace is to grant to those who have no future, a future in covenant with God. It is with this in view that the Gospel speaks. It is with this purpose that God turns to humanity, and that God addresses the Word of God to humanity.
Iscariot is the supreme example in the New Testament of the rejected portion of
humanity. The savage and sinful handing over of Jesus by Judas, in itself
without justification, corresponds objectively to the handing over of Jesus
into the hands of humanity that is the meaning and content of the apostolic
ministry, by which the Church on earth is established and maintained. The latter
handing over rectifies the mischief done by the former. Jesus is glorified as He was once blasphemed. Yet, the New
Testament does not speak only of a wrathful delivery of Jesus. It also speaks
of a divine handing over. Everything positive that Christ does for humanity, so
that it is a reality for humanity in Christ, and effective by faith in Christ,
is rooted and grounded in the fact that Christ first gave Himself for humanity,
or as in Romans 8, God handed him over for humanity. This was for us. Paul
strongly emphasized this. This handing over is the eternal will of God. It did
not happen by chance. It has nothing whatever to do with human tragedy or the
like. It had to happen, as the will of God, and not the will of fate. From this
position, which Paul so strongly advocates, we will now look back to the
observations that we made regarding the other use of handing over. To begin
with, it is obvious that no worse fate overtakes the Jews and Gentiles handed
over by God in the wrath of God, or those Christians whose delivery to Satan is occasionally mentioned, than that which God caused to the
divine self in the handing over of the Son. However, the more profoundly and
comprehensively we attempt to formulate the sin and guilt of Judas, the more
nearly his will and deed approach what neither he himself willed and did, nor the
As the doctrine of the command of God, ethics interprets the Las as the form of the Gospel. That is, ethics is the sanctification that comes to humanity through the electing God. Because Jesus Christ is the holy God and sanctified human being in One, ethics has its basis in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Because the God who claims humanity for a relationship with God because responsible for humanity, ethics forms part of the doctrine of God. The function of ethics is to bear primary witness to the grace of God as far as this is the saving engagement and commitment of humanity.
In the true Christina concept of the covenant of God with humanity, the doctrine of the divine election of grace is the first element, and the doctrine of the divine command is the second. The Christian doctrine of God cannot have only God for its content. Since its object is this God, it must also have humanity, to the extent that in Jesus Christ humanity is made a partner in the covenant decreed and founded by God. The first element in the concept of this covenant is the doctrine of the election of the grace of predestination. However, the concept of the covenant is not exhausted by the doctrine of election. The partner in this covenant is humanity. What does it mean for humanity to be a partner in the covenant, in this relationship to God? In the doctrine of election, we had to ask the purpose of the electing God for humanity. We found the answer in the will of God to rule over humanity. God wills to take humanity into the service of God and the commissioning of humanity for a share in the work of God. God wills to make humanity a witness a witness of Jesus Christ, and by this, to become a witness to the glory of God. However, obviously, we must now go on to ask what it is that God from humanity. What does God expect or demand from humanity? The divine election is the determination of humanity to this service, this commission, this office, of witness. When we come to this second question, we do not leave the circle of our consideration of the being, essence, and activity of God. Within this circle, the question arises. With the determination of humanity by God as this takes place in predestination, the question arises as to the self-determination of humanity, consisting in responsibility and decision, obedience and action. To answer this question cannot impose any limitation upon the knowledge of the authority of the grace of God. We speak only of the gospel. Ruling grace is commanding grace. The Gospel has the form and fashion of the Law. The one Word of God is both Gospel and Law. The content of the Word of God is Gospel, and the form and fashion of the Word of God is Law. Humanity derives from the grace of God, and therefore exposed to this question. Before humanity was, before the world was, God drew humanity into relationship with God. Strangely enough, because of this, sin presses insistently. Humanity is not content to be the answer to this question by the grace of God. Humanity wants to be like God. Humanity wants to know good and evil. Humanity wants to give this answer from within itself. Diverse ethical systems are the result of this prolonging of the fall. They are human attempts to answer the ethical question. However, this question can be solved by the grace of God, which allows humanity actually to be the answer. Such systems are similar to sin. The ethical question arises from human social experience. Yet, the grace of God, shown in Christ, is the sum total of the good. We cannot act as if we had to ask and decide the good from within human experience. Such a general conception of ethics is instructive. It speaks of an answer to the question of ethics which humanity works out for itself. Humanity works out its ethical and moral life as we face each other. Every interpersonal interaction and every social system has ethical implications precisely because they deal with the question of what we owe to each other. The raising of such questions is a sign of the prevenient grace of God at work in us and among us. When humanity raises such questions, it raises the ultimate question of to whom it is responsible for individual and corporate life. As such, ethical questions arise from the experience of human beings in the world, including the experience of accountability for human life to the Infinite and Eternal. This sense of human responsibility to the Infinite and Eternal raises questions of the proper ends for human activity. In that sense, the further revelation of who God is and what God wants that Christians find in Jesus Christ is a continuation, development, and enrichment of the human experience of struggling with ethical questions. Christian ethics is not the result of a positivistic imposition or intervention of what God wants of humanity. Therefore, Christian ethics has much to learn in dialogue with philosophy, sociology, psychology, and other religions. Christians do not have the luxury of creating an isolated community separated from the rest of humanity. In acknowledgment of the gracious action of God in creation and in wooing the human spirit toward what God wants, humanity has much to learn from each other. Human beings are not at the end of history. Therefore, they need to remain open to each other, in continual dialogue and debate. No one has the right to end prematurely the ethical discussion. For Barth, this general conception of ethics corresponds to sin. If the doctrine of God is ethics, this means that it must become divine ethics as the attestation of the good of the command issued to Jesus Christ and fulfilled by Christ. No other good exists part from this. Other apparent goods are good in dependence upon this good. Christian ethics has no positive connection to a general conception of ethics. Christian ethics cannot be its continuation, development, and enrichment. It is not one disputant in debate with others. It puts an end to the discussion and involves a choice and separation.
What I want to do is consider several approaches to the relationship between theological ethics and general ethical reflection.
First, in this sense, Christian ethics needs to acknowledge the apologetic case of considering ethical life within the sphere of human relationships, while at the same time freely acknowledging the ends toward which Christians work. Theological ethics and the general ethical concern of human beings have a relationship with each other that consists of on-going dialogue and debate, for both are part of the human enterprise of discovering the best human life we can lead. Christians need to carry on this dialogue with great respect for their own traditions, discerning those places where the tradition can contribute to the various challenges of modern life. Christians will also need to allow the ethical questions raised by the tradition to address questions that people living in a modern world may not raise on their own. Christians will need to recognize the grace of God at work in such ethical questions, even where human beings may not be aware of the working of grace. Such ethical enquiry by humanity is never independent of grace. Given the social nature of humanity, such ethical questions are part of human nature. Theological ethics must believe in the work and revelation of the grace of God and the rule of God over all ethical problems. Theological ethics will regard the revelation of the grace of God as so true and the work of grace as so powerful that it understands humanity as determined by the command God and oriented toward what God intends. In theological ethics, moral enquiry and reply are dependent upon a response to the command of God. Ethical enquiry and reply in human discourse and debate suggests a universal possibility for this discussion. One cannot evade this discussion because we cannot escape from grace. The general ethical enquiry and reply is for theological ethics a witness to the ethical knowledge that it has to present in the command of God. In this sense, theological ethics is an apologetic enterprise. Far from destroying theological ethics, such an enterprise will bring theological reflection into the public square with its unique perspective on the ends toward which human ethical action trend. However, theological ethics cannot disarm itself of its own traditions without destroying itself.
ethics uses this Christian self-consciousness in several ways. One school of
thought sees a special source for theological ethics. Another school of thought
focuses upon the special subject of theological ethics, namely, the Christian.
A third school of thought focuses on a special presupposition of theological
ethics, such as the Spirit operating in believers. A fourth school of thought
is the special content of theological ethics, such as moral law, the
We need to contemplate two things. First, can theology restrict itself to a sphere that is no doubt remarkably distinguished by the concepts of religion, revelation, church, grace, Spirit, and so on, but which is characterized as a very narrow and obscure sphere by its isolation from sphere of reason, experience, and human self-determination. Second, can theology really ascribe to reason, experience, human self-determination, and so on, an independent content of truth, an autonomous dignity and authority, which in its own consciousness it can safely leave on one side? Is the revelation of God of the truth, or is it only the source of certain religious ideas and obligations, alongside which there are very different ones in other spheres? If theological ethics has to do with the command of God, this differentiation obviously belongs to the things that one cannot expect of it. We must forbid this line of thought as well, because it would then be that we would abandon the ethical task of the doctrine of God before we even begin it. The differentiation of theological ethics from other ethics can have meaning if we understand it as a provisional detachment from an ethics whose theological basis we cannot yet make explicit. Alternatively, we could assert definitive detachment from an ethics that lacks or desires this theological basis and all ethical truth as enclosed in the command of God. To speak with universally binding force is an obligation from which theological ethics cannot possibly seek exemption. It has to take up the legitimate problems, concerns, and motives and assertions of every other ethics as such. Therefore, after testing them in ethics in so far as it has to receive from them at every point the material for its own deliberations. To that extent, its attitude to every other ethics is not negative but comprehensive. However, just because it is comprehensive, it is fundamentally critical and decidedly not one of compromise. It is in agreement with every other ethics adduced to the extent that the latter is obviously aware of its origin basis in the command of God. However, it cannot take it seriously to the extent that it tries to deny or obscure its derivation from the command of God with independent principles and autonomy. Either way, theological ethics renounces openly the motive that lurks behind that division of roles. It will not assign separate tasks to itself and others to general ethics.
A third possible way to think about the relationship between theological ethics and other ethics is the Roman Catholic view. It does not surrender the authority of theology, submit to alien principles, or escape into the narrow confines of a special theological task. It claims universal human morality as Christian morality. It recognizes universal human morality as an equal partner for theological morality. Moral philosophy and moral theology are mutually coordinated, presuppose, and complete each other. This attempt is imposing and classical. It maintains that the knowledge of God must be the same ultimate and proper presupposition of all ethics. Theological ethics cannot allow this other ethics to put and answer the question of truth. It could give us the irenic and polemic. This solution appears ideal. The problem is this. Within the framework of the command of the grace of God as the content of theological ethics, it cannot have the status that properly belongs to it. For this Roman Catholic coordination of moral philosophy and moral theology has its basis in the view of the harmony that is achieved in the concept of being between nature and super-nature, reason and revelation, humanity and God. It is quite impossible to see who, in this basic view, grace can really emerge as grace and the command as command. According to this view, the falls does not alter the fact that the imitative knowledge of humanity is capable and to that extent partakes of true being even without grace. Therefore, by the analogy of being, it assumes communion with the supreme essential and good being, God, although because of the fall a special illumination by the grace of revelation is needed to prevent it from falling into error. This presupposition of Roman Catholic construction is unacceptable. The liberal Protestant view, theological ethics can never become a command that affects individuals personally and binds individuals unconditionally. It can certainly never become a command of God, as far as by God is meant the Lord who in Jesus Christ controls humanity by the decree of the mercy of God. The enterprise of theological ethics is not on with which to trifle. One must take it up properly, or one had better leave it alone. The complaint that we have to make against the Roman construction of the relationship between theological ethics and general human ethics is that it is dominated by this great distraction, and therefore it only plays at theological ethics. It thinks it can combine and coordinate the Christian and the human far too easily. To achieve this combination and coordination it has emptied out what is Christian. Therefore, in spite of its inherent advantages, we cannot accept it.
Now that we have made these delimitations, we can give the following outline of the ethical enquiry of a church dogmatics and its relationship to other ethical enquires. Starting out from the knowledge of the divine election of humanity, we can know of no human action that does not stand under the command of God, of no human existence that does not respond in one way or another to the command of God, which has not the character of obedience or disobedience to the command of God. This means, first, that even this general question has its basis in the fact that humanity is confronted with the command of God, that the command of God is objectively valid for humanity. Only for the reason, humanity is in a position to ask about right conduct. However, if from the very first it understands humanity and the ethical problem from this standpoint, and regulates its own enquiry and reply in accordance wit it, it immediately leaves the general series. In all its solidarity with this series, it confronts it as questions and summons. Secondly, this orientation of theological ethics means that while it enquires concerning the right conduct of humanity, it cannot cease to attest and interpret the reality of God. Even as ethics, theology is wholly and utterly the knowledge and representation of the Word and work of God. What is said to humanity is the Word and work of divine election that has taken place and been revealed in Jesus Christ. This Word and work of God as such is also the sanctification of humanity, the establishment and revelation of the divine law. What right conduct is for humanity is determined in the right conduct of God. It is determined in Jesus Christ. He is the electing God and elected humanity in One. However, Christ is also the sanctifying God and sanctified humanity in One. In His person, God has acted rightly towards us. In the same person, humanity has also acted rightly for us. In His person, God has judged humanity and restored humanity to His image. In this His person, humanity has reconstituted itself in the divine likeness. We do not need any other image but this. We do not need another Law or Gospel. We ask, “What ought we to do?” When we do so, we ask about Christ, for it is in Christ that the question of ours is answered. In Christ, the obedience demanded of humanity has already been rendered. In Christ, the realization of the good corresponding to divine election has already taken place. The ethical problem of church dogmatics consists in the question of human action becoming glorification of the grace of Jesus Christ.
We must refuse to follow all those attempts that would start from the proposition that theological ethics is something distinct from general human or philosophical ethics.
We must first refuse to follow all those attempts at theological ethics that start from the assumption that we must be build on a general human or philosophical ethics.
The goodness of human action consists in the goodness with which God acts toward humanity. However, God deals with humanity through the Word as the sum and fullness of all God, because God is good. Therefore, humanity does good in so far as it hears the Word of God and acts as a hearer of this Word. In this action as a bearer, humanity is obedient. Why is obedience good? Obedience is good because it derives from hearing and is the action of a hearer of the Word of God. Obedience is good because the divine address is good and because God is good. Humanity does good in so far as it acts as one who God calls to responsibility. Theological ethics will need to develop a basic and all-comprehensive truth in order to show that the command of God is an event. Once we lay this foundation, in later sections of the Church Dogmatics we shall have to show in detail to what extent this divine command God actually directs to humanity. Even as the command of God, the Word of God is the Word of the truth and reality of God in the act of creation, in the act of reconciliation, and in the act of redemption. The concept of the command of God includes the concepts of the command of God the Creator, the Reconciler, and the Redeemer.
As God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, the command of God is the claim that, when God makes it, 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.
“For me, the good is to cleave to God.” Every ethics which is half serious will say this. The divisive question is why this constitutes the good. Why has God a title to humanity, and therefore a claim on humanity?
That God has the decisive claim on humanity is something that, 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.” It might be said that God is the power over and in all things. God is the necessity that rules in all being and occurrence. God is the existence and activity of which we sense and experience, which we must also recognize as a necessity of thought. God becomes that to which even humanity is obviously subject, to submit to which is the best course for humanity because it is unavoidable, because humanity cannot evade this submission, because a reluctance to submit can only do harm without altering actual subjection. Of course, power as power does not have any divine claim, no matter how imposing or effective t might be. Power as a power cannot possibly be the basis of human obedience. At the same time, the sense of finite individuals upon a whole of which they have dim awareness in order to bring their lives to completion and fullness would seem to be a reasonable basis for bringing theological ethics and a general human and philosophical ethic into the same epistemological turf.
It might be said that God is the essence of the good, the eternal good itself. God claims humanity for a relationship with God to the extent that humanity as humanity participates in God from the very first. In some sense and degree, humanity is ready of itself to will and do the good. Humanity is on the way to God, and humanity finds itself from the outset directed to cleave to God.
It might be said that God is simply the all-sufficient being “whom I have selected as my supreme good.” Is it not true: “Thou sufficest solely, Pure within and wholly, Soul, heart, and mind?” is the enmity of humanity to God really a phenomenon of final, invincible magnitude? In spite of this enmity and in this enmity, is it not true that “our heart is restless till it find rest in Thee?”
We have a circle, God and faith, and faith and God, are two things that belong together. In this circle, God becomes the One God is for humanity, and humanity the one it is for God. The deity of God enters for humanity into the light and power of the specific, direct, personal encounter, and movement of actual faith in God, and the humanity of humanity enters for God into the same light and power. To this circle, there belongs the fact that God makes the claim on this or that person in particular and the person accepts it.
We need to distinguish divine majesty from that which is not majesty. Godhead as power, godhead as the essentially good, the godhead in which we find our satisfaction, are not the God in whom we may believe. For this reason, they are not the God who really claims us. The being of the true God is determined and characterized generally by the fact that God is the God in whom we may believe. God has given us the divine self. God is not only mighty over us. God is not only the essentially good. God is not only our complete satisfaction. God has given the divine self to us. God has graciously turned to us. God has made the divine self ours. With the divine goodness of God, God has taken our place and taken up our cause. All this is actual in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, the eternal Word became flesh. Without ceasing to be who God is, God became as one of us. God assumed our humanity into the divine self. Although it was darkened and destroyed by our sins, and under sentence of death, God took our humanity into the divine self in an indissoluble, unconfused unity. God did not do this because of its strength, dignity, or any other qualification. God did it only because of the divine good-pleasure and divine compassion. Our human existence is no longer alone. Our human existence is no longer left to itself. However, in Jesus Christ, God receives our human existence adopts it into the deity of God. In Christ, God has already, raised, cleansed, and transfigured into the divine likeness our human existence. The human existence of all of us is not really enacted as an undefined point in empty space, but in proximity, fellowship, even brotherhood with the human existence of Jesus Christ and therefore with the human existence of God. When God took our flesh in Jesus Christ, God undertook in our place to subject divinity to the judgment and punishment that God must execute if God is to raise us up to God. The promise of the true repentance that God has performed for us is not something that we still must fulfill as something outstanding. God has already fulfilled this repentance. The fact that God is gracious to us does not mean that God becomes soft. At this point, the basis and justice of the divine claim emerge quite clearly, and so, too, do the situation of humanity in relation to it, the validity of the claim, and the necessity of meeting it. The relationship of Jesus to the will of God that we read in the New Testament is important at this point.
John 6:38-39 (NRSV)
38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.
Philippians 2:8 (NRSV)
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Hebrews 5:6-7 (NRSV)
6 as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Jesus is the one who does the will of God. What we find in Jesus is a valid model for the general relationship of humanity to the will of God. Jesus is the obedient servant to God as the Father in heaven, as the One who wills our salvation, and in and with our salvation, wills the glory of God. The basis of biblical ethics is the legitimacy of the divine claim.
Deuteronomy 27:9 (NRSV)
9 Then Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all
Deuteronomy 26:17-19 (NRSV)
17 Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. 18 Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; 19 for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.
Deuteronomy 6:20-25 (NRSV)
your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and
the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord
our God has commanded you?” 21 then
you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in
Where people proclaim the grace of God as the resolve and act of God that one validly establishes the Law. One does this with authority and emphasis, and therefore impressively and effectively. We can say these things, as we understand the God who is the basis of the ethical claim as the God in whom we may believe, the God who is gracious to us in Jesus Christ. God is the God who, without ceasing to be God, has offered to become part of humanity and has made humanity participate in the divine. God is the God who has done good to humanity, and therefore has brought the good into the human sphere. God is the God who has summoned humanity by becoming human and as such not only demanding obedience, but also rendering it. God has spoken of the good by doing it. God has spoken of who God is by delivering the divine self up for us. In behaving in such ways, God is God. That is why God is the real basis of the ethical claim made by God. That is why God has the right to claim humanity for God.
Micah 6:8 (NRSV)
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This is the truth that we have now to recognize and develop as such. It is the God in whom we may believe, the grarcious God, God in Jesus Christ, who controls the content of the claim addressed to us. Therefore, the grace of God has teleological power. The telos that humanity has set for itself as a child of Adamis invalid, and all other telos of its existene can be subordinated to this. The behavior of humanity must be a behavior actuated and directed by this impulsion. Starting out from this basic divine decision about humanity, humanity is not its own master in any of its own decisions. Every single thing that humanity 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. The concrete form of this teleological power of grace is the person of Jesus Christ. We have seen how the basis and right of the divine claim are revealed in the obedience of the person, Jesus Christ. Submission to all other demands, even if made in the name of God, can only be provisional and not binding, and it always involves the risk of error. The criterion by which all other demands are to be measured is whether they, too, proclaim indirectly the life, rule, and victory of Jesus. If they fail to do this, if they do the very opposite, they are definitely wrong, and when we know this, it is only with a violated onscience that we can submit to them. To become obedient to Jesus is actually to become obedient to God, not a conceived and imaginary God, but to God as God is in the inmost essece of god, the gracious God, the God in whom we may believe. Nothing that we can do in fulfillment of the will of God is higher and deeper than to love Jesus and therefore to keep the commandments of God, just because they are the commandments of God, just because we cannot love God without keeping the commandments of God. We definitely fulfill the will of God when we do this. We can see these commandments in New Testament texts.
1 Peter 2:21-22 (NRSV)
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Luke 9:57-62 (NRSV)
they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you
wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him,
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury
their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the
When the disciples follow Jesus, we learn that they are to be with him, to abide with Him, to accompany Him on His ways wherever they may lead. To be where Jesus is, to hear what He ksays and see what He does, and therefore to be His ear-witnesses and eye-witgneswses. No other meaning is possible even even where the writer applies it to those whose attachment to Jesus is more occasional and temporary. In every case, following means simply to be there, to be with Jesus. To want to be where Jesus is involves a resolution comparable to that of a person who desire to build a tower, or a king who desires to go to war.
Luke 14:28-33 (NRSV)
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
To want to be where Jesus is to abandon oneself to this
total claim: to take one’s cross, to deny oneself, to
lave all, to love one’s enemies. Why all this? Only
because Jesus is there as the One by whom this claim is
issued. Only because Jesus is the Lord as the One who is subject to this
claim, the obedient servant who in accordance with the will of His heavenly
Father does all that these demands indicate. Being with Jesus means at once the
separation of those who do not desire and are not able really to be with Him,
and the acceptance of those who desires it and can do it because they belong to
Him. But the claim that His existence implies is still
addressed to the former and valid for them. Perhaps tomorrow they will have the
desire and the capacity that they do not have today. Perhaps those who have it
today will no longer have it tomorrow. It is good to be with Jesus and not
elsewhere. This is good because it is there that God is good for us. The
passage from Micah is to the people of
Deuteronomy 10:12-25 (NRSV)
now, O Israel, what does the Lord
your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord
your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and
with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am
commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14 Although heaven
and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord
your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15 yet
the Lord set his heart in love on
your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all
the peoples, as it is today. 16
Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any
longer. 17 For the Lord
your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome,
who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for
the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and
clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were
strangers in the
What are we
to do? We are to do what corresponds to this grace. The imitation urged by Paul
is the gracious attitude of God to people revealed in Christ. This attitude is
the Law that is given to us it is to this attitude
that we and all our activity are bound, and by it that we are measured, and
must orientate ourselves. It is clear that even where Paul decleares
himself as an imitator of Christ or the Thessalonians as imitators of those of
Ephesians 5:1 (NRSV)
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
1 Corinthians (NRSV)
18 But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant.
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NRSV)
1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 (NRSV)
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,
1 Thessalonians (NRSV)
14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews,
1 Peter (NRSV)
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
Galatians 6:1 (NRSV)
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.
Romans 15:2 (NRSV)
2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.
13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Philippians 2:3-11 (NRSV)
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In the final passage, the basis of this exhortation to unity, and to the lowliness that puts the things of others about one’s own things, is an appeal to Christians to live in the mind that is in Christ Jesus, and which must as such be normative for them. This is the mind in which He did not maintain Himself in His Godhead, but emptied Himself of its glory and assumed the servant-form of a human being, being obedient to God in this form even t the death of the cross. It is in this way, based on this gracious condescension, that He has been genuinely exalted and glorified anew. It is to this One who became a servant for us that every knee must bow, and every tongue confess that He is the Lord. What is required of us is that our action should be brought into conformity with His action. What is meant by demanding conformity with divine grace, and to that extent conformity with Jesus Christ and His people? However, the required conformity with the grace of God is this. The actions of persons must be determined by the fact that they accept the gracious action of God as right. To accept as right means to lay aside all hostility to God’s action. To accept God’s action as right is to love God in this action, to love God with all the hear, soul, and strength. 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. What area 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 isery, except apart from and against our deserts, except in such a way as to disclose that what we have deserved is death. What are we to do? We are to accept it as right that God is our righteousness. We can sum it all up by saying that what God wants of us and all people lis that we should believe in Jesus Christ. In the last resort, the apostles had only one answer to the question: “What are people 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 that are above, where Christ is.”