Volume 3: The Doctrine of Creation

Volume 3: The Doctrine of Creation. 1

Volume III, Part One, Chapter IX: The Work of Creation (1945) 2

40. Faith in God the Creator 2

41. Creation and Covenant 4

1. Creation, History and Creation History. 5

2. Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant 9

3. The Covenant as the Internal Basis of Creation. 18

42. The Yes of God the Creator 26

1. Creation as Benefit 27

2. Creation as Actualization. 28

3. Creation as Justification. 29

Volume III, Part Two, Chapter X: The Creature (1948) 32

43. Humanity as a Problem of Dogmatics. 32

1. Humanity in the cosmos. 32

2. Humanity as an Object of Theological Knowledge. 34

44. Human Beings as the Creatures of God. 37

1. Jesus, Human Being for God. 37

2. Phenomena of the Human. 38

3. Real Humanity. 42

45. Human Beings in their Determination as the Covenant-Partner of God. 52

1. Jesus, Human being for other Human Beings. 52

2. The Basic Form of Humanity. 55

3. Humanity as Likeness and Hope. 58

46. Humanity as Soul and Body. 61

1. Jesus, Whole Human Being. 61

2. The Spirit as basis of Soul and Body. 61

3. Soul and Body in their Interconnection. 62

4. Soul and Body in their Particularity. 63

5. Soul and Body in their Order 64

47. Human Beings in their Time. 65

1. Jesus, Lord of Time. 65

2. Given Time. 69

3. Allotted Time. 74

4. Beginning Time. 76

5. Ending Time. 77

Volume III, Part Three, Chapter XI: The Creator and the Creature of God (1950) 80

48. The Doctrine of Providence, its Basis and Form.. 80

1. The concept of Divine Providence. 80

2. The Christian Belief in Providence. 81

3. The Christian Doctrine of Providence. 83

49. God the Father as Lord of the Creature God Made. 87

1. The Divine Preserving. 88

2. The Divine Accompanying. 91

3. The Divine Ruling. 97

4. The Christian under the Universal Lordship of God the Father 103

50. God and Nothingness. 105

1. The Problem of Nothingness. 105

2. The Misconception of Nothingness. 106

3. The Knowledge of Nothingness. 106

4. The Reality of Nothingness. 107

51. The Kingdom of Heaven, the Ambassadors of God and Their Opponents. 110

1. The Limits of Angelology. 110

2. The Kingdom of Heaven. 111

3. The Ambassadors of God and their Opponents. 112

Volume III, Part Four, Chapter XII: The Command of God the Creator (1951) 115

52. Ethics as a Task of the Doctrine of Creation. 115

1. The Problem of Special Ethics. 115

2. God the Creator as Commander 118

53. Freedom before God. 120

1. The Holy Day. 120

2. Confession. 121

3. Prayer 121

54. Freedom in Fellowship. 124

1. Man and Woman. 124

2. Parents and Children. 134

3. Near and Distant Neighbors. 137

55. Freedom for Life. 137

1. Respect for Life. 137

2. The Protection of Life. 143

3. The Active Life. 146

56. Freedom in Limitation. 152

1. The Unique Opportunity. 152

2. Vocation. 155

3. Honor 157


Volume III, Part One, Chapter IX: The Work of Creation (1945)

40. Faith in God the Creator

We achieve the insight that humanity owes its existence and form, together with all the reality distinct from God, to the creation of God, only in the reception and answer of the divine self-witness, that is, only in faith in Jesus Christ. We have this insight in the knowledge of the unity of Creator and creature actualized in Christ, and in the life in the present mediated by Christ, under the right and in the experience of the goodness of the Creator towards those who God has made.


            The first article of the Apostles’ Creed says: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. These last words are the simplest and most comprehensive form of the teaching of the church on creation. Though they speak of God, they do not speak only of God, but also of a reality that is distinct from God. These words speak of heaven and earth as the two great distinctive but related spheres, intersecting in humanity, of the whole being of the world as it exists apart from God. They say that God, who alone is God the Father Almighty, is not alone. In order not to be alone and to have this other quite different reality before, with and near God, God deliberately gave it an existence and definite form. Before these words, however, stand the words, “I believe.” We must first try to realize why it is that the doctrine of creation is a doctrine of faith and its content a secret. This amounts to explaining why it belongs to the creed and to church dogmatics.

            First, the proposition that God created heaven, earth, and humanity asserts that the whole reality distinct form God truly is. Negatively, it asserts that God does not exist alone. The divine being is not the only one to the exclusion of all others. Positively, it asserts that another exists before, near, and with God, having its own differentiated being quite distinct from that of God. Creation is a free act of the divine will, which humanity can know only because God reveals it so.

            Second, the proposition that God created heaven, earth, and humanity asserts that this whole sphere is from God, willed and established by God as a reality that is distinct from divine reality. The negative side of this proposition is that the world is not alone, much less so than God. The positive side is that God is before the world. God is an absolutely distinct and individual being in relation to the world. Unlike the world, God belongs to God. God is self-sufficient. God is before the world in the strictest sense that God is its absolute origin, its purpose, the power that rules it, its Lord, for God created it. Of course, the world could be alone. This proposition affirms the world is not alone. The view of Schleiermacher that human beings have sense of absolute dependence is one way of viewing individual human life as dependent upon a greater whole of which human beings have only dim awareness.

            Third, we can trace the statement that calls God the Creator of heaven and earth back to the linguistic usage of the bible. We must adhere to the biblical witness in it context of Old Testament and New Testament, of promise and fulfillment. It is an appeal to faith. One can understand and accept this witness only in faith. This also applies to the statement that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. The subject “God” is not synonymous with the concept of a world-cause. The predicate “creator” has the main point that it encloses an event, a completed act. The creator does not just exist. The creator has done something. The predicate “Creator” speaks of an incomparable act. It tells us that God is the One who has posited, in an act of the overflowing of the inward glory of God, a reality that is distinct form God. The object to which the statement about creation refers is heaven and earth. Whatever these two terms may denote both individually and in concert, there can be no doubt that in the sense of the biblical witness from Genesis to Revelation, they denote the sum of the reality that is distinct form God. The reason why God created this world of heaven and earth, and why the future world will be a new heaven and a new earth, is that the eternal Son of God and Logos did not will to be an angle or animal but a human being, and that this was the content of the eternal divine election of grace. Genesis 1-2, Psalm 104, and Job 38-39 present picture puzzles in which humanity can find itself, as the secret of heaven and earth.

            How do we know that God crated heaven, earth, and humanity, that they are therefore reality, and that they owe it to God that this is so? I would separate my approach from a scattered and peripheral Biblicism. It regards Christ as simply one of biblical testimonies, with all sorts and degrees of pious knowledge. What we need is a simple exegesis of the fact indicated in the name Emmanuel. God has accepted humanity in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has become humanity. In Christ, God reveals the nature of God in unity with this man. It will not be an exhaustive exegesis, for this fat contains very much more than what it ahs to say about the problem of creation. From this revealed fact of the unity of God with humanity effected in Jesus Christ, the first truth that we learn is the simple one that God is not alone. God does not live divine life only within divine space. A world-space exists in which God is the Lord of a being distinct from God, that is, of humanity. God is not only God within divine life, but also outside divine life. The person of Jesus Christ proves a sphere exists in which God acts and reveals who God is apart from the divine sphere. There is someone upon whom and with whom God acts, and to whom and through whom God reveals who god is, apart from God. We also learn that humanity is not alone. The sphere within which humanity lives is not the only sphere. People did not seek out God for common life in this unity. God sought out humanity. God did not need this unity. Humanity was fully in need of it. Humanity lives, because God lives. Here is the Son of Man. Here is humanity at the heart of the cosmos, with its uppor and lower aspects, with its whence and its whither, over the earth but destined to come under the earth and itself to become earth. When we have discovered humanity as the creature of God in Jesus Christ, we have made direct discovery of heaven and earth as the object of the divine act of creation. Indeed, we have spoken only of the noetic connection – the reality of creation is known with clarity and certainty in Jesus Christ. However, where there is a genuine noetic connection, we can always count on an ontic basis. This is the case here. Jesus Christ is the Word by which the knowledge of creation is mediated to us because Christ is the Word by which God has fulfilled creation and continually maintains and rules it. I believe in order to understand. In this case, I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God our Lord, in order to perceive and to understand that God the Almighty, the Father, is the Creator of heaven and earth.

            I now want to indicate hat kind of faith it is that, as faith in Jesus Christ, contains within itself the knowledge of the secret of creation, the Creator and the creature. If it is a life in the presence of the Creator, it is a life in the actual experience and recognition of the power of God over all things and situations. Whatever other powers believers in Jesus Christ knows, and rightly or wrongly thinks that in their way they ought to respect, Jesus Christ has intervened for humanity as the Bearer of this power over all powers. Faith as life in the presence of the Creator is just as necessarily a life in the experience and recognition of the right God has over the creatures God has made. Finally, if faith is a life in the presence of the Creator, it is necessarily a life in the recognition and experience of the benevolence of God. God who as Creator has all power and all right over creation, has always desired its good, that God has honored and loved it from the very first, that God has always willed to procure its right, that God has always willed to be helpful, that God has always been friendly disposed towards it.

41. Creation and Covenant

Creation comes first in the series of works of the triune God, and is thus the beginning of all the things distinct from God. Since it contains in itself the beginning of time, its historical reality eludes all historical observation and account. The biblical creation narratives can express the doctrine of creation only in the form of pure saga. However, according to this witness the purpose and therefore the meaning of creation is to make possible the history of God’s covenant with humanity that has its beginning, its center and its culmination in Jesus Christ. The history of this covenant is as much the goal of creation as creation itself is the beginning of this history.

1. Creation, History and Creation History

            The distinctive element in creation consists in the fact that it comes first among the works of God. The bible begins with it and so does the creed. All the things distinct from God begin with it. Herein lies the peculiar dignity of the creation, that as the external beginning of all things it stands in certain respects in direct confrontation with its inner beginning, its eternal source in the decision and plan of god. However, as the first work of God, creation stands in a series, in an indissolubly real connection, with the further works of God. These works, excluding for the moment the work of redemption and consummation, have in view the institution, preservation and execution of the covenant of grace, for partnership in which God has predestined and called humanity. The concept of creation is not in any sense identical with the general concept of a first cause or the final contingency of all things. Of course, it includes this concept also. Where else can we look for the first cause or the final contingency of all things if not in creation? However, in the Christian concept of the creation of all things the question is concretely one of humanity and the universe as the theater of the history of the covenant of grace. In the same freedom and love in which God is not alone in God but is the eternal begetter of the Son, who is the eternally begotten of the Father, God also turns as Creator ad extra in order that absolutely and outwardly God may not be alone, but the One who loves in freedom. In other words, as God is neither dead nor dumb, but speaks and hears the Word of God from all eternity, so outside the eternity of God, God does not wish to be without hearing or echo, that is, without the ears and voices of the creature.

            The New Testament speaks of the ontological connection between Christ and creation. The meaning of such texts is that Christ stands as God and with God before and above the beginning as God is the beginning. These texts ascribe to Christ the position, dignity, and power of the Creator.


Colossians 1:15 (NRSV)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

Colossians 1:16 (NRSV)

16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:17 (NRSV)

17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 2:10 (NRSV)

10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.

John 1:1 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:10 (NRSV)

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

John 1:11 (NRSV)

11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

John 5:17 (NRSV)

17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”

John 5:19 (NRSV)

19 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.

John 16:15 (NRSV)

15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 17:2 (NRSV)

2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

1 John 1:1 (NRSV)

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

1 John 2:13-14 (NRSV)

13 I am writing to you, fathers,

because you know him who is from the beginning.

I am writing to you, young people,

because you have conquered the evil one.

14 I write to you, children,

because you know the Father.

I write to you, fathers,

because you know him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young people,

because you are strong

and the word of God abides in you,

and you have overcome the evil one.

Hebrews 1:2 (NRSV)

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

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,

1 Corinthians 8:6 (NRSV)

6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Revelation 3:14 (NRSV)

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:


What is true of the Father and the Son is also true of the Holy Spirit. The creed of Nicea and Constantinople that the Spirit is life-giving.


John 6:63 (NRSV)

63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

1 Corinthians 15:45 (NRSV)

45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:6 (NRSV)

6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Genesis 2:7 (NRSV)

7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Genesis 7:15 (NRSV)

15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.

Psalm 33:6 (NRSV)

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 139:7 (NRSV)

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

Psalm 104:29-30 (NRSV)

29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;

when you take away their breath, they die

and return to their dust.

30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;

and you renew the face of the ground.


Of course, “life” here is primarily a soteriological and eschatological term, describing the quickening and animation effected by the work of Jesus Christ. Yet, the Spirit as the breath of God provides the way for describing this involvement of the Spirit in creation.

            The aim of creation is history. This follows decisively from the fact that God the Creator is the triune God who acts and who reveals God in history. God wills and God creates the creature for the sake of the Son or Word and therefore in harmony with God; and for the supreme glory of God, and therefore in the Holy Spirit. God wills and creates it for the sake of that which in the grace of God wills to do to it and with it by the Son or Word in the Holy Spirit. The execution of this activity is history. What is meant is the history of the covenant of grace instituted by God between God and humanity. The sequence of the events in which God concludes and executes this covenant with humanity, carrying it to its goal, and thus validating in the sphere of the creature that which from all eternity God has determined within God. The sequence of the events for the sake of which God has patience with the creature and with its creation gives it time, time which acquires content through these events and which is finally to be fulfilled and made ripe for its end by their conclusion. This history is from the theological standpoint the history. Creation itself belongs to history and therefore to the sequence of events which fulfills time. In relation to the first pages of the Old Testament, two views have to be taken into account. Genesis 1 & 2 relates genuine events, rather than timeless explanations of the world. Further, the two accounts are a pre-history to the history of the people of Israel.

            However, if the creation by God is a history, this means that it takes place in time.  Time, in contradistinction to eternity, is the form of existence of the creature. Even God is temporal in as far as God is eternal. The eternity of God is the prototype of time. As the Eternal, God is simultaneously before time, above time, and after time. Yet, time as such, our time, relative time, itself created, is the form of existence of the creature, and thus distinguishes itself from eternity. God is not in time but before, above, and after all time, so that time is really in God. According to the word and work of God, God was not satisfied merely with a pure divine form of existence. The inner glory of God overflowed outwards. God speaks the Word and acts in the works of God with and for one apart from God. This other is the creature God has made. If God is not gracious to those whom God has made, then their creation cannot take place. God could have remained satisfied with the fullness of divine being. If God had willed and decided in this way, God would not have suffered any lack. God would still be eternal love and freedom. However, according to the Word and work of God by which God summoned the church to attest, God has willed and decided otherwise. God has had compassion on that which God has made and accepted it. This view is a rejection of Augustine in Confessions, XI, XIII, where Augustine wonders what God was doing before creation. Augustine believes time came into being with creation. Barth cannot accept this. Time emerges out of the creation of the things God has made.

            The first counterpart of the time of the history of creation in the time of the subsequent history of the covenant is the time of humanity as isolated from God and fallen into sin, the time whose flux has become a flight. The second counterpart of the time of creation in the sphere of the covenant of grace is the time in which the covenant takes place. Christ does not extinguish time. Christ is the first and the last. Christ normalizes time. Christ heals its wounds. Christ fulfills and makes it real. Christ returns it to us in order that we might have it again as our time, the time of the grace addressed to us, even when we had lost it as our tie, the time of the sin committed by us. Christ invites us through faith in Him to become contemporaries of genuine time, so that in Christ and by Christ we, too, have real time. Really, to have time is to live in Christ and with Christ, in virtue of the death and resurrection in the present that is the turning point in which the sin and servitude, condemnation, and death of humanity, and with it also our lost time, lie behind us as the past, in which they can be present only in Christ.  That is, as the burden borne by Christ for our sakes, and in which human innocence, obedience, justification, sanctification, and felicity lie before us, but are already present in Christ as the work and triumph of Christ. Really, to have time is to live in this transition, and to go with Christ from the one to the other. This real time in which we have the privilege to have in and with Christ is the time of the grace of God, the time of the old and new covenants. This time is the true counterpart of the time of creation. Are we to say of the time of grace that it is itself nothing more than a continuation of the time of creation in defiance of human sin? Conversely, are we to say of the time of creation that it was nothing more than the commencement of the time of grace? In the lost time of sinful humanity, the time of grace has an opponent that the time of creation did not encounter. The time of creation is as such commencing time, which is not the case with the time of grace. Another question we must ask is whether the time of creation is not on the contrary to be understood as the counterpart of that of grace, and therefore the time of grace as the true prototype of all time. The account of creation in the bible is not historical. The bible tells the story of creation as one that had no human witnesses, and thus cannot declare historically, from personal observation and understanding, what took place when God laid the foundation of the earth. If there is no historian, even for this reason, there can be no history. Further, the account has a pre-historical character. We also must reckon that we have two separate accounts of creation in the opening two chapters of the bible. The bible does not have an historical account of creation. Not all history is historical. In its immediacy to God, every histyr is in fact non-historical. One cannot deduce, compare, and therefore perceive and comprehend it. However, this does not mean that it ceases to be genuine history. In the view of Barth, saga is an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space. That it does actually contain a good deal of saga, as well as legend and anecdote, is due to the nature and theme of the biblical witness. It also contains history, but usually with a more or less strong wrapping of saga. This is inevitable where the immediacy of history to God is prominent, as in the histories that the bible relates. On the other hand, it also contains a good deal of saga with historical wrappings, and this again is not surprising when by far the greater part of the events related by it takes place in the sphere where history and historical accounts are at least possible in principle. To put it cautiously, it contains little pure history and little pure saga, and little of both that can be unequivocally recognized as the one or the other. The two elements are usually mixed. In the bible, we usually have to reckon with both history and saga. However, in accordance with its unique theme, the history of creation is pure saga. The true mystery and miracle of the biblical creation history consists in the fact that we now see humanity in one of its possibilities of perception and presentation confronted with the particular object and occupied with this particular realization.

2. Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant

            Obviously, the things God has made do not have their existence within themselves. Nor do the things God has made exist for themselves. The things God has made are not their goal or purpose, nor their ground and beginning. Its destiny lies entirely in the purpose of its Creator as the One who speaks and cares for it. The things God has made have their right, meaning, goal, purpose, and dignity lie in the fact that God as the creator has turned toward it with divine purpose. What was and is the will of God in doing this? We may reply that God does not will to be alone in the glory that belongs to God. God desires something else beside God. God is the One who is free in love. In this case we can understand the positing of this reality, which otherwise is incomprehensible, only as the work of the love of God. God wills and posits the things God has made because God has loved it from eternity, because God wills to demonstrate the love God has for it, and because God wills to reveal and manifest it in the co-existence of God with the things God has made. It would be a strange love that was satisfied with the mere existence and nature of the other, then withdrawing, leaving it to its own devices. The first aspect of creation the bible invites us to consider is the realization of the divine purpose of love in relation to the things God has made. God loves the things God has made. This is the unique feature of the covenant in which the love of God is exercised and fulfilled. Its external basis, that is, the existence and being of the creature with which God is covenanted, is the work of the will and achievement of God. The creation of God is the external basis of this covenant. The inner basis of the covenant is simply the free love of God, or more precisely the eternal covenant that God has decreed in God as the Father with the Son as the Lord and Bearer of human nature, and to that extent the Representative of all creation. Creation is the external basis of the covenant. We find this aspect of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. It describes creation as the work of power and planning, almost like a temple. What will finally take place in this account is the summit of creation, man and woman created in and after the image of God. Humanity does not end the history of creation, nor is it humanity who ushers in the subsequent history. Rather, the rest of God is the conclusion of the one and the beginning of the other. That is, the free, solemn, and joyful satisfaction with that which has taken place and which God has completed as creation, and the invitation by God for humanity to rest with God. The goal of creation, and at the same time the beginning of all that follows, is the event of the Sabbath of the freedom of God, Sabbath rest and Sabbath joy, in which humanity has been summoned to participate. Sabbath is the event of divine rest in face of the cosmos completed with the creation of humanity, a rest that takes precedence over all the eagerness and zeal of humanity to enter upon the work humanity wants to do. God created humanity to participate in this rest.

            In Genesis 1:1, the work of this beginning was not an accidental thing, either self-formed or formed by a strange idea and force. Rather, it describes a cosmos, the cosmos, the divinely ordered world in which heaven and earth, a picture of the relationship between God and humanity in the covenant of grace, confronted each other in mutual separation and interconnection as an upper sphere and a lower. The one is essentially invisible to humanity, the other essentially visible. The one transcends humanity in unknown heights, while the other belongs to humanity.

            In Genesis 1:2, God preserves creation from the necessity or possibility of being ungodly or anti-godly. Although God did not create it divine, God did not create it ungodly or anti-godly. Rather, creation is in harmony and at peace with God as the theater and instrument of the acts of God, an object of divine joy and for participation in this joy.

            In Genesis 1:3, God created by speaking implies that the things God has made come into being by God as posited and effected by a free, divine declaration. The Word of God as the creative act of God is the disposition of the things God has made. When creation separates itself from its origin, it does so to its hurt, and does so in falsehood and error.

            In Genesis 1:3-5, the subject is natural light and natural darkness. The first day comes, and time and the cosmos in time commence, as light comes into being by the Word of God and this declaration is made. Time will also continue. All the works of God take place during he day, and therefore in light and not in darkness. We observe that he Word of God creates light. Thus, light is not itself God but a creature, dependent, threatened and corruptible like all others. Hence, it has no power of its own. It lives by the Word of God alone. We notice further that it was God who saw that light was good. Thus, it has no dignity or holiness of its own. It has both only in the sight of God and by the judgment of God. As this first work of God takes place, and in it God bears witness to the divine self, God says Yes to the things God has made. We cannot find here more than a prototype of the revelation of God. However, we can find a prototype. Revelation may be new when it comes, but it will not be completely new. When its time comes, it will fulfill that which must be fulfilled because creation commences and culminates in light, and for which all creation is prepared and destined because the first created thing is light. It will establish the knowledge of the Lord. From the very first light has been the prototype and sign and declaration of this event of the knowledge of the Lord. The first work of creation is in every respect different from all the rest. As God grants time to the things God has made, God has decided concerning it that as such, existing in tie, it should belong t the side that God affirms as the possibility chosen by God. God has turned toward creation in gracious good-pleasure. God has completely separated from the other side, from chaos. To have time is to be allowed to exist as and with light under and by the divine Yes. To have time is not to be overtaken by the No of God; it is to be preserved and sheltered before God.

            In Genesis 1:6-8, we find the creation of the living space of humanity. In precise correspondence to the announcement made in the creation of light, it consists in the establishment of a boundary. The account continues the delineation of this boundary in the work of the third day. Its commencement consists in the radical crushing of the form and structure; in a division into waters above and waters below, in which it can no longer speak a final inimical and mortal word, but can only be a last threat that cannot make humanity and its world impossible and thus destroy them. It is separated. It can exist only in this separation. Hence, it has completely ceased to be what it was. It is no longer the one and all. As the one and all, it merely was in the posited by the creative Word of God. In its state of separation it is and will be in the present and future determined by the creative Word of God. Hence, in its separation it is a creature. It is no longer an element of chaos but of cosmos. With its creation, God has actually said No to a world in which humanity would at once be lost, and Yes to a world in which humanity can know that God has protected them. The ground on which God in revelation can meet the things God has made, and on which it can believe this revelation, is laid and cannot be removed. From the very beginning, from the foundation of the world, God has had good intentions toward humanity. The text does not make a mistake when it omits the phrase, “and God saw that it was good.”

            In Genesis 1:9-13, we find the actualization of the living space of humanity. As God created heaven by the separation of water from water, so God created the earth by its separation from the water under heaven. This time in the form of the terrestrial sea, that which is past, the text now reveals, rejects, displaces, and banishes, subordinating it to the cosmos and coordinating and associating with it. God acts again by the Word, and God does so by commanding the water of the lower cosmos to retreat and to gather in its special place, so that one can envision the dry land as a habitable place on the one side, and the sea in its separation on the other. Already with creation mercy, help, deliverance, and emancipation the creator offers promises and assurances to a threatened creation. The text brings this out unmistakably by the creation of the earth and the separation of the land from the sea. However, in itself this is not what makes the earth habitable, a place of life. It becomes such by the Word of God. Because this land is dry and fruitful, people can live on the earth and of the earth. Future creation will be the furnishing of this house. However, the twofold work of the third day is its construction. According to the explanation now given, a creature is alive when through its seed it can continue in the existence of similar creatures, and in addition can bear fruit. In the creation saga, this miracle is just as significant as the miracle of the separation of heaven from earth. The enclosure and limitation of the sea is the negative side of the miracle and secret fo the third day of creation. Where in virtue of the Word of God there can be no presence and power of water or sea, there we have the earth. The secure establishment of the earth by the removal and the gathering of the waters is the positive meaning of this Word of God on the third day. That this work has the character of a conflict lies in the fact that the waters of the upper as well as the lower cosmos constitute the sign of chaos that God has negated. God has rejected the cosmic possibility or impossibility of chaos.

            In Genesis 1:14-19 we have the work of the fourth day, which begins the furnishing of the cosmos. The question now is not of its persistence, but is wealth, which it owes to the will and Word of God. The things God makes here serve the purpose of orientation. They show how a day forms out of evening and morning. They give humanity and the animal kingdom around humanity indications both for the necessary course and for the free formation of their life. They offer them guidance in time and space. They show them the boundaries within which the natural life proceeds and according to which humanity for its part can order its life and direct its undertakings. They make it possible for humanity to see its history has history, to take up a position in relation to it, and therefore to be not merely its object but its subject, albeit a creaturely and earthly subject. In this way, they give light to the lower cosmos. They cannot see to it that humanity actually has this determination and is summoned to the fulfillment f it. Here, too, creation and covenant are two different things. However, by creating these heavenly bodies God sees to it that humanity can possess this determination. God and humanity would not be what they are if the covenant lacked or could lack this presupposition in creation. Because God is the merciful Lord, because humanity is the covenant-partner who shares but also needs this divine mercy, and because God is at the same time the creator of this humanity, it belongs to creation that God should give humanity this objective direction to distinguish for its part that which God distinguishes and wills humanity should distinguish. That is what the cosmos of humanity should not merely be orientated by God but orientating for humanity. In a series of eschatological passages, the bible speaks of a cessation of their function and therefore of their shining. We have thus to reckon with the fact that on the biblical view, the end of the world will consist in a passing away of heaven and earth, in the cessation of the function of the heavenly bodies and in the extinction of their particular light, but that the heavenly bodies themselves will not pass away. God will preserve them and give them a new function. The wisdom and patience of God, which has founded human history, has a definite goal, and the finite time granted to humanity in relation to this history has actually an end.

            Genesis 1:20-23 is the fifth day, seeing the completion of an entirely new creation under the protection of this firmament, although in the sea on the one side, and therefore at the heart of the hostile territory that borders the dry land, and above the earth on the other, and therefore in close proximity to that other hostile frontier. This entirely new creation is clearly distinguished from the first creation of the first autonomous living creatures. The spectacle offered in these spheres is one to inspire confidence. For what are fish and fowl compared with humanity? How favored humanity is by the comparison. God saw that what God created on the fifth day in these inhospitable regions was also good. However, that is not the end of the story. For we now have for the first time the reference to a blessing that God bestowed on creation. The text informs us of the fecundity, multiplication and expansion of these aquatic and aerial denizens. A thing is blessed when it is authorized and empowered, with a definite promise of success, for one particular action as distinct from another that is also a possibility. The procreation of posterity, ad therefore the existence of nature in the form of natural history, of a sequence of generations, is a definite venture where it has the form of a spontaneous act of a creature qualified for the purpose. In God’s blessing of the fish and birds, we really transcend the concept of creation and enter the sphere of the dealings God has with the creation. What we have here is the beginning of its history, or at least an introductory prologue, which announces the theme of this history, that is, the establishment of a covenant between God and the creation of God that moves independently like God and renews itself by procreation after its kind. What the text reveals is the grace that does not will that the fashioning of finite nature, for all its difference from the divine, should be futile or unfruitful. The goodness of the Creator does not allow this finite nature to exist in its relative independence and self-propulsion without permission and hope. God wills in all friendliness to bear, surround and rule it in the exercise of the freedom granted to it.

            Genesis 1:24-31 is the termination of creation, but not is completion. Creation is not complete because it has concluded. God rested on the seventh day. The completion of creation is the joyful readiness in which the Creator and creature, the master and the work that God now can survey, are now conjoined, and together anticipate the common history that now commences. The biblical creation saga views humanity in all its individuality. Yet, it does so not in isolation, but in this environment and company. Humanity is in association with the various tame, creeping, and wild beasts of the land that like itself, and like the fish and fowls before them, but now immediately and unavoidably, as the inseparable companions of humanity, are living creatures. By living, we mean in indepe3ndent movement and multiplying themselves by free facts of generation. If it is true that creation finds its conclusion in humanity, it is equally true that this Creator has given humanity precedence over inanimate and animate nature. Humanity has more nobility than the rest of creation, and yet has need of them as of all that went before, where they for their part have no need of humanity. Humanity, created with the beasts by the will and Word of God, freely hears and obey this Word. Humanity will constantly have before it in the animal world immediately around humanity the spectacle of submission to this Word that, if it is not free, is in it its own way real and complete. Thus, at every point it is inferior to humanity, and yet the companion and forerunner of humanity. Living things are inferior, for humanity alone bears the image of God. Humanity alone will hear and obey the Creator. God offers humanity alone the honor of being the partner of God in the covenant of grace. With humanity alone, will there be an independent history. However, in all these things, the beast will be a constant companion. The salvation and perdition of humanity, the joy and sorrow of humanity, will be reflected in the weal and woe of this animal environment and company. Not as an independent partner of the covenant, but as an attendant, the animal will participate with humanity, the independent partner, in the covenant, sharing both the promise and the curse that shadows the promise. Significantly, the creation of humanity and of these living beings is the work of the same day. The earth is to produce them. They are to proceed from the earth. Their existence and nature belong to the earth, to its destiny and preparation as the dwelling-place of humanity. According to the Word of the Creator, they belong indissolubly to the humanity who lives on the earth. However, its execution consists in the fact that God made them as God made the heavenly firmament, the lights, the fish and fowls, the land animals, and later humanity. With all its manifold presuppositions, consequences, and reservations, this whole has aimed and moved towards humanity as the true occupant of the house founded and prepared by God, the central creature on the ground and in space and in the midst of all others, the one being capable of and participating in light. Only when humanity is created can we say that God saw all that God had created, and that it was “very good.” Even humanity is not an end in itself. Only with reservation can we describe humanity as the crown of creation. Strictly speaking, the Sabbath is the crown of creation. However, the work concluded and terminated on the sixth day with the creation of humanity that is the object f this completing divine rest ad joy. God created humanity as male and female, in the image of God and after the likeness of God. The image consists, as humanity itself consists, as the creature of God. Humanity would not be humanity if it were not for the image of God. The meaning and purpose of God at creation is willing into existence a being who can be a real partner, capable of action and responsibility in relation to God, to which the divine form of life is not alien and can bear divine life. Humanity was created as this being. However, the divine form of life, repeated in the human being created by God, consists in that which is the obvious aim of the “Let us.” In the being and sphere of God there is a counterpart, a genuine but harmonious self=encounter and self-discovery, a free coexistence and cooperation, an open confrontation and reciprocity. Humanity is the repetition of this divine form of life, its copy and reflection. Humanity is this first in the fact that humanity is the counterpart of God, the encounter and discovery in God being copied and imitated in the relation of God to humanity. However, humanity is it also in the fact that humanity is itself the counterpart of fellow human beings and has in them a counterpart, the coexistence and cooperation in God being repeated in the relation of human beings to other human beings. Thus, the analogy between God and humanity is simply the existence of the I and the Thou in confrontation. This is first constitutive for God, and then for humanity created by God. The analogy is a free differentiation and relation. In this way, God wills and crates humanity as a partner who is capable of entering into covenant relationship within the being of God. The grace of the creation of humanity, in which all creation is now revealed as an act of the creation of God, consists in the fact that God sets humanity in fellowship with God as a being existing in free differentiation and relationship. More than that, it consists in the fact that God has actually created humanity in fellowship with God in order that in this natural fellowship God may further speak and act with humanity. What distinguishes humanity from the beasts? In the case of humanity, the differentiation of sex is the only differentiation. The saga does not say that humanity is to exist in groups and species, in races and peoples, and so on. The only real differentiation and relationship is that of human beings to human beings, and in its original and most concrete form of man to woman and woman to man. Humanity is no more solitary than God. However, as God is One, and God alone is God, so humanity as humanity is one and alone, and two only in the duality of its kid, that is, las the duality of man and woman. In this way, humanity is a copy and imitation of God. In this way, humanity repeats in its confrontation of God and humanity the confrontation in God. In this way, humanity is the special creature of the special grace of God. Humanity is simply male and female. Whatever else they may be, it is only in this differentiation and relationship. As the oly real principle of differentiation and relationship, as the original form not only of humanity’s confrontation of God, but also of all intercourse between human beings, it is the true creaturely humanity in the image of God. Humanity can will always be humanity before God and among its fellows only as humanity is man in relationship to woman and woman in relationship to man. As humanity is one or the other, he or she is human. Since this makes him or her human, humanity distinguishes itself from the beast and every other creature, existing in th free differentiation and relationship in which God has chosen, willed and created humanity as a partner with God. The fact that God created man and woman will be the great paradigm of everything that will take place between humanity and God and of everything that will take place between human beings. The fact that humanity was created and exists as male and female will also prove to be not only a copy and imitation of the Creator as such, but at the same time a type of the history of the covenant and salvation that will take place between humanity and the Creator. In all future words and actions of God, God will acknowledge that God has created humanity male and female, and in this way in the image and likeness of God. God created them male and female, in this true plurality. All else refers to humanity in this plurality. In every other differentiation and agreement, they will always be male and female. Every other differentiation and agreement will continually prove to be preliminary or supplementary as compared with the fact that they are male and female. This strictly natural and creaturely factor, which is held in common with the beasts, is not in any sense an animal element in humanity but the distinctively human element, not in itself but because it has pleased God to make humanity in this form of life an image and likeness, an witness, of the divine form of life. In consequence of their divine likeness, humanity is distinguished from all other creatures, and in the first instance from all other creatures with autonomous life, by a superior position, by a higher dignity and might, by a greater power of disposal and control. It is only in this relationship, in dependent connection with humanity, that the animal kingdom can and will participate in the mystery of all creation as it is revealed in humanity, and in the promise of this mystery. In this way, in basic subordination ot humanity, and as its comradely followers and environment, they too are witnesses and to that extent partakers of the divine image and the history promised to humanity with its special creation. Humanity is not their Creator. Hence, humanity cannot be their lord. In the dignity and position of humanity, it can only be the creaturely witness of God and representative of God to them. Humanity can carry out a commission in relation to the rest of creation. However, humanity does not possess the power of life and death. Human lordship over animals is a lordship with internal and external limitations. What distinguishes humanity and gives humanity authority and power is the fact that God has honored humanity, through the grace of God, to be the image of God in the uniqueness of its plurality as male and female. The animals in their multiplicity are not confronted by different groups and species of humanity, but, for all the provisional and subsequent differentiations in every individual, by the one humanity, male and female. Humanity, male and female, created as the reflection and image of God, needed and was granted the divine blessing for its future activity. From this, we learn that the divine likeness of humanity does not affect in the slightest the creatureliness that it has in common with all other beings and in which, with all other beings, it is dependent on the aid of God. In virtue of the divine likeness, humanity is directed in all its acts to hear this friendly Word of God. Furthermore, and supremely, we learn that humanity does actually hear this friendly Word of God. Humanity does receive the blessing of God for its propagation as well as for its actualization as a being in the divine image. Even the wrath and judgment of God that may overtake humanity does not indicate any retraction, but only a special form, and in the last analysis the most glorious confirmation, of the permission and promise given to humanity. We will show that humanity does not have this divine likeness to itself and cannot maintain the image itself. The repetition of this image of God is a concern of divine restoration and renewal. The existence of this divine likeness is present as hope in God as Creator. God is faithful to the things God has made, and therefore, not even the Fall can overthrow the image and likeness of God. Humanity has good reason to look to Jesus Christ, different from humanity and yet, for that reason the presence of genuine humanity, as the fulfillment of the divine promise. When men and women beget children by divine permission and promise, they realize in themselves the sign of this hope. This human activity is the sign of the genuine creaturely confrontation in open differentiation and joyful relationship that is the image and likeness of the divine form of life. In itself and as such, their activity is no doubt a denial of their divine image and likeness and laden with all the moral sickness that is a consequence of this denial. However, this does not alter the fact that this activity as such is the sign of the hope given to humanity; the sign of the Son of Man and of the community belonging to Him. If humanity, if male and female necessarily point beyond themselves in this activity, if their activity has meaning only in the fact that it is the realization of this sign, this again does not alter the fat that in realizing this sign they participate in that to which they themselves point. They point to Jesus Christ and the Church, in the being of this human being corresponding to creation by God, even before they know God, even before they believe in Jesus Christ, even before God calls them to the Church. It does not alter the fact that in all their humanity, willingly and wittingly or not, they may have their hope in the divine will and plan that has this human being as its goal, and may live in the strength of the truth and certainty of this hope. This is what one must say of the power of the blessing given to humanity. Of the range of the friendly Word of God that is spoken to human beings at the beginning of their way as the special creature with independent life that they are. This friendly Word affirms that the natural being and activity of humanity, irrespective of individual vagaries, is fundamentally and finally destined to be a sign of the fact that the One of whom they are the image and likeness has in and with their creation constituted God their pledge and hope.

            What are we to make of the divine plural in v. 26? The saga wishes the creation of humanity to be understood lin the true sense as a concerted act on the part of the speaker and those addressed by God. Further, it is to be noted that in the “Let us make humanity” we have to do with a concert of mind, act, and action in the divine being itself and not merely between God and non-divine beings. For if we wish to speak of a plurality of Elohim in this connection, we cannot dispute the fact that in ascribing to them an active part in creation, and calling their image the image of God, we give to the term its most proper sense, and this endow them with the attribute of true deity. The well-known decision of early exegesis was that we have in Genesis 1:26 a reference to the divine tri-unity. It make be objected that this statement is rather too explicit. The saga undoubtedly speaks of a genuine plurality in the divine being, but it does not actually say that it is a Trinity. On the other hand, an approximation to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the picture of a God who is the one and only God, yet who is not for that reason solitary, but includes in the divine being the differentiation and relationship of I and Thou, is both nearer to the text and does it more justice than the alternative suggested by modern exegesis in its arrogant rejection of the exegesis of the Early Church.

            We should note that the Old Testament makes little of the concept of the image of God.


Genesis 1:26-27 (NRSV)

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 5:1 (NRSV)

This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God.

Genesis 5:3 (NRSV)

3 When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

Genesis 9:6 (NRSV)

6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human,

by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;

for in his own image

God made humankind.

Psalm 8:6-7 (NRSV)

6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

you have put all things under their feet,

7 all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,


Of course, the daring equation of the man Jesus with the divine image is an unprecedented and radical innovation.

            Genesis 2:1-3 is the completion of creation. The fact that God rested means that God did not continue the work of creation. God was content with the creation of the world and humanity. God was satisfied to enter into this relationship with this reality distinct from God, to be the Creator of this creature, to find in these works of the Word of God the external sphere of the power and grace of God and the place of the revealed glory of God. The saga reveals a limit. God had fixed it for God and had now reached it. This rest shows the freedom of God and the love of God. Speaking of the rest of God, the biblical witness tells us that what God was within the divine self, and had done from eternity, God had now in some sense repeated in time. God did this in the form of an historical event, in the relation of God to the creation of God, the world and humanity; and that the completion of all creation consisted in the historical event of this repetition. What does this mean? God was not content create and then leave what God had created alone. Further, this rest means that the humanity will look need to look beyond itself for completion. It will have to seek and find what God intends to undertake and do in this fellowship. The clear inference is that creation, and supremely humanity, rested with God on the seventh day and shared this freedom, rest, and joy, even though it had not as yet any work behind it from which to cease. Its Sabbath freedom, rest and joy could only look back the work of God and not its own. Its freedom, rest and joy could be grounded in those of God and consist only in its response to the invitation to participate in them. That God rested on the seventh day, and blessed and sanctified it, is the first divine action that humanity is privileged to witness. That humanity may keep the Sabbath with God, completely free from work, is the first Word spoken to humanity, the first obligation laid on humanity. It is decided that the history of the covenant that begins here is to be the history of the divine covenant of grace. With this decision, creation is completed as the revelation of the will of God with regard to the existence and being of the creation of God.

3. The Covenant as the Internal Basis of Creation

            Our first task is to give a general outline of the points raised. The creature does not exist casually. It does not merely exist, but exists meaningfully. In its existence, it realizes a purpose, plan, and order. It has not come into being by chance but by necessity, and therefore not as an accident but as a sign and witness of this necessity. The divine meaning and necessity that the creature reveals, which as such it denotes and attests, is the free love of God, that is, the love of God in which God wills and posits another by God. The power and independent resolve of God is the source of the free love in which God accomplishes this willing and this positing. We must now see that the covenant is the internal basis of creation. The external basis is the wisdom and omnipotence of God. This God is sure of God as Creator because God is God, who at the creation of the world and humanity, at the laying of the presupposition of the covenant, at the preparation of the creature for the grace of God, is never at a loss for the right ways and means. Rather, the Word is sufficient to give being and existence to the creature as the object of the love of God and as the partner of the covenant of God. However, creation also has its internal basis. This consists in the fact that the wisdom and omnipotence of God the Creator was not just any wisdom and omnipotence but that of the free love of God.

            Genesis 2:4b-7 is decisive for all that follows, is that we now have to do with a new name for God. The heaves are not overlooked or denied, but in this saga attention is focused on the earth. Self-evidently, what we have here is in the first instance a childlike description of human existence, of the contradiction and unity of its visible corporality and invisible quickening or animation. At the same time, a description of the basis of the twofold reality of humanity is in the direct will and activity of God. Again, self-evidently, we also have in the first instance and the same childlike form a magnifying of the state of the servant in his or her divine election and call.

            Genesis 2:8-17 deals with the planting of the Garden of Eden as the dwelling-place of humanity, with its trees and rivers, with the divine commission to humanity, with the permission and prohibition given to humanity. What kind of place is it? Eden means delight. Hence, the Garden of Eden was undoubtedly a kind of pleasure garden. Humanity has no home. Humanity does not seek or find one. God prepares the home for humanity, and in a special third act of human creation, he is brought home, and all this in the course of human creation, which has not yet been completed but is still on the way to completion.  Where is this place? The biblical witness speaks of a definite place on earth, and not of the idea of a perfect country or Utopia. It is toward the East. It was a real place on earth, distant from and unique to all other earthly places, yet belonging to the same plane. The reason is that real humanity could be there on the real earth, and to this day the known and accessible places on earth there was and is also that unknown and inaccessible place, that in addition to his own place there is also that which is lost to hi, and that that place is his home. It was there that God originally put humanity and has it rest when God had formed it. It was there that humanity could and should live. What humanity was there is its reality as the creature of God. The general nature of Paradise is that of a sanctuary. Not humanity, but God, is the possessor and Lord of this Garden. Humanity finds itself in a place appointed for this purpose by God and fenced off from the other earthly places. God specially brings humanity here and gives it rest. This fact indicates that the establishment of Paradise is a distinctive spatial parallel to the institution of the Sabbath as a temporal sanctuary in the first saga. The duty of humanity in this place is to cultivate and keep it. The text emphatically describes Paradise as an orchard or sacred grove, and therefore humanity’s life and function in it as that of a fruit gardener. All the distinctive features of this place focus on the fact that it has itself a center, a Holy of Holies. Among the many trees planted by God on the banks of the one river there stand two special trees. It is with reference to them and humanity that God allots humanity a place and gives it permission and prohibition. These are the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A first point to notice is that humanity does not actually seem to have needed the fruit of the first tree. Its presence means that humanity God tells humanity where it is, to whom the place belongs, and what it may expect and be. It assures humanity of the benefit of life whose witness humanity is. For it obviously does not meditate this benefit. It simply indicates and represents it. The second tree in the midst of Paradise is not by name or nature the sign, like the first, of a reality given to humanity by God, but the sign of a possibility presented to humanity by God. To know good and evil, to be able to distinguish and therefore judge between what ought to be and ought not to be, between Yes and No, between salvation and perdition, between life and death, is to be like God, to be oneself the Creator and Lord of the creature. The onewho can do this bears the supreme attribute and function of deity. We see here for the first time how God stretches out the protecting hand of God over the creature. God knows of a threat to its existence. God knows that we are dust. God has not formed humanity to let it dissolve into dust again. God has not given humanity a soul, a life, to take it from humanity again. God will keep what God has created. This prohibition is the first powerful promise with which God meets death. We cannot evade two other questions. The first concerns the threat that is so ineluctable that God cannot arrest its fulfillment if humanity eats of the fruit of this tree. Humanity is to know that its life originates and consists in the fact that God has affirmed and therefore denied, that God has chosen and therefore rejected, that God has willed one thing and therefore not willed another. Human life is to be lived in such a way that face to face with the second tree humanity takes its stand consciously on the ground of this divine decision, that humanity accepts it as such, that it acknowledges and praises God as the One who in the sovereignty of God has willed and done this and not something else. This is what God wills with the existence of the second tree. Its function is to summon humanity to life in this knowledge and adoration. God ordains the life of humanity to be lived in fellowship with God, that is, in the acknowledgement of the deity of God and therefore of the judicial office of God in creation. However, everything obviously hinges upon human recognition and acceptance of the judicial office of God. This raises the critical question whether humanity will do so. The second question is why was not this divinely given prohibition more effective? Why did it take the form of a prohibition that humanity could transgress and make it ineffective? One could relate this question to the grace of God. Why is the grace of God not so powerful, so triumphant and so penetrating, as to make superfluous the special sanctifying of Israel and therefore all injunctions and prohibitions? The answer is that God would not take Israel seriously if God were to make it easier than this, not giving it freedom in and with the revelation of the grace of God, and not demanding free obedience of it. God does not will only to triumph over and in Israel. God wills this in fellowship, in covenant with Israel. This is why God gives it the Law, and demands its sanctification.

            Genesis 2:18-25 brings the second account of creation to its climax and conclusion. Four things about the emergence of humanity suggest themselves. First, in woman, man finds another human being who is at the same time distinctly different. Second, man cannot divest himself of this distinctly different human being. Third, man experienced loss that he can restore only in relation to woman. Fourth, man recognizes something like him in woman and recognizes in her one with her own autonomous nature and structure. To understand the declaration of v. 25 we must note that for the first time the text refers to both, and then to the man and his wife. The problem with which the final section of the saga opened is not resolved and removed. Humanity is no longer single but a couple. Humanity no longer lacks the good thing that he lacked according to the judgment of God in v. 18. The creation of humanity is now completed. Humanity now exists in the plural. The I has now found its Thou, and that means both. Both together are now the acting and responsible subject called humanity. With the creation of woman as the climax of the creation of humanity, and the male acknowledgment of the woman, man lost his position of sole responsibility. He is no longer the only representative as in v. 23. From now on, woman will be there, and with him, she will be man and will stand before God as such. The whole intercourse of God with humanity will now relate to humanity conjoined as male and female, and existing as I and Thou, and therefore to humanity. However, woman will be there as woman. The encounter of man and woman is not an encounter of two freely disposing or disposable factors that one can shape or reverse at will. Only as ordered by God at creation can this encounter be normal and good in its relationship to God. Any other form of the mutual relationship of man and woman alters their relationship to God. Every alteration of their relationship to God is betrayed by the disturbance and reversal of their normal and good mutual relationship. If we try to read the passage in isolation, we can only conclude that what we are offered is an account of the divine basis of love and marriage as the fulfillment of the relationship between man and wife. The remarkable fact that the prophets always described the alliance between Yahweh and Israel in terms of love and marriage is reflected in the necessity with which this takes place. As a rule at the heart of the Old Testament witness, the love of Yahweh for Israel is compared with the love of a man for a woman who has from the very outset unworthy of God, whom God raised out of the dust, whom God undeservedly honored by turning to her, and whom God adorned with gifts.


Ezekiel 16:1-14 (NRSV)

 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. 4 As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you out of compassion for you; but you were thrown out in the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

6 I passed by you, and saw you flailing about in your blood. As you lay in your blood, I said to you, “Live! 7 and grow up like a plant of the field.” You grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood; your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.

8 I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. 9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off the blood from you, and anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you with embroidered cloth and with sandals of fine leather; I bound you in fine linen and covered you with rich fabric. 11 I adorned you with ornaments: I put bracelets on your arms, a chain on your neck, 12 a ring on your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head. 13 You were adorned with gold and silver, while your clothing was of fine linen, rich fabric, and embroidered cloth. You had choice flour and honey and oil for food. You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen. 14 Your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of my splendor that I had bestowed on you, says the Lord God.


Ezekiel 23 (NRSV)

 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, there were two women, the daughters of one mother; 3 they played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; their breasts were caressed there, and their virgin bosoms were fondled. 4 Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

5 Oholah played the whore while she was mine; she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors 6 clothed in blue, governors and commanders, all of them handsome young men, mounted horsemen. 7 She bestowed her favors upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them; and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone for whom she lusted. 8 She did not give up her whorings that she had practiced since Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her and fondled her virgin bosom and poured out their lust upon her. 9 Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, for whom she lusted. 10 These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and they killed her with the sword. Judgment was executed upon her, and she became a byword among women.

11 Her sister Oholibah saw this, yet she was more corrupt than she in her lusting and in her whorings, which were worse than those of her sister. 12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, mounted horsemen, all of them handsome young men. 13 And I saw that she was defiled; they both took the same way. 14 But she carried her whorings further; she saw male figures carved on the wall, images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 with belts around their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like officers—a picture of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16 When she saw them she lusted after them, and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their lust; and after she defiled herself with them, she turned from them in disgust. 18 When she carried on her whorings so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned from her sister. 19 Yet she increased her whorings, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt 20 and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions. 21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your bosom and caressedyour young breasts.

22 Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God: I will rouse against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, handsome young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and warriors, all of them riding on horses. 24 They shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples; they shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet, and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their ordinances. 25 I will direct my indignation against you, in order that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire. 26 They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your fine jewels. 27 So I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring brought from the land of Egypt; you shall not long for them, or remember Egypt any more. 28 For thus says the Lord God: I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate, into the hands of those from whom you turned in disgust; 29 and they shall deal with you in hatred, and take away all the fruit of your labor, and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whorings shall be exposed. Your lewdness and your whorings 30 have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations, and polluted yourself with their idols. 31 You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. 32 Thus says the Lord God:

You shall drink your sister’s cup,

deep and wide;

you shall be scorned and derided,

it holds so much.

33 You shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.

A cup of horror and desolation

is the cup of your sister Samaria;

34 you shall drink it and drain it out,

and gnaw its sherds,

and tear out your breasts;

for I have spoken, says the Lord God. 35 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, therefore bear the consequences of your lewdness and whorings.

36 The Lord said to me: Mortal, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominable deeds. 37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands; with their idols they have committed adultery; and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. 38 Moreover this they have done to me: they have defiled my sanctuary on the same day and profaned my sabbaths. 39 For when they had slaughtered their children for their idols, on the same day they came into my sanctuary to profane it. This is what they did in my house.

40 They even sent for men to come from far away, to whom a messenger was sent, and they came. For them you bathed yourself, painted your eyes, and decked yourself with ornaments; 41 you sat on a stately couch, with a table spread before it on which you had placed my incense and my oil. 42 The sound of a raucous multitude was around her, with many of the rabble brought in drunken from the wilderness; and they put bracelets on the arms of the women, and beautiful crowns upon their heads.

43 Then I said, Ah, she is worn out with adulteries, but they carry on their sexual acts with her. 44 For they have gone in to her, as one goes in to a whore. Thus they went in to Oholah and to Oholibah, wanton women. 45 But righteous judges shall declare them guilty of adultery and of bloodshed; because they are adulteresses and blood is on their hands.

46 For thus says the Lord God: Bring up an assembly against them, and make them an object of terror and of plunder. 47 The assembly shall stone them and with their swords they shall cut them down; they shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses. 48 Thus will I put an end to lewdness in the land, so that all women may take warning and not commit lewdness as you have done. 49 They shall repay you for your lewdness, and you shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry; and you shall know that I am the Lord God.


Hosea 2 (NRSV)

 Say to your brother, Ammi,and to your sister, Ruhamah.

2 Plead with your mother, plead—

for she is not my wife,

and I am not her husband—

that she put away her whoring from her face,

and her adultery from between her breasts,

3 or I will strip her naked

and expose her as in the day she was born,

and make her like a wilderness,

and turn her into a parched land,

and kill her with thirst.

4 Upon her children also I will have no pity,

because they are children of whoredom.

5 For their mother has played the whore;

she who conceived them has acted shamefully.

For she said, “I will go after my lovers;

they give me my bread and my water,

my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”

6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns;

and I will build a wall against her,

so that she cannot find her paths.

7 She shall pursue her lovers,

but not overtake them;

and she shall seek them,

but shall not find them.

Then she shall say, “I will go

and return to my first husband,

for it was better with me then than now.”

8 She did not know

that it was I who gave her

the grain, the wine, and the oil,

and who lavished upon her silver

and gold that they used for Baal.

9 Therefore I will take back

my grain in its time,

and my wine in its season;

and I will take away my wool and my flax,

which were to cover her nakedness.

10 Now I will uncover her shame

in the sight of her lovers,

and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.

11 I will put an end to all her mirth,

her festivals, her new moons, her sabbaths,

and all her appointed festivals.

12 I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees,

of which she said,

“These are my pay,

which my lovers have given me.”

I will make them a forest,

and the wild animals shall devour them.

13 I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,

when she offered incense to them

and decked herself with her ring and jewelry,

and went after her lovers,

and forgot me, says the Lord.

14 Therefore, I will now allure her,

and bring her into the wilderness,

and speak tenderly to her.

15 From there I will give her her vineyards,

and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,

as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

16 On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.” 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more. 18 I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolishthe bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. 20 I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.

21 On that day I will answer, says the Lord,

I will answer the heavens

and they shall answer the earth;

22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,

and they shall answer Jezreel;

23      and I will sow him for myself in the land.

And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah,

and I will say to Lo-ammi, “You are my people”;

and he shall say, “You are my God.”


Jeremiah 3 (NRSV)

 If a man divorces his wife

and she goes from him

and becomes another man’s wife,

will he return to her?

Would not such a land be greatly polluted?

You have played the whore with many lovers;

and would you return to me?

     says the Lord.

2 Look up to the bare heights, and see!

Where have you not been lain with?

By the waysides you have sat waiting for lovers,

like a nomad in the wilderness.

You have polluted the land

with your whoring and wickedness.

3 Therefore the showers have been withheld,

and the spring rain has not come;

yet you have the forehead of a whore,

you refuse to be ashamed.

4 Have you not just now called to me,

“My Father, you are the friend of my youth—

5 will he be angry forever,

will he be indignant to the end?”

This is how you have spoken,

but you have done all the evil that you could.

6 The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? 7 And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. 8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. 9 Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. 10 Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the Lord.

11 Then the Lord said to me: Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah. 12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say:

Return, faithless Israel,

     says the Lord.

I will not look on you in anger,

for I am merciful,

     says the Lord;

I will not be angry forever.

13 Only acknowledge your guilt,

that you have rebelled against the Lord your God,

and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree,

and have not obeyed my voice,

     says the Lord.

14 Return, O faithless children,

     says the Lord,

for I am your master;

I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,

and I will bring you to Zion.

15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will. 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage.

19 I thought

how I would set you among my children,

and give you a pleasant land,

the most beautiful heritage of all the nations.

And I thought you would call me, My Father,

and would not turn from following me.

20 Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband,

so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel,

     says the Lord.

21 A voice on the bare heights is heard,

the plaintive weeping of Israel’s children,

because they have perverted their way,

they have forgotten the Lord their God:

22 Return, O faithless children,

I will heal your faithlessness.

“Here we come to you;

for you are the Lord our God.

23 Truly the hills are a delusion,

the orgies on the mountains.

Truly in the Lord our God

is the salvation of Israel.

24 “But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our ancestors had labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. 25 Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our ancestors, from our youth even to this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.”

When the Old Testament gives dignity to the sexual relationship, it has in view its prototype, the divine likeness of humanity as male and female that in the plan and election of God is primarily the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church, although very directly in view of its origin, the relationship between the sexes. It is because Jesus Christ and His Church are the internal basis of creation, and because Jesus Christ is again the basis of the election and call of Israel, that one can describe the relation between Yahweh and Israel as an erotic relationship.

42. The Yes of God the Creator

The work of God the Creator consists particularly in the benefit that in the limits of its creatureliness what God has created may be as God actualizes it, and be good as God justifies it.


1. Creation as Benefit

            What does creation mean as a divine work undertaken and completed to this end and in this sense? The creation of God carries with it the Yes of God to that which God creates. Divine creation is divine benefit. What takes shape in it is the goodness of God. It would not be a work of God without this character. The Christian apprehension of creation requires and involves the principle that creation is benefit. It shows us the good pleasure of God as the root, the foundation, and the end of divine creation. It suggests the peace with which God separated and protected what God truly willed from what God did not will, and therefore from the unreal. It implies that God decided for the creation and became the responsible guarantor of it. Creation, as the Christian knows it, is benefit. Whatever the creature be, God has entered into solidarity with the human race in the history of Israel, and that in Jesus Christ God has even become a creature, the Son of Man of the seed of Abraham and David. Any loosening or obscuring of the bond between creation and covenant necessarily entails a threat to this statement. It collapses if one dissolves this bond. The creation of God has the character of benefit derives everywhere from the fact that its fundamental purpose lies in the covenant between God and humanity. This is made a compelling insight by the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the fulfiller of the covenant attested already by the Old Testament witness to creation. Its theme is the work of God that is characterized y the fact that it is divine benefit. The character of its theme, established in this way, is what distinguishes the Christian doctrine of creation from all the so-called worldviews that have emerged or may conceivably emerge in the spheres of mythology, philosophy, and science. It differs from all these by the fact that it is based on the revelation of God. However, this is not merely a formal difference. It is also material. The Christian doctrine of creation does not merely take its rise from another source. It also arises very differently from all such worldviews. It not only has a different origin, but also has a different object and pursues a different course. The divine activity that is its object can never become the theme of a worldview. The fundamental difference between the Christian doctrine of creation and every existent or conceivable worldview is this. In order to treat of the divine creation that has this character, a worldview must become theology, just as theology ceases to be true to itself, necessarily becoming a type of philosophical thinking, if it concerns itself with the problem of pure becoming without this character. In view of the decision regarding this character, it is no less essential to philosophy than to theology that the objects as well as the grounds of knowledge are different. Hence, it follows that the Christian doctrine of creation must pursue its own path according to its special ground and object and independently of any and every established or future philosophical system. The implications may be briefly noted. 1) It cannot become a worldview. 2) It cannot base itself on any worldview. 3) It cannot guarantee any worldview. 4) It cannot come to terms with these views, adopting an attitude of either partial agreement or partial rejection. 5) It considers these views in such a way that it presents its own recognition of its own object with its own basis and consistency, claiming a different type of knowledge that does not exclude the former but is developed in juxtaposition and antithesis to it. 6) As a part of Christian dogmatics, it pursues its own special task, imposed upon it in the service of the proclamation of the church, and which consists in an increasing unqualified and full apprehension, and faithful and exact reproduction, of the self-witness of the Creator in the revelation of God, and therefore of the biblical witness to creation. For these reasons, one cannot take into account the problems posed in natural theology and the philosophy of religion into account in this exposition of the Christian doctrine of creation. We will conduct our conversation with the exponents of worldviews directly.


2. Creation as Actualization

            God as Creator has not said No, or Yes and No, but unequivocally Yes to what God created. First, this means that God has actualized it. A higher Judge must have intervened between our consciousness and our supposed intrinsic and extrinsic being, and decided that our consciousness does not deceive us, and that our being is no imaginary being. It we are the creation of a real Creator, we ourselves are real. Our consciousness would not deceive us either about ourselves or what exists outside us. The life of which we are conscious both in and outside outselves is not a mere supposition, but within its limits, in its distinction from the life that is its basis, a true life. If we are informed by this real Creator that we are the creatures of God, we do not merely suppose but know that on the basis of this information we really are. Our I-consciousness and world-consciousness is then removed from the sphere of appearance. In this case our being is present in the form of the information given. We are forbidden to doubt existence and ourselves. It is incumbent on us to be conscious of being and to recognize the reality of existence. We have no other choice but the decisive recognition, without any shadow of ambiguity, of the reality of the created world and ourselves, and the life founded upon this recognition. We are not referring to the content of an immediate consciousness of God that is bound up with our consciousness of ouirselves and the world and originally underlies it. The fact that we are told by our Creator that we and what is outside us are the creatures of God is not interchangeable with the immediate consciousness of God, however things may stand with the latter. Our reference is to the divine self-disclosure that corresponds to the reality of the Creator. Hence, we are not concerned about an extension of our consciousness, but about a vital confrontation of our consciousness, and about the new insights to which this alone gives rise and which we can acquire only as we acknowledge this confrontation. The reality of the Creator differs from all other reality in that it alone is self-existent and therefore original. Further, its self-disclosure differs from that of all other beings and every creaturely mind in that it and it alone is able to reveal its existence with authenticity, truth, and effectiveness, and in this revelation to affirm the reality of its being. We emphasize that this awareness of creaturely existence rests upon the self-communication of God in revelation. This arises from what the Creator says to the human being and has an echo and response of the creature. It merely takes place. It is a sheer fact that the creature whose faculties in themselves do not suffice to achieve this recognition, orientating itself according to the self-revelation of God, is compelled to adopt this recognition. It is recognition in the form of acknowledgement; recognition under the law of faith and obedience. This character formally distinguishes it from all recognition based upon the consciousness of the ego, the world, and God. Christian understanding of creation, the Creator and the creature, promotes and sustains the principle that creation is actualization. The God who posits and guarantees creaturely existence, and by whose self-disclosure it is revealed and secured to the creature, is God who in and through the creative activity of God has established the covenant of God with the creature. As Creator, God does not exist as a monad. Rather, God exists in the overflowing plentitude of the life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the desire and love in which God magnifies the glory of God outside God, in which God wills to live for another distinct from God. God loves eternally, working and creating beneficently in this desire and love. God lives as the God who so loved humanity that God condescended to become a human being in the Son. God lives as the Creator who was both able and willing to perform this act of self-giving. Creation is a benefit because it establishes the presupposition of the execution of this divine will and plan. Creation is a benefit because it provides a sphere and object for the divine affirmation, election, and acceptance, for the divine goodness and providence. Creation is a benefit inasmuch as its basis and end is the divine covenant with humanity. To be creature means to be determined to this end, to be affirmed, elected, and accepted by God. To be a creature means to exist after the manner of Israel; after the manner that God in the Son has not deemed it unworthy to adopt as the divine manner. To be a creature means to be prepared for the place where the honor of God dwells. In this way, we can move beyond Cartesian proof of existence. If the covenant of grace is no illusion, if the love of God in Jesus Christ is no dream, neither is the existence of God, nor our own existence, nor that of the world around us. Our consciousness of self and world is no dream. Our consciousness of God is no longer problematical.

3. Creation as Justification

            The affirmation of the creature by God the Creator implies in the second place that God has justified it. The creature does not simply exist. The reality that it has and is, is not just any reality. Its being is not neutral. It is not bad, but good. Because it is, and is distinct from nothingness, it is distinct from the bad and evil. In the words of the Genesis saga, it is separated from the darkness of chaos. Because it s affirmed and not denied, elected and not rejected, it is the object of the good-pleasure of God. Its creation by God implies actualization and justification. The only that that can be better than what is by God is what is to develop out of what is in its communion and encounter with God. The only thing that can be better than creaturely existence is the goal of the covenant for which the creature is determined in and with its creation. Created orer has what we may call its brighter side. However, its justification by it Creator and the self-disclosure of God is not bound up with this brighter side. However, the divine self-revelation is not dependent on this illumination and brightness of the created world. It shines primarily and essentially in its own light. If the created world shines, it does so in reflection of this light. However, the light of revelation shines even where the created world itself is without light because the same God who gives it light at one point refuses it light at another, willing to reveal God here, but to conceal God there. However brightly this reflected light may shine, we must not refuse to go back to the source that knows a very different and the only unambiguous light. The witness of the created world itself and as such is not objectively exhausted in the affirmation of its direct and immanent goodness, because in fact it does not offer us only a positive but also a negative aspect, thus placing a negative as well as a positive judgment on our lips. We are not in a position altogether to elude the shadow that is also characteristic of existence. Eventually, we shall have to give ear to this sad voice. What becomes then of the vital recognition that everything is good as it is? We have cause to remember the self-revelation of the Creator does not bind the justification of creaturely being with the darker side of human existence. The justice of creation is not compromised by the fact that the heavens grow dark, that harmony is engulfed in disharmony and teleology obscured by senselessness. Human beings hear this negative voice and its word is valid. This negative verdict on being is judgment. The discovery of the inner lostness of being, despair of the meaning and strength of the human will for life, a sober realization of its limits and of the frailty and end of all things, the unconditional admission of all this is undoubtedly required of the human being whom the Creator confronts in self-revelation. How can a human being stand before the Creator without realizing that he or she is lost and must perish? Individuals who must and will weep have no need to be ashamed when faced by the goodness of the Creator. The only individuals who have cause for shame are those motivated by false pride and effuses to weep, or perhaps for simple lack of insight has lost the capacity to do so. The very last thing that ought to happen is the attempt to elude the misery of life. It is in fact the heaviest curse that can strike individuals if they really elude it, and it is doubly heavy if they master it in a painless mingling of joy and sorrow. We have to remember that the revelation of God illuminates primarily with its own light and reveals primarily its own truth. This applies even when it cases shadows. It is true even of the No that accompanies its Yes, of the judgment that accompanies its grace, of the silence without which the divine word could not speak. Even when a shadow enwraps our lives, we have to consider that the same God who brings darkness upon us is always free to act quite differently towards us. We must not charge God with the fact that God now enfolds us in darkness. As for death, its significance is nowhere so obvious in the world of creation that the thought of it necessarily induces reflection on the divine judgment. Death does not usually meet us except in association with new life. If our share in the misery of life has the power to bind us to God, and thus to assure us of the justification of being, that is not due to the power of creaturely existence itself, and therefore to our own power, but to the independent power of divine revelation that transcends all creaturely power.

            The creation of God, therefore, is the justification of creaturely being. First, the divine revelation transcends the two contradictory aspects and thus makes relative the contrasting judgments of existence. It also implies confirmation of these two aspects and judgments. The revelation of God the Creator so closely binds the life that God has created with the covenant in which God willed to become Lord, Helper, and Savior of humanity; with the reconciliation of the world with God accomplished in Jesus Christ. In this intention of the Creator and therefore this final goal of the creature as manifested in the divine revelation, we find implied from the outset, a twofold determination. One the one hand, it implies an exaltation and dignity of the creature in the sigh of God. On the other hand, it implies the need and peril of the creature before God. God created humanity to lift it in the Son into fellowship with God. This is the positive meaning of human existence and all existence. However, this elevation presupposes a wretchedness of human and all existence that the Son will share and bear. This is the negative meaning of creation. Everything has its destiny for God as certainly as it is actual by God alone. Yet, everything is capable of being unfaithful to its origin and destiny and becoming the instrument of sin. Everything has subsistence and lives, yet not in itself. Everything may hope in its Creator. Hence, the joy and the misery of life have their foundation in the will of God. The two contrasting interpretations may be only opinions in human thought and speech; as such, they may be as little able as any human opinions to do justice to the real situation. However, they have their root in the will of God and in the truth of being. Second, the self-disclosure of God the Creator confirms and transcends these two aspects and views of life. In what does the superiority of this self-disclosure consist? The answer is that it consists in the fact that the self-revelation of God is the Word. In the Word, the Creator has become creature. The secret, the meaning, and the goal of creation is that it reveals, or that there is revealed in it, the covenant and communion between God and humanity, and therefore the fulfillment of being as a whole. Third, the self-revelation of God the Creator discloses the perfection of being, the divine good-pleasure resting upon it, its justification by its Creator, and therefore, that it is right as it is, that it is good in its totality, indeed that it is right as it is, that it is good in its totality, indeed, that it is the best. It is as well to realize the true situation in respect of this third question. We cannot actually find a human basis on which we can establish a legitimate coordination of the two aspects and interpretations. It is understandable that people have constantly sought and attempted in different ways to effect this coordination. However, apart form divine revelation, this has always been at the expense of the necessary rigor of the judgment demanded on both sides. The Creator willed to endure, has endured, and still endures, the contradiction in creaturely life is the first we note in the foundation in the self-revelation of God. The real goodness of the real God is that the contradiction of creation has not remained alien. God has made it the property of God, and only then caused the life of the creature to reflect it. God took it within the divine self even in its contradictions. God made its menace and its hope the property of God. God did not spare the divine self these contradictions. The self-revelation of God as our Creator consists in the fact that in Jesus Christ, God gives the divine self to us so that we might recognize God as the One who has made our cause the cause of God before it was or could be our cause. God does not stand aloof from the contradiction of our being as a stranger. God has willed to bear the contradictions of human life within God, and has in fact borne it from all eternity. Thus, we have not discovered the problem of existence. The problem of existence is integral to us. However, we must also confess that it was the problem of God and only later became our human problem, so that we cannot solve it. We have to recognize that God solves it. Can the contradiction of life, its dread aspect, and therefore the imperfection of creation really be a final word? If our thinking starts at the self-declaration of God, we cannot accept this position. For this declaration definitely does not speak of an ultimate antithesis of two spheres, of a parallel infinity of the two aspects, of a stable balance or absolute symmetry of these tow factors, of an eternal dualism. It speaks of a dually orientated, but not of a dual reality. It speaks of one way and work, of one living action of God. God pronounces the Yes and No with differing emphases. God took into the heart of God very differently in Jesus Christ the infinite hope of the creature and its infinite peril. We cannot stop at the suffering, death, and burial of Jesus Christ. This is not a final word. The resurrection follows the cross, exaltation follows humiliation, and the former is the true, definitive, and eternal form of the incarnate Son of God. This is the Yes for the sake of which the No had first to be spoken. It was the affair of a moment. The moment has now passed. Christ dies no more. Christ lives eternally, Son of God and Son of Man. Christ lives as Creator of all things and as creature. Here we are at the end of the divine way. Here, God speaks the final word. Fourth, as the self-declaration of God, it mediates a secure, decisive and binding knowledge of all this. The history of Jesus Christ as the end and meaning of creation is not a drama played out at a remote distance. People cannot view the drama as an interested or disinterested spectator. Humanity is the one whom God in the Son has eternally taken into the divine heart of love. The cause of humanity finds its pleading in the heart of God. God defends humanity against the menace of nothingness. God wins eternal life for humanity. The glory of God clothes humanity. Christian faith does not simply contemplate what God has done. It receives it as done for us. It is our own participation in this divine event, as the latter is the participation of God in our own being and nature. God loves us in the course of these events of divine activity. We are the covenant-partners of God.

Volume III, Part Two, Chapter X: The Creature (1948)

43. Humanity as a Problem of Dogmatics

Because humanity, living under heaven and on earth, is the creature whose relation to God the Word of God reveals to us, humanity is the central object of the theological doctrine of creation. As the human being Jesus is Himself the revealing Word of God, He is the source of our knowledge of the nature of humanity as created by God.

1. Humanity in the cosmos

            Creator and creation belong together as an integral whole. In creating it, God bound creation to a relationship with God. It pleased the Creator to associate and coordinate with the things the Creator made. Creation is the divine distinction of the creature. The doctrine of the creature is the doctrine of that which God distinguished by the fact of creating it. However, in practice, the doctrine of creation means anthropology, the doctrine of humanity. Hence, our first task is to establish this determination. The God of Holy Scripture and of the confession of the church is the Creator of heaven and earth. Humanity is not the only thing God made. Humanity is a creature, rather than the creature. Humanity is the creature of God as God places humanity in the world that God has created. This being the case, we must seriously consider the possibility that the theological doctrine of the creature should be expounded as a doctrine of the whole created cosmos. If we forget that human beings must remain loyal to the earth, we shall never truly understand humanity, and we shall forget heaven, which is above humanity.

            However, this does not mean that the task of dogmatics is to outline a cosmology or worldview. The traditional approach theology, in fact, began this section with a doctrine of angels. By the nature of its object, dogmatics has neither the occasion nor the duty ot become a technical cosmology or Christian worldview. Were it to do so, it would be losing its way in a sphere essentially foreign to it. Its true object is the revealed, written and declared Word of God. Those who have claimed to have a worldview have always derived it from other sources than the Word of God. We must part company with all exponents of worldviews. We justify this assertion by the following considerations. First, the faith that grasps the Word of God and expresses it in its witness has never yet engendered its own distinctive worldview. Faith has always made a discerning use of worldviews, recognizing their alien presence in any Christian dogmatics.  Second, the reason why there is no revealed or biblical worldview characteristic to the preaching of the church is that faith in the Word of God can never find its theme in the totality of the created world. It believes in God who relates to human beings who live under heaven and on earth. It does not believe in this or that constitution of heaven and earth. Third, from the fact that faith can give only incidental attention to creation as a whole, it follows that is relation to the cosmological presuppositions and consequences of its witness and confession could be supremely non-committal. Fourth, even where we think we detect an absolute union of faith with this or that worldview, we are not dealing with faith, but a partial deviation from faith such as is always possible in the life of the church and of individuals. Fifth, in so far as faith itself is true to its object, its association with this or that worldview will always bear the marks of the contradiction between the underlying confession and the principles of the system with which it is conjoined. We have seen that the ultimate reason for this peculiar state of affairs is that the Word of God speaks of God and also of humanity, but does not contain either directly or indirectly any disclosure about an independent being and nature of the cosmos. Faith cannot have only an external, non-committal, and paradoxical relationship with all philosophies. The Word of God can glance at the world surrounding humanity. However, without that this glance it could not fulfill its function to the human being set in this world. Lit could not make humanity known to itself. The Word of God has a cosmological border. It illuminates the world. Lit makes it known as the sphere in which the glory of God dwells and in which God directs attention to humanity. It understands and explains it as one great parable of this happening. Its understanding of the creation of God is anthropocentric to the extent that it follows the orientation prescribed for it by the Word of God, which orients itself toward humanity. To the extent that it does this, it will merely glimpse at cosmology.

            Genuine science has the following points in common with genuine theological scholarship. First, it does not carry with it any worldview. It observes, classifies, investigates, understands, and describes phenomena. Second, science investigates and describes the cosmos as the cosmos of humanity. It can investigate only from a human perspective. Third, science recognizes two fundamentally distinct spheres. It reckons with the sphere that is within the range of human observation and reckons with the sphere that is inaccessible to humanity.

            Dogmatics has the duty to expound a specific doctrine of humanity. Humanity is the creature to whom God has turned in the work of creation with its center in the covenant of grace. God has become a human being in the perfect and definitive revelation of this Word of God. The Word of God declares who and what humanity is with as much as specificity as it declares who and what God is. The Word of God encloses a specific view of humanity, an anthropology, an ontology of this particular creature. This being the case, we must accept this view in faith, reflect it in the confession of faith, and develop lit as a perception of faith. The humanity with whom we have concern in dogmatics is humanity in the cosmos, and thus under heaven. Humanity is also on earth. Humanity has this two-fold determination as under heaven and on earth. It is enough for us to know the relationship between God and humanity. The being of humanity as on earth and under heaven is determined and created in order that God should speak with humanity and that humanity should hear and answer. We know of humanity the full significance of the depth of the mercy and goodness of God toward humanity; of the seriousness of the interest with which God has turned to the creature; and the praise and gratitude God awaits from the creature and which God is ready to receive.


2. Humanity as an Object of Theological Knowledge

            Humanity becomes an object of theology knowledge by the fact that the Word of God reveals its relationship to God. Of all other creatures, the Word of God tells us only that they are the creatures of God, subject to the sovereignty, intended for the praise of God, and are the heralds of the glory of God. How and why this is so remains hidden form us. However, how and why humanity is the creature of God is not hidden from us, for the Word of God reveals it. This distinction of humanity makes humanity the object of theological anthropology. Theological anthropology cleaves to the Word of God and its biblical attestation. However, in the revealed relationship between God and humanity we find genuine light thrown, not only on God, but also on humanity, on the essence of the creature to whom God has turned in this relationship. Theological anthropology expounds the knowledge of humanity it has in the light of the Word of God. The Word of God is its foundation. We hasten to add that for this reason, it expounds the truth about humanity. It is another matter whether and to what extent, as it uses the material offered, it will do justice to it. We have always to reckon with the possibility that theology as a human work may and will seriously fail to do justice to its object.

            Of course, other types of anthropology exist. It might even appear at first as if the field that we now enter is one that others have long since occupied. The question that we have now to decide is whether we can at least orientate ourselves by this anthropology that is independent of theology. One type of non-theological anthropology is one that offers a speculative theory of humanity. In this case, human beings assume they can begin in an absolute way with themselves, and can fully analyze and know themselves. Such a view of humanity is in direct opposition to the Christian confession. Another non-theological anthropology is that of the exact of humanity. It offers temporarily authoritative formula. Such anthropology is not an enemy of Christian confession. Theological anthropology concerns itself with the reality of the human being. It has responsibility to make the claim of truth. It concerns itself with the real human being.

            On our own assumption, what is in fact the theological standpoint from which we are to understand and describe the being and nature of humanity as created by God? The point is that the revelation of God shows humanity in its perversion and corruption. The truth of the being of humanity as revealed by the Word of God shows humanity as a betrayer of itself and a sinner. It accuses humanity of standing in contradiction to God, its creator, as well as in contradiction to itself and to the end for which God created humanity. It presents humanity as the one who corrupts its own nature. Because from the beginning of the history of humanity is at war with itself, in its further course humanity finds its help by the fact that God still takes the part of humanity, irrespective of the attitude of humanity. For this reason, the grace of God is the salvation of humanity. We do not forget that even as the sinner that humanity is, humanity s still the creature of God. The distortion or corruption of the being of humanity is not the same thing as its annihilation. Humanity is still b efore God. Even as a sinner, humanity is still real. Humanity is still the creature of God. Therefore, the question of the creaturely being of humanity of the nature of humanity, is still meaningful and necessary in spite of the degeneracy of humanity. We must insist on two points. On the one hand, the realization of the total and radical corruption of human nature must not be weakened. On the other hand, the question of human nature as constituted by God is reasonable and necessary. The knowledge of sin and the knowledge of the nature of humanity are possible both individually and in their interconnection within the comprehensive knowledge of the Word of God. It understands humanity as the partner in the covenant that God has made with humanity. It understands humanity as the object of the eternal grace of its Creator and Lord. On the one side, this embracing perception shows us that humanity is sinful. On the other hand, the same perception forbids us to stop at this understanding of humanity and invites us to look further and deeper. If humanity is the object of divine grace, the self-contradiction of humanity is not the last world that God speaks to humanity. For with God and from God, humanity has a future that has not been decided by this self-contradiction or the divine judgment that, as the sinner guilty of this self-contradiction humanity must inevitably incur, but which by the faithfulness and mercy of God is decided in a different way from what humanity deserves. If humanity is the object of the favor of God, the self-contradiction of humanity is seriously, but it cannot even be the first word we say about humanity. The fact that the fall of humanity cannot mean that what humanity is eternally before God and from God has changed.

            Now that we have stumbled on this truth, we cannot escape it. We cannot forget how humanity reveals itself ot us in the light of the Word of God. Humanity is a sinner, but also the object of divine grace, the partner in the covenant that God has made with humanity. The recognition of human sinfulness links up with the recognition that humanity shares in the divine grace. The grace of God, the covenant of God with humanity is primary. The si of humanity is secondary. Of course, the judgment of God, which is effective and disclosed in the Word of God, belongs to the action of a gracious God. The judgment of God is not in conflict with the mercy of God. When humanity sins, humanity chooses what humanity cannot choose as the creature of God, since God has denied and rejected it. God does not let humanity go. Hence, humanity cannot experience release from being a creature nor from being human. Humanity can flee, but humanity cannot escape either God or itself. By the fact that humanity would like to escape both God and itself, but cannot do so, humanity entangles itself in self-contradiction. Yet, even in this way, humanity cannot speak a final word against the first word by which God created humanity in which we find real humanity. Because God will not let humanity go, humanity does not experience abandon or a final fall. The grace of God necessarily assumes the form of judgment on sinful humanity. However, it does not give humanity up. even in this form, judgment does not cease to be grace. That God the Creator is gracious to humanity, the creature of God, is the principle to which theology must always return and the presupposition at which it must always start.

            We must not suppose that in describing humanity as a sinner we have spoken the first and final word about this real human being. For sin itself can arise and take shape only as sin against the grace of God, and one can know it only with the knowledge of grace. We have now reached the point where good reason can be seen for the most important thesis of this section: “As the human being Jesus is Himself the revealing Word of God, He is the source of our knowledge of the nature of humanity as created by God.” The attitude of God in which the faithfulness of the Creator and therefore the unchanging relationships of the human being created by God are revealed and knowable, is quite simply the attitude and relation of God to the human being, Jesus. We see this attitude and faithfulness in several ways. We see it in the election by God of this human being and in the oneness of God with this human being. We see it in the self-revelation, action, and glorification of God in Christ and through Christ; the love of God addressed to Christ and through Christ to those who believe in Christ and to the whole of creation; the freedom and sovereignty of God that in this human being find their creaturely dwelling and form, their Bearer and Representative. These actions reveal the attitude of God toward sinful humanity. God answers or reacts to the sin of humanity by this relation to the human being, Jesus. God forbids us to take sin more seriously that grace. If God has elected any other human being to God in spite of his or sin, God has done so because primarily and originally God eternally elected this human being, and in and with this human being this other as a member of the boy of which Jesus is the Head. If God calls others who are the enemies of God to fellowship, it is because God does not see and treat their sin as their own, but as that of the beloved Son, whose obedience God sees and treats as theirs. If God reveals to these others who have finally forfeited the possibility of knowing God, it is because God confronts them in this human being as the eternal light whose force is more than a match for their blindness. If God acts to and for others, it is in the work of this human being that takes place absolutely in their place and favor. If God glorifies the divine self in others, it is as this human being gives them a part in the glory of God. If God loves them, it is in the fact that God loves Christ and them through Christ.

            We have thus to formulate the theological enquiry into the nature of humanity in the following terms. What is the creaturely nature of humanity to the extent that, looking to the revealed grace of God and concretely to the human being, Jesus, we can see in it a continuum unbroken by sin, an essence that even sin does not and cannot change?

            In conclusion, we have to consider the problems involved in grounding anthropology on Christology and to give a first basic and general indication of the way to their solution.

            For one thing, we cannot deduce anthropology from Christology. At this point, we can indicate some points in general outline. Human nature as it is and in ourselves is always a debatable quantity; the human situation as we know and experience it is dialectical. We exist in antitheses that we cannot escape or beyond which we can see. We bear various aspects none of which can be disowned. Our live has no unity. We seek it, as the various theories of humanity bear witness. However, we can only seek such unity. All theories of humanity are one-sided, and must contradict other theories and be contradicted by them. There is no undisputed and ultimately certain theory of humanity. At bottom, there is only a theoretical search for the real human being, even as there is only a striving to attain real humanity. However, the first thing that has to be said about human nature in Jesus is that in Him an effective protest is lodged against our self-contradiction and all the self-deception in which we try to conceal it. It is a protest because the antitheses in which we live are no antitheses in Him, and therefore do not require any attempted solution, so that in Him all illusions about the success of these attempts are quire irrelevant. It is effective because His human nature shows us the dialectic of our situation and the hopelessness of our illusions. It does this by showing our situation to be the sin that in Christ is no longer imputed to us but forgiven, being taken from us, removed, and eliminated, like a vicious circle that is ended by Christ, so that by right we can no longer move in it. The human nature of Jesus spares and forbids us our own. Thus, it is our justification. Because it is this, it is the judgment on our own humanity. It is the revelation of the complete impossibility of explaining, exculpating or justifying it of ourselves, and therefore the revelation of the end of the illusion or the lack of thought in which we might hope to affirm our humanity, and the beginning of the genuine, pure and open unrest about our nature. That humanity and Jesus are different is not the final thing that is to be said about them. We cannot really look at Jesus without seeing ourselves also. In Him are the peace and clarity that are not in us. In Him is the human nature created by God without the self-contradiction that afflicts us and without the self-deception by which we seek to escape from this our shame. In Him is the human nature without human sin. For as He the Son of God becomes a human being, and therefore our nature becomes His, He heals the rent, the impure becomes pure, and the enslaved is freed. For, although God becomes what we are, God does not do what we do, and so God is not what we are. The Son is human like us, yet He is God, keeping the covenant of grace. The good-pleasure of God rests on the Son. Because of this, Christ has the power to forgive sin. What God does not find in us, God finds abundantly in the Son to make up for all that lacks in us. Thus, human nature in Jesus is the reason and the just foundation for the mercy in which God has turned to our human nature.

            Secondly, that human nature is one thing in Christ and another in us means that in Christ, sin does not distort and conceal the reality of human nature. He experienced temptation like any human being, but also experienced the freedom and power of God to overcome temptation.

            Thirdly, in Christ human nature finds it revelation in its original and basic form. Without the distortion of sin, humanity genuinely speaks and becomes real to itself. Christ discloses and explains Himself to us, and through that act reveals our true nature.

            Theological anthropology cannot exceed these limits. In its investigation of the nature of humanity in general, it must first look away form humanity in general and concentrate on the one human being, Jesus, and then look back from Christ to humanity in general. If it keeps within these limits, but also makes use of the possibilities offered within these limits, it differentiates itself from all other forms of human self-knowledge. In spite of every difference, we share the same nature with Jesus. The human being, Jesus, is one nature with us, and we unreservedly with Him. This means that theological anthropology invites us to infer from His human nature the character of our own nature, to know ourselves in Christ, but in Christ to know ourselves.

44. Human Beings as the Creatures of God

The being of humanity is the history that shows how one of the creatures of God, elected and called by God, is caught up in personal responsibility before God and proves itself capable of fulfilling it.

1. Jesus, Human Being for God

            Jesus is the Bearer of an office. He is human as He is the Bearer of this office. He exists, as He engages in the fulfillment of it, in the exercise of its functions, in the claiming of its privileges and in the carrying out of its obligations. There is no neutral humanity in Jesus, which might give Him the choice of not doing what He does, or of doing something different in its place. None that Jesus might have been outside His office, or apart from its exercise, concerns the writers of the four gospels. We have no doubt that Jesus is a real human being. We must always identify Him with His history. he is always engaged in His office and work as Prophet, Priest, and King, as the Evangelists describe Him. The work with which we have to do is the unique work of the Savior, resolved and accomplished by Him alone. We understand by the title Savior His whole existence. He is the savior, born as such and is Savior for the world. We cannot separate His person from His work, if only for the reason that it is in His person, because He give nothing more nor less than Himself, that He accomplishes His work. The usual procedure is to treat in two separate chapters of the person and office of Christ. The distinction between person and work is logically unavoidably. However, it cannot mean a real division, even if much of traditional theology gives the impression of a real division. As the New Testament witnesses saw it, what conferred on the saving work of the human being, Jesus, the character of a unique action, resolved and effected by Christ alone, was that, while they did not doubt His true and genuine humanity, they had to regard it directly as the work of God. This human being accomplishes the divine work. And the work of this human being consists in the abandonment of all other work to do what work of God. To be one with God in the accomplishment of this work is the being of this human being to the exclusion of all other being.

            Who and what is humanity within the cosmos? This question was our initial question, and we have posed it first in relation to the human being, Jesus. Our answer suggests the following points. First, among all the creatures, this man is the one in whom we recognize the identity of a human being with himself and the identity of God within the divine self. In all other creatures, the presence of God is problematical, but here, the presence of God is beyond discussion. Second, the God of humanity, of this human being, is as such resolved, energetic, and active in a specific direction. God wills and works. God wills and works in humanity, in this human being, for every human being. Third, when God distinguishes this human being by willing and working in Him, by becoming the Savior of every human being through Him, God does not infringe upon divine sovereignty. Hence, it is not merely a question of the creature, but also of the cause and honor of the Creator, in this history of divine assistance as it is enacted in the presence of God in humanity and as it may be known in the revelation of God in humanity. Fourth, human beings exist in the lordship of God. Humanity cannot exist outside of the sovereignty of God. Fifth, far from being neutral in the presence of the divine action in history, humanity experiences genuine independence granted by God. God assists every human being. This does not mean that God uses human beings for divine ends. Sixth, to sum up, the distinctiveness of this creature, Jesus, consists in the fact that He is for God. Jesus is for the divine deliverance and therefore for the glory of God, for the freedom of God, and therefore for the love of God. Humanity is the being that is for God. Humanity is as such that it surpasses all other creatures. The basis of human life is identical with its telos. Deriving from God, humanity is in God, and therefore for God.

2. Phenomena of the Human

            It is not at all self-evident in which direction we are to look. We might well err even in posing the problem. We might try to find humanity in general elsewhere then in confrontation with the human being, Jesus. We might be tempted to explain humanity in abstractions. What humanity thinks it can know and say about itself from within itself is something that gives rise to such abstractions. We are faced with a whole host of abstractions of this kind. We first give as the most general presupposition of our investigation of the nature of humanity the fact that humanity must be understood as a being that from the very outset stands in some kind of relationship to God. We must understand humanity as open and related to God. We shall have to interpret this relation to God, not as something fortuitous, contingent, and temporary, but as a necessary and constant determination of its being, so that from the very outset there can be no question of an understanding of humanity from which the idea of God is excluded. We can never acknowledge the genuinely godless humanity to be real humanity. Otherwise, between the human being, Jesus, and us, there would be a total dissimilarity. This means that the knowledge of humanity as such includes and implies the knowledge of God. The knowledge of humanity is possible and attainable only from the standpoint of the knowledge of God. Even for Calvin, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of humanity mutually condition and connect each other in such a way that we need knowledge of God to know humanity and we need to know humanity in order to know God.

            We are now in a position to define more precisely the criteria that must be used in any attempt to determine the nature of humanity within this most general presupposition. They correspond to what we said previously in relation to Christ. First, we must understand every human being in light of the fact that he or she comes from God and that God moves in his or her direction. Second, every human being exists and has his or her being in a history that stands in relationship to the divine deliverance enacted in the human being, Jesus. Third, the being of every human being has its true determination in the glory of God. Fourth, every human being exists under the lordship of God. The meaning of human freedom does not consist in the ability to escape the lordship of God. Fifth, every human being consists in the history in which God is active as the deliverer of humanity. Sixth, the being of no other human being can be can be understood apart from the fact that his or her existence too is an event in which he or she renders God service. We understand this because God has bound the divine self to humanity, and thus bound humanity to God.

            Who is the human being who wants to know himself or herself and thinks that he or she can do so? How does a human being reach the platform from which one can see oneself? We will not dispute that humanity sees and grasps something that perhaps indicates the nature of true humanity. Why should there not be certain phenomena in the picture of the cosmos in which one who knows real humanity can see symptoms of real humanity? In these circumstances, one will coordinate these phenomena, perhaps combining them to form a system. One will think that in their sum, or in the system that they yield, one can form a picture of real humanity. However, one will not succeed in doing so.

            In modern theology, theologians neither could nor would prove the existence of God, they attempted at least to prove that of humanity, that is, its distinctive being of humanity in the cosmos. As we saw, they were forced to defend the Christian position at this point. Modern theology did defend itself and was not prepared to surrender at this point. Today, we are reaping the evil fruits of the seeds partly by this worldview. To try to deny humanity its humanity, and to understand humanity as the expression of a universal dynamic, was to do something that could only avenge itself. These Christian apologists of humanity may have had a foreboding of this coming damage when they opposed to this theory what they thought to be a better. One might take the remarkably optimistic tone so characteristic of their writings to suggest that they were as little aware as their adversaries of the danger that threatened. However, we can say more in favor of these apologists. In their own way, they undoubtedly applied themselves to the question of human phenomena.

            To what extent are we different from what we are to our self-perception? To what extent do we then see ourselves to be such? If there really is here a different approach, this can obviously refer only to our willing, conduct, and action. This different approach that has to be considered can be only that of our practical reason, of ethics. We are not merely directed to think of ourselves as thinking beings. As we think, we also will, behave, and act. To contemplate it is to look into the dimension of freedom, to consider our own distinctive being in its absolute differentiation from that of others. Even as we think, and think that we think, we are implicitly engaged in the use of our practical reason. We think truly of ourselves only as far as we think of ourselves as those who are engaged in the use of practical reason. In any event, self-knowledge must also be knowledge of ourselves as those who are caught up in the process of decision. Self-knowledge means the knowledge of ourselves as willing, behaving, and acting beings. Self-knowledge means the knowledge of ourselves in the freedom of our being from its naturalistic determination as disclosed at this point. This is the broadening and deepening of our perspective that our investigation demands of the nature of real humanity. We could not do justice to the question within the confines of the naturalism in which we have so far moved. However, do we do it sufficient justice by this widening of perspective, by passing from the naturalistic to the idealistic or the ethical consideration of humanity? Even now, in the phenomenon of human willing, behaving, and acting, of human freedom and decision, are we genuinely dealing with real humanity or its symptoms?

            We must deepen our view of the phenomena of the human further. The ethical understanding of humanity is at one with the naturalistic in visualizing humanity as a self-contained reality. The naturalistic case visualizes humanity from the standpoint of its external conditioning, and the ethical case visualizes humanity from the standpoint of its inner freedom. In both cases, in the wholeness of its self-existent being, as a subject that is an object, and can be seen and understood and controlled as such.

            We must transcend this whole presupposition. We ask concerning ourselves as such when we press beyond the question of our nature to that of our existence. Is there an answer to this question? The answer can only be that humanity exists to the extent that it asks concerning its existence. Human existence in its subjectivity and indefinability, seeks after the mystery of itself. Humanity can answer the question of the how of its nature and freedom, yet cannot find itself in any of these answers. Humanity must go beyond all these questions and the answers that may be giving to them, if it is really seeking after itself. Seeking after itself, it must always transcend itself, being every beyond the self that it is able to find. It is always in this act of self-transcendence that it exists properly and concretely. It is always in this search for itself that it recognizes and affirms itself. As the being that transcends itself, and is always in search of itself, it is the projector of those images and concepts and the subject of itself regarded as object, first seeing and understanding itself as a natural being, then advancing from nature to freedom, and thus seeing and understanding itself as an ethical being. Treading this path, it finds itself on the way that leads it to the limit where there will be no further image or object, but only itself. On this whole path, it prepares itself, exercising itself in symbolic fulfillments, that when it reaches its limit it may transcend and find itself as the subject of all that is still object on this path. It is as it treads the path that leads to this frontier that it exists. It thus exists in tension. This tension is on the one hand that between its natural and its moral life. On the other hand, the tension is between what is merely its nature and itself as the bearer of this nature. Humanity is the one who exists, and who in relation to everything that constitutes its natural and ethical life, in relation to everything that is the object of its self-recognition and self-mastery, can see and understand itself only as a possibility and never as an actuality. It exists in the historical reality resting on these tensions. However, what is the theme of its asking and the goal of its self-transcending? Genuine humanity is in quest of something. Hence, it is not alone. It does not grope in the void. It is on the way that leads to the frontier. It is not in vain that it is in quest of itself. It exists in tension both from and towards something. Its existence is in relationship, and therefore in a relationship to another being that transcends itself and its natural and ethical life. It is in that transcendent being that it seeks itself. Otherwise, it does not seek itself, but is ensnared by the delusion that it has found itself and possesses itself. Is it then unknown to us, and therefore meaningless in practice? On the contrary, in its very remoteness and inaccessibility, it is the content of our existence, which part from it could only be for us a possibility. For in this remoteness and inaccessibility it continually proclaims itself to us and comes to us, filling our existence with meaning. This happens in the frontier situations, that is, in all those paradoxical situations of suffering and death, conflict and guilt, which are not foreseen in studies of the natural and ethical nature of humanity. These are the barriers that continually confront us on our way, and which we can neither avoid nor even explain. Existence is transformed from a mere possibility into a reality in the moments when in these unavoidable and inexplicable situations we have to wrestle with them, or rather with the transcendent that encounters us in them. Our existence finds transformation when we cannot escape the anguish that they cause us. Our existence finds transformation when we can answer the true and concrete limit and distress that they impose upon us in these situations only by defiance, which really means enforced surrender in which our anguish is over come and our resistance made meaningful. Thus, when human existence becomes unavoidable, inexplicable, and questionable, it acquires value as a question worth putting and which, without ceasing to be a question, implies an answer, if there is unconditional trust. In it, the transcendent other comes to humanity. To be sure, it will go again. One can never objectify and define the transcendent. However, it will not fail to greet humanity, to set its mark upon humanity, to make humanity self-consciousness, which in itself can only be its self-questing, a cipher or symbol of itself, and therefore of the humanity it seeks. What I have just said follows closely the teaching of Karl Jaspers in his anthropology. However, this anthropology of the frontier has a limit. What are we to say of the assurance that it is precisely in these situations that the wholly other meets us as that which awakens the deepest anguish and then on the fulfillment of a given condition tranquilizes us and fills our being with meaning? What are we to say that it is precisely in these situations that transcendence confronts us, and therefore by the factor that most radically changes and shapes our life and gives it meaning? Why in these situations? What is there to give this assurance credibility? Certainly not the intrinsic quality of these situations? Humanity is always involved in suffering and death, conflict and guilt. However, it is far from obvious, nor is there any compelling reason to suppose, that it is such crises that really bring humanity into relation with the wholly other, and lead it to an existence that embodies the meaning of this relation. Has any one encountered the wholly other, and been changed by this encounter, as a result of taking part in the fighting in Russian or Africa or Normandy, of suffering the Hitler terror, of enduring aerial bombardment, hunger, and imprisonment, of losing loved ones, of being in extreme danger of common guilt? Humanity is tough. It seems to have been largely capable of dealing with the confrontation of transcendence supposedly implied in these negations of its existence. Of course, there are such things as special experiences, the encounter with specially significant events, special sin and special misery, and perhaps special relations with death. However, how can guarantee the assertion that transcendence meets us in these special experiences, first judging us and then perhaps, if we fulfill that last condition saving us? We should remember that the problem of this transcendence is such that first and last we seek in it ourselves, the answer that it is the business of our existence to find. In these circumstances, a demon could be the one that fools us at that frontier as the ostensible and illusory goal of our search. The existential thinker has ascribed too much significance to this point beyond all objects and images. A third reaction to the frontier situation could also be the way of resignation or indifference. The decisive question is a question of humanity itself fulfilling the condition that it is seriously expected and required to fulfill. However, consider what this means. It means that the unconditional trust and therefore the transcendence that we supposed humanity to lack, to have to seek in self-transcendence, or to have to receive from without, is already within humanity. Is it not then the simplest thing in the world for humanity to find and obtain it? Transcendence was only apparently far away. In reality, it was intrinsic to its existence as the possibility of unconditional surrender and faith. Again, transcendence does not need to come to humanity from without. While we must accept a certain resemblance between this conception and that of Christian anthropology, we cannot suppose that the two are related or that the latter can be regarded as based on or to be explained by the former. The indisputable resemblance lies in the concepts of the openness and historical character of human existence that are to so important in existential anthropology. However, it makes a great difference whether these concepts can be taken seriously or whether they remain a mere scheme of thought that it is impossible to carry through based on one’s presuppositions.

            In this subsection, we have spoken of the human attempt to understand itself when it is presumed to be able to do so in its own strength and by its own resources. The naturalistic, ethical, and existential views of humanity are the most important stages on the way of this autonomous self-understanding. We have not rejected this whole way of human self-examination, this attempt at a progressively more penetrating analysis of the picture in which humanity can see and understand itself. At the level at which it can be made, we have accepted it. What we have rejected is the idea that more than certain significant human phenomena are visible at any one of the stages or in their sequence and interconnection, in the coherent system that might be constructed from their detailed conclusions.

3. Real Humanity

            Turning now from the critical to the constructive part of our task, we must try to give a positive answer to the question of the being that, within the cosmos, constitutes human being and therefore the real human being. The ontological determination of humanity has its ground in the fact that one human being among all others is the human being, Jesus. We remember whom and what the human being, Jesus, is. As we have seen, He is the one creaturely being in whose existence we have also to do immediately and directly with the being of God. He is the creaturely being in whose existence the act of the deliverance from God has taken place for all other people. He is the creaturely being in whom God as the Savior of all people also reveals and affirms His own glory as the Creator. He is the creaturely being who embodies the sovereignty of God. Conversely, He is the creaturely being who actualizes the sovereignty of God. He is the creaturely being whose existence consists in His fulfillment of the will of God. Finally, He is the creaturely being who exists absolutely for God instead of for Himself. We have thus warned against confusing the reality of humanity with mere phenomena of humanity. We have been unable to accept those determinations of humanity in which its relationship to God, its participation in the history inaugurated between it and God, and the glory, lordship, purpose and service of God, do not find expression in their systems of human nature as the meaning of human life.

            Our first point is that the message of the Bible about this one human being has amongst other things this ontological significance. Speaking of this one human being, the Bible says of all other people that they were and are creaturely beings whom this human being is like for all His unlikeness, and in whose sphere, fellowship, and history this one human being also existed in likeness with them. The biblical message dares to be the message of this one human being. With all it tells us concerning Him, and obviously in the light of it, it makes the self-evident ontological presupposition that the existence of this one human being concerns every other human being. Further, the fact that He too is a human being is the ground on which we are to address every other human being is and to which every other human being is to be kept. The fact that among many others this One is also a human being means that we are human beings as in the person of this One we are confronted by the divine Other. The ontological determination of all human being is that Jesus is present among them as their divine Other, their Neighbor, Companion, and Brother. To be a human being is to be with God. In this sense, godlessness is an ontological impossibility for humanity. Humanity is with God. Of course, godless people do exist. People commit sin. Yet, sin itself is an ontological impossibility for humanity. We are actually with Jesus and therefore with God. Our being excludes sin. To be in sin is a mode of being contrary to our humanity. After all, the human being who is with Jesus is with God. If the human being denies God, then the human being also denies himself or herself. Every offence in which godlessness can express itself is both in its theoretical and practical forms, an offence with which humanity burdens, obscures, and corrupts itself. In a general sense, of all other creatures we can say that they have their being in the fact that they are with God. God is the Creator of heaven and earth as well as humanity. We see this view in John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1.


John 1:1-5 (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. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Colossians 1:15-23 (NRSV)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 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, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly bodythrough death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (NRSV)

 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 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, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.


Human beings are different from them by the fact that the decisive event of the correspondence, repetition and representation of the uniqueness and transcendence of God does not take place among them, but in our human sphere. We as human beings have the divine Counterpart before us in that one human being, Jesus. The implied fellowship with God cannot be for us the mystery that it must be when we consider the rest of creation.  It is not in arrogance towards other creatures, but as an act of humility in face of the secret of God in other spheres and its revelation in our human sphere. If human being is a being with God, we have to say that human beings are beings that derive from God and are dependent upon God. The concrete form of this being with God is that all human beings are with Jesus. Every individual belongs to the sphere of creation to which the human being, Jesus, also belongs. Within this sphere, the human being Jesus is the Bearer of the uniqueness and transcendence of God. He establishes the lordship of God. He lives out this lordship of God in His life. Humanity is with God as it is with the sovereignty of God lived out and embodied in this human being. God is with humanity as the kingdom of God comes. He is as a human being where God acts, and acts as the Savior of humanity, thus magnifying the glory of God. Humanity is at the point where God makes history. the whole sphere of humanity, its whole fellowship and history, is determined by the existence of the one human being, Jesus, and the fact that God makes history and the kingdom of God comes within it.


Psalm 139:5-12 (NRSV)

5 You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

The human creature is the being that God reaches and pierces because its inmost essence exists only through God.

            We now come to the two material and primary statements in our exposition. First, the being of humanity as a being with Jesus rests upon the election of God. It rests upon the election of God. Why is all that I have said about Jesus true? It is true of Him because He is the creature in whom the divine election of grace is already made. Among all others people, He is the penetrating spearhead of the will of God, the Creator of all things. He penetrates because in Him the will of God already finds fulfillment and revelation. The purpose of God for humanity and creatures has reached its goal. He is the spearhead to the extent that there has still to be a wider fulfillment of the will of God and its final consummation, and obviously, this can only follow on what this human being has already achieved. What is this will of God? We may express it most simply as follows. The will of God is that the Yes that God as the Creator has spoken to creation should prevail. The will of God is that all humanity and all creatures should experience deliverance from evil. The formal definition that the being of humanity derives from God has its first material content when we recall the gracious divine election of the human being, Jesus. To be a human being is to be with Jesus and to be like Jesus. To be a human being is to be in the sphere where the first and merciful will of God towards the things God has made, the will of God to save and keep them from the power of nothingness, has its revelation in action. To the extent that humanity is with Jesus and therefore with God, humanity itself is a creature elected in the divine election of grace, that is, elected along with or into Jesus. Humanity is elected to the extent that it derives from God and rests upon the election of the human being, Jesus.

            Second, the being of humanity consists in the hearing of the Word of God. The will of God for things God has made is a will that reveals as well as acts, illuminates as well as quickens. The object of the divine election of grace is a creature that not only acts but speaks, acting as it speaks, and speaking as it acts, the fountain of light as well as life within the created world. The things God has made hear, understand, and recognize the Creator by the Creator becoming this creature, the human being Jesus, and by acting as the Savior of the creature in this human being. Whatever it may mean for humanity in general, this human being too exists among all others, it certainly means that He actualizes the divine address and summons to each person. He is the light of the divine election and mercy to the creature. He is the utterance of the promise that the creature is given and under which it can stand from the outset. He is the expression of the friendliness with which God adopted it in creation. He also declares the righteousness with which God resolved to maintain and order it in creation. God will not allow the undoing of creation. Creation belongs to the Creator. This is what the presence of the man Jesus declares as a creature within creation. The sphere of the human is not without this Word of God. When we say humanity, we have to remember above all that one human being among many is this Word of God. Consequently, to be a human being is to be in the particular sphere of the created world in which the Word of God speaks. Who am I? If I understand myself in the light of God or the Word of God, I must answer that the Word of God summons me. To that extent, I am in this Word. The same context of hearing the Word is true for others as well. They are human beings because God addresses them in this Word. This is a universal truth. Humanity consists of those summoned by the Word of God. To be summoned means to have heard, to have been awakened, to have to arouse oneself, to be claimed.

            We may sum up all that we have said in the statement that the being of humanity is a history. The existence of the man Jesus teaches us that the being of humanity is a history. The contrast to the concept of history is that of a state. There are states that are very much in movement, developing through many changes and varied modes of behavior. The history of a being begins, continues and completes itself when something other than itself and transcending its own nature encounters it, approaches it, and determines its being in the nature proper to it, so that in relation to the new factor enables it to transcend itself. What is a human being? We answer that he or she is the being whose neighbor and brother is the human being, Jesus. The human being is with God, confronted, prevented, elected, and summon by God, in the fact that this history takes place in a sphere with Jesus.  Jesus is the One of whom it may be said that in Christ the Creator is creature and the creature the Creator. All this is true. However, He alone is all this on behalf of all those whom He is like to humanity and who are like Him as human beings. The likeness between Him and them means that what He alone is, is valid for them too, that this is the light in which they not only stand outwardly but are inwardly and essentially. Their being consists in the fact that they are now with Him; the One who is like them determines their being, and whom they are like, as He dwells among them in all His unlikeness, is this divine history in His existence. Confronted by this fact, and related to this one human being dwelling at the heart of humanity, they too obviously share in what He is and therefore in the history actualized in Him. The truth of God embraces them too. The Word of God speaks for them too and therefore applies to them. It is the embodiment of the will of God by which they are affected from the very outset – they who are not Jesus, who cannot reproduce or repeat His existence, and yet who are like Him.

            We shall now recapitulate our earlier statements. We defined the being of the human being as a co-existence with the transcendent God who confronts him or her. We defined the being of the human being more precisely as a being that derives from God. What distinguishes them is that they depend on god in such a way that God inaugurates a movement of history between God and humanity, that precisely concerning humanity, God takes up the cause of the threatened creature. In the midst of creation, God guards humanity and appoints human beings a guardian. In our first main statement, we defined the being of the human being as a being that rests on the elections of God. In our second main proposition, we defined the being of the human being as a being that consist in the hearing of the Word of God. From this second main proposition, we must now proceed. Undoubtedly, the most accurate description of the history in which we have to recognize the being of the human being is to say that the fact that God calls it determines its being. The Word and summons of God to every human being is to say that this being is the existence of the human being, Jesus. Every human being is human being in the fact that Jesus exists for him or her too, that the call of God embodied in Jesus concerns him or her too. His or her being is human as Jesus calls it. However, the substance of this divine call to every human being is, in one word, the grace of God in which God espouses the cause of the one God created. The Word of grace is the breaking through of the Creator to the creature, by which the being of the latter is opened from without and this relation is established. In the Word of grace, God its creator comes to it, gives the divine self to it, and dwells within it. In the Word of grace that comes to it, it acquires its own being as a human being. This is the being of which God has said that God will be gracious to it, that God will remember it in divine goodness, that God wills to preserve it from evil, that this is divine free and omnipotent decision, the decision of divine mercy and righteousness. It is thus the being of real human being. It is obviously at root a historical being. To be what the human being is, to be real human being among all creatures, humanity needs this event – that God should say that God is gracious to humanity. We shall try to pursue this point further. Grace assures this creature that God has received it, promises that the will of God is to be its Helper and Savior, and that God will not allow this creature to remain alone. The summons and call of which I write calls one out of oneself and beyond oneself. Since God speaks, the creature has the right and power to transcend itself. As a Word of God, I speak of genuine summons, and not simply a movement or attraction. The Word of grace determines the direction of the summons beyond itself. The summons is like an anchor, a place to trust and bring grounding, according to the Word as Preserver and Keeper, and who acknowledges the individual in divine mercy and righteousness. The summons is to cast all trust on the Creator. The being of the human being is in the Word of God. By daring and accomplishing this act of self-committal, it is historical. In this sense, the human being experiences a summons.  

            We must attempt a precise and material definition. The being of human beings can be more precisely defined as a being in gratitude. Gratitude is the precise creaturely counterpart to the grace of God. What is by the Word of the grace of God must be in gratitude; and humanity’s casting of its trust upon God is nothing other or less, but nothing more, than the being of humanity as its act in gratitude. To be grateful is to recognize a benefit. To understand it as such, as a good that one could not take for oneself, but has in fact received, as an action that one could not perform for oneself, but which has nevertheless happened to on. To be grateful is to recognize and honor as a benefactor the one who has conferred this good. Gratitude implies obligation towards the benefactor; an obligation that will be manifested and proved in a certain attitude towards the benefactor, but which cannot be exhaustively expressed in any attitude. Where a genuine benefit calls for thanks, and where genuine thanks respond to a benefit, a relationship arises that, created by one party, the other can only accept, and not cancelled but continually renewed. As God comes to the human being in the Word of God, the being is a being open towards God and self-opening, transcending itself in a direction toward God. Grounded in the Word of divine grace, the human being is the being that responds in a complementary way to that grace. Thus, the human being is a being in gratitude.

            We shall formulate the relevant insight in four propositions. 1) Only God deserves the thanks of human beings. 2) Only humanity can thank God. Any action by humanity that is not an expression of gratitude is inadequate in the face of God. Obedience without gratitude would be nothing. Love without gratitude would be nothing. The best and most pious works in the service of God, whatever they might be, would be nothing if in their whole root and significance they were not works of gratitude. 3) As human beings thank God, they fulfill their true being. 4) To thank God in this way is incumbent on human beings alone. In fact, the being of all creatures is a life of thanksgiving towards God. This view compels us to class our human being together with that of all to her creatures as a creaturely being. However, we must add that in whatever the life of gratitude of other creatures may consist, the form in which God demands thanks of humanity is peculiar to humanity.

            We may now proceed to examine the recurrent meaning of the history in which we have to recognize the being of the real human being. In the idea of gratitude as the complement to the grace of God, it is clear that the being of the human being has God as its goal as well as its origin. As thanks, it returns to the grace of God in which it has its source. Deriving from God, it is an object in pure receptivity. Since its place is the circle in which, as it proceeds from God, it can return to God, it can never cease to be also this object in pure receptivity. Grounded in the Word of divine grace, it becomes the act of thought. It opens itself to God as God first opened the human being to God. We find the wholeness of the human being is doubly open. This is the second sense in which we have now to see and understand it.

            We sum up the being of the human being as seen and understood in this second sense under the concept of responsibility, which has already emerged unavoidably in our previous discussion. We are now precisely parallel to the point that we earlier described as the Word of grace that realizes and reveals the being of the human being with God, the derivation of his or her being in God based on divine election. Being, human thanksgiving, has the character of responsibility. Here again, we must not loose sight of the fact that the being of the human being is its history. God does not merely make humanity responsible by the Word of God, but in speaking the Word of God, God engages humanity in active responsibility to God. A responsible being is one to whom it is necessary and possible that he or she should give an account of himself or herself. What makes the real human being is that he or she is engaged in active responsibility to God.

            We shall develop the concept of real humanity in this second sense by attempting to elucidate the inner notes of this act of being in responsibility before God.

            First, as human life is a being in responsibility before God, it has the character of a knowledge of God. To hear and accept the Word of God is to know God. To be human being in responsibility before God is to know God. The knowledge of God must not be interpreted as an idle knowledge, survey, examination and understanding of God. The knowledge of God consists in the fact that God has decided for human beings and become open to human beings and now the human being becomes open to God, passing out from self as through an open door and moving to God, even as God has moved toward the human being. How do human beings become objects to themselves? This is the great problem of self-knowledge. We reply that human beings become aware of themselves as they see themselves in the context of this process of knowledge. If it is true that in this context, human beings posit themselves, and that they do so by deciding in relation to God as they open themselves to God, then it is also true that in doing this they become an object to themselves. In proportion as they take this step, they move toward God and out of themselves, thus detaching themselves from themselves, and like the God of grace from whom they come and to whom they go become to themselves another. “I am” is possible and necessary because “God is.” In the context of that prior affirmation, it means that I find myself, the being that I am by the Word of God, engaged in the fulfillment of that act of responsibility and therefore in that step. Coming from where I can have nothing behind me but the word of God, I find myself on the way to God, my Savior and Keeper, apart from whom I can have nothing before me. There alone do I have the future of my being. There alone do I find myself before myself. However, there where I am moving as I seek, know, and call upon god, I do find the future of my being as God must save and keep it. Without God, and without seeking, knowing and calling upon God, I could find there only my abandonment to nothing, my lostness. Then, moving to my future, I could only be nothing. However, I am not without god. On the contrary, I seek and know God, calling upon god as God has called upon me. I am grateful to God, as God is gracious to me. I am responsible before God, as I am, through the Word of God.

            Second, as the being of humanity is being in responsibility before God, it has the character of obedience to God. The being of humanity decides for God, it opens itself to God, and it rises up and goes to God. All this means that it cannot remain self-contained and apart from God, but that, summoned by the Word of God, it must move out of itself as God the Creator has come forth from divinity, coming to humanity and therefore becoming the foundation of the being of humanity. The being of the human being is as the Word claims and engages it. That human beings are means that we must interpret the statement “I am” by the further statement: “I will.” We find some support for this view in the New Testament.


James 1:24-25 (NRSV)

24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.


Genuine self-knowledge is perseverance under the law that forbids me to be a forgetful hearer and enables me to see myself before myself, positing as the goal of my desire what I shall be, what it is my task to be. Real human beings are the beings who have decided in this comprehensive sense, who are already committed to action. The being of human beings would not be being in responsibility before God if it did not have the character of obedience, this active form of hearing the Word of God. What I have said here bears resemblance to the way Calvin opened his 1542 Catechism with the concern for the purpose or goal of humanity.

            Third, as the being of the human being is a being in responsibility before God, it has the character of an invocation of God. If human beings to God in responsibility before God, they do so because they need God. Humanity flees to God for refuge. Human beings make themselves a response to the Word of God. They give what they have – themselves. No less than this is required of human beings. Less than this is not sufficient to constitute true humanity. To offer themselves at the disposal of God is the reason God has summoned them, strengthened them, and empowered them. Failing to do it, they fail to realize themselves as human beings. God calls them to come. All they are is the human beings as they hear and obey this call. However, God calls them to God, and God calls them by telling them who and what God is, namely, the God who is gracious to them. Human beings must not forget that they have to do with the God who is gracious to them, meaning that God has turned to humanity as Savior and Keeper. However, it means that God has turned to them in freedom and of divine good pleasure. It means the promise of mercy. We describe the being of the human being as an act of humility when we say that as responsibility before God it has the character of an invocation of God. Humanity can only ask and request. It does not lie in the power of human beings to say whether God shall accept what they do as righteous and pleasing to God. What they can do as human beings is no less nor more than the offering of themselves. The offering of themselves to God can only mean that they commend themselves to the mercy of God. In doing what they do and being what they are, they seek the divine opinion and judgment, praying for the divine approval and a gracious judgment. They submit themselves to the opinion and judgment of God. They do so unreservedly. They seek and pray.

            Fourth, as the being of humanity is a being in responsibility before God, it has the character of the freedom that God imparts to it. No one can take away this character of freedom in the Spirit from humanity by the presence and operation of the cosmos around it. Regardless of how great and violent may be the power of the latter over humanity, one thing it cannot do. It cannot change the being of humanity into something quite different. We would emphasize especially that this involves the question of the freedom with which God has endowed them. We now affirm that in their knowledge, obedience, and invocation, human beings are themselves and acts in freedom because God is first free in relation to them, God being the ultimate ground of all selfhood and as the Savior and Keeper of the creature God has made the ultimate ground of all personal responsibility. In the strength and the light of the fact that God freely gives the divine self to be known by humanity, requires humanity’s obedience and pronounces divine judgment on them, the being towards whom God acts as Creator in this way is a free being. Humanity is free on its side to know God, to obey God, and to call upon God freely. We may see from the divine attitude that in the creative counsel of this God, for its part God foresaw, willed, and created humanity as a free being. God gives freedom to humanity, as every other creature receives its particular gift from god. Freedom is the creaturely mode of the human being. God has adapted freedom to humanity and therefore made it proper to humanity. Behind this I, Thou, He and She, as also behind Mine, Thine, and His or her, there always stands unexpressed but necessarily latent the human self and therefore the human freedom that we cannot acquire for ourselves and which is given us by God, because God alone is originally free. This freedom constitutes the being of humanity and therefore real humanity. This freedom accords with its origin and responsibility towards it, finds its actualization in the knowledge of God, in obedience to God and in asking after God. Any other freedom humanity would mean stepping out into the void and could only forfeit and lose itself. No amount of misunderstanding or misuse can alter the fact that in speaking of human freedom we are speaking of the most profound and comprehensive aspect of the real human being. Whatever we say about humanity for good or ill, we allude to humanity in its freedom, to human beings who are active subjects in responsibility before God. They are active, engaged in movement. We cannot equate freedom with neutrality. The only positive meaning of freedom occurs in exercising it in the fulfillment of responsibility before God. Freedom means freedom of choice. However, as freedom given by God, as freedom in action, it is the freedom of a right choice. The choice is right when it corresponds to the free choice of God. The object of this free choice of God is humanity as the covenant partner of God, as the object of the grace of God. In the free choice of humanity, it can choose only thanksgiving to the God of grace and the acceptance of responsibility before God. What does the free person choose? He or she chooses to full this responsibility. He or she chooses obedience and asking. To choose freely is to choose oneself in possibility, being, and freedom. Those who think otherwise do not chose freely. Hence, the freedom of humanity is never freedom to repudiate its responsibility before God. The affirmation that humanity is good is correct if applied to real human beings as God created them and as they exist in the history of their responsibility before God. In the free fulfillment of this responsibility, they are indeed good and not evil. Even their sin cannot alter this fact. Sin means that they are lost to themselves, but not to their Creator.

            We shall conclude by reconsidering our second sub-section, “Phenomena of the Human.” We can now affirm that all scientific knowledge of humanity has a real object. We can now grant that all human self-knowledge is justifiable to the extent that it is not pursuing a will-o’-the-wisp in its investigation of humanity. On the assumption of a knowledge of real human beings, of a theological anthropology, one can arrive at a non-theological, but genuine, knowledge of the phenomena of the human, recognizable to every human eye and every thinking mind. We may appreciate the phenomena of the human as symptoms of the human. There can thus be a general knowledge of humanity that is genuine because it hears and understands this testimony. From this standpoint, we may now take a retrospective glance at the general knowledge of humanity. First, what natural science sees and tries to understand and present as humanity is a symptom of the true nature of humanity. It seeks humanity in the cosmos, in its interconnection with other cosmic phenomena, and in its relative distinctiveness within this cosmic structure. Second, what idealistic ethics sees, understands, and presents as humanity is also a symptom of the real human being. It sees the real human being in its freedom to rise above the organic chemical and biological process into the free field of a history initiated and experience by itself. The object of ethics is the human capacity to be an active subject in the history of a human being. Third, existentialist philosophy may also see and illumine a symptom of the real being. It sees humanity it its openness towards the absolute, unfathomable, and inaccessible without of true transcendence that proclaims itself in the fact of the limitation of human existence. Existentialist philosophy views the human being as questioned by such ultimate limits of human existence. The being of humanity is this history, examination, and quest. Fourth, what theistic anthropology describes as humanity can be a symptom of the real human being. It sees humanity in relationship to transcendent God as the origin and goal of humanity. It apprehends humanity as a rational being, able to perceive God, and responsible to God, and thus capable of history and decision. It describes the potentiality of the real human being. The human being is personal, and thus capable of being the partner of God. Theological anthropology welcomes all such general knowledge of humanity.

45. Human Beings in their Determination as the Covenant-Partner of God

That God determines real human beings for life with God has its inviolable correspondence in the fact that their creaturely being is a being in encounter – between I and Thou, man and woman. The real human being is human in this encounter, and in this humanity, the real human being is a likeness of the being of its Creator and a being in hope in God.

1. Jesus, Human being for other Human Beings

            Real humanity does not live a godless life. A godless explanation of humanity is one that cannot explain real humanity. It grasps the sin in which humanity breaks the covenant with God, denying and obscuring the true reality of humanity. Nor can it really explain or speak of the sin of humanity. Real humanity does not act godlessly, but in the history of the covenant in which humanity is the partner of God by the election and calling of God. Humanity thanks God for the grace of God by knowing God as God, by obeying God, by calling on God as God, by enjoying freedom from God and to God. Human beings are responsible before God. That this is the case we find true by the existence of the human being, Jesus. The human being Jesus is the human being for God. This real human being is actually in the cosmos. The human being is on earth and under heaven, a cosmic being. If we are to understand human beings as the creatures of God, we must see why God has created human beings. We must regard human beings from above, from God.


1 Corinthians 15:47 (NRSV)

47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.


2 Corinthians 4:16 (NRSV)

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.


Colossians 3:9-10 (NRSV)

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.


            We must first consider the supreme constant found in the mystery of the correspondence and similarity between the determination of the humanity of the human being. We must not miss the practical significance of this question. If the humanity of the human being genuinely corresponds to the divine determination of the human being, this means that the mystery of the being and nature of the human being does not hover indefinitely over human creatureliness. It touches and even embraces the human being below as well. Even in the distinction of the human being from God, the human being cannot be a human being without being directed to the determination of the human being in the grace of God and the covenant with God. Even here below, human beings do not exist in neutrality, with a view to the decision and history in which the human being is real. Consciously or unconsciously, human beings are the sign here below of what human being really are as seen from above, from God. Therefore, God created human beings with a view to God. There is no natural knowledge of God. However, in this respect too, in our humanity as such, there is something in us to know.

            In virtue of this correspondence and similarity, our humanity too has a real part in the mystery of faith. What is the right way to this mystery? We must continue to base our anthropology on Christology. We must ask concerning the humanity of the human being, Jesus, and only on this basis extend our inquiry to the form and nature of humanity generally. That Jesus, true human being and true God, does not destroy the difference between divinity and humanity even in Christ. As we turn to the problem of humanity, we do not need to look for any other basis of anthropology than the Christological. On the contrary, we have to realize that the existence of the human being Jesus is quite instructive enough in this aspect of the question of the human being in general. If we are to describe the divinity of the human being Jesus comprehensively in the statement that He is human being for God, we can describe the humanity of Jesus in the proposition that He is a human being for other human beings. We are now considering Jesus here below, within the cosmos. In the light of the human being, Jesus, human beings are the cosmic being that exists absolutely for other human beings.  We must first return to some earlier statements. From the very first, Jesus is not without His fellow human being. God sends and ordains Him to be their deliverer. Nothing else? No, really, nothing else. Whatever else the humanity of Jesus may be, can be reduced to this denominator and find here its key and explanation. To His divinity, there corresponds exactly this form of His humanity – His being as He directs it to His fellow human beings.

            The private life of Jesus can never be an autonomous theme in the New Testament. According to the New Testament, this sympathy, help, deliverance and mercy, this active solidarity with the state and fate of humanity, is the concrete correlative of His divinity, of His anointing with the Spirit and power, of His equality with God, of His wealth.


Luke 2:11 (NRSV)

11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Philippians 2:4-8 (NRSV)

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.

2 Corinthians 8:9 (NRSV)

9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Hebrews 12:2 (NRSV)

2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 2:14 (NRSV)

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

Hebrews 2:17-18 (NRSV)

17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 4:15 (NRSV)

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.


            Christ shows Himself to be the neighbor and savior of human beings in time. The solidarity with which Jesus binds Himself to His fellow human beings is wholly real. This leads us to the further point that if the humanity of Jesus is fellow-humanity, this means that He is a human being for other human beings in the most comprehensive and radical sense. It means that He interposes Himself for them, that He gives Himself to them, that He puts Himself in their place, that He makes their state and fate His own cause, so that it is no longer theirs but His, conducted, by Him in His own name and on His own responsibility. In this respect, so long as the cause of human beings was in their own hands, it was a lost cause. Their judgment was just and destruction inevitable, so that anyone taking their place had necessarily to fall under this judgment and suffer this destruction. In His interposition for them, the human being Jesus had to sacrifice Himself in this cause of others. A sum of the whole message of the New Testament may very well be found in the question of Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  We might note the following implications. The first implication is that Jesus has to let His being be prescribed, dictated, and determined by an alien human being, and by the need and infinite peril of this being. The glory of His humanity is to be so fully claimed and clamped by His fellow human beings, by their state and fate, by their lowliness and misery. This also implies that His being is wholly with a view to this alien being; that He is active only in the fact that He makes its deliverance His exclusive task. He has only one goal: to maintain the cause of these human beings in death and the conquest of death; to offer up His life for them that they may live and be happy. Not by accident, then, we find that Jesus is just as much for humanity as Jesus for God. We find a clear-cut description of the Incarnation in Titus 3:4, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared …”

            We must take a last and supreme step. We now stand before the true, original correspondence, and similarity of which we have to take note in this respect. This correspondence and similarity consists in the fact that the human being, Jesus, in His being for human beings repeats and reflects the inner being or essence of God and this confirms His being for God. We obviously have to do here with the final and decisive basis indicated when we spoke of the ontological character, the reality and the radical nature of the being of Jesus for His fellow human beings. From this context, these derive their truth and power. The humanity of Jesus is not merely the repetition and reflection of His divinity, or of the controlling will of God; it is the repetition and reflection of God, no more and no less. It is the image of God. The correspondence and similarity of the two relationships consists in the fact that the freedom in which God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit is the same freedom as that in which God is the Creator of humanity, in which human beings may be creatures of God, and in which the Creator-creature relationship is established by the Creator. We can also put it in this way. The correspondence and similarity of the two relationships consists in the eternal love in which God as the Father loves the Son, and as the Son loves the Father, and in which the Son loves God as the Father and as the Son by the Father, is the love that God addresses to human beings. The humanity of Jesus, His being for humanity as the direct correlative of His being for God, indicates, attests and reveals this correspondence and similarity. Our starting-point was the question of the inner relationship between the determination of humanity as the covenant-partner of God on the one side and the creaturely and cosmic nature of humanity on the other. Not even the sin of humanity affects this relationship, and therefore the relationship persists even in sinful humanity.

2. The Basic Form of Humanity

            Jesus is a human being for His fellow human beings, and therefore the image of God, in a way that others cannot approach, just as they cannot be for God in the sense that He is. If the humanity of Jesus consists in the fact that He is for other human beings. Where one being is for others, there is a common sphere or form of existence in which the “for” can be possible and effective. We have thus to ask concerning a basic form of the humanity of other human beings, of human beings in general, in which we have the presupposition of the fact that the human being Jesus can be for them. We cannot stop at the Christological assertion that the human being Jesus is for others. We have also to ask in respect of others how far as human beings they are beings that the human being Jesus can represent them in His suffering and conquering. We have to ask what it is that makes them possible for the covenant that is revealed and operative for them, which God has concluded with them, in this being of Jesus.

            We have to ask what it is that makes them capable of entering into covenant with God as the creatures of God. We have not yet seen what humanity is when we ascribe to human beings an existence that we abstract from the existence of their fellow human beings. It will be worth our while to consider briefly what we are ruling out, what conception by without discussion. Human beings understand in isolated subjectivity, “I am,” is one of those positions. Nietzsche is an example.

            The humanity of Jesus consists in His being for humanity. From the fact that this example is binding in humanity generally there follows the broad definition that humanity consists in the determination of the being of humanity as a being with other human beings. We must press straight on from the fact that the humanity of human beings consists in the determination of its being as a being with the other. What do we mean by saying, “I am”? What do we mean by “I”? What do we mean by “I am?” We might paraphrase it by saying “I am in encounter.” At the very root of my being, I am in encounter with the being of the Thou, under the claim of the other and with my own being, constituted a claim upon the other. We shall now try to understand the content of this encounter. The basic formula to describe it must be as follows: “I am as Thou art.” “As” tells us “Thou art” qualifies every “I am.” As we are in this encounter, we are thus distinguished. The “I am” and the “Thou art” encounter each other as two histories. I am as Thou art, and Thou art as I am. To say human being is to say history, and this is to speak of the encounter between I and Thou. Thus, the formula, “I am as Thou art,” tells us that the encounter between I and Thou is not arbitrary or accidental, that it is not incidentally but essentially proper to the concept of humanity.

            On this basis, we shall now try to see what the categories in this history or encounter are, and to that extent what are the categories of the distinctively human. We need great caution at this point.

            Being in encounter is, first, a being in which one human being looks the other in the eye.

            Second, being in encounter consists in the fact that there is mutual speech and hearing. The openness of encounter is excellent and indeed indispensable as a first step. However, openness does not exhaust encounter. Openness, seeing and being seen, is always a receptive and not a spontaneous happening. The human significance of speech depends upon the fact that fellow human beings speak to each other and listen to each other, that the expression and address between I and Thou are reciprocal. As we can look past people, it always means that we are not in encounter and therefore inhuman. However, we talk and hear past them when there is no reciprocity. Two people can talk together openly, exhaustively and earnestly. However, if their words serve only their own needs, it may well be that as they talk together each is only trying to assure and help themselves, so that they do not reach each other speak to mutual advantage, but merely talk past each other.

            Third, being in encounter consists in the fact that we render mutual assistance in the act of being. As openness between the I and the Thou, their reciprocal visibility, is only a preparatory stage to their mutual expression and address, so the latter cannot be an end, but only the means to something higher, to fellowship in which the one is not only knowable by the other, but is there for the other. What we think of as egoistic and altruistic activity is not exclusive to this encounter. Egoistic activity can be thoroughly human if it places itself at the service of the summons issued by the Thou to the I. Altruistic activity can be inhuman if it does not derive from the summons of the other, acting out of the assumption that the other as need of me. This is the higher thing that is decisive beyond mere reciprocal sight and speech and hearing; the fellowship to which these preliminary stages necessarily lead. Correspondence to the being and action of the Son consists in the more limited fact that we render mutual assistance. If our action is human, this means an action in which we give and receive assistance. An action in which one withholds or rejects assistance is inhuman. For either way, it means isolation and persistence in isolation. Assistance is actively standing by the other. It is standing so close by the other that one’s own action means help or support for one. It thus means not to leave others to their own being and action, but in and with them, accepting concern for their lives, even though it must always be their being and action and we cannot represent them. Assistance means to live with the other. As we see each other, speak and listen to each other, we call to each other for assistance. As human beings, human beings need this assistance, and can only call for it. I must try to help myself, and the other will have to do the same. However, as the other tries to do so, the other has the right to expect that I shall be there for other as well as myself, that I shall not ignore the other, but live with the other, that my life will be a support the other, that it will mean comfort, encouragement, and alleviation for the other. This is what the other requests. The action of the other is always this call for my assistance. As I act for my part, I always stand under this expectation; this cry for help always reaches me. I cannot evade my fellow who asks for it. I must stand by the other and help. I become inhuman if I resist this awareness or try to escape the limited but definite service I can render. The humanity of my action is again at stake, and therefore I myself.

            Fourth, being in encounter consists in the fact that the entire occurrence that we have so far described as the basic form of humanity stands under the sign that one does it on both sides with gladness. We gladly see and are seen; we gladly speak and listen; we gladly receive and offer assistance. We can call this the last and final stage of humanity. This is the secret of the whole, and therefore of the three preceding stages. The heart of human beings is only what they are gladly. If we do not speak primarily of what they are gladly, we do not speak of their essence, of themselves. The secret of humanity is such that human beings follow the voice and impulse of their own hearts when they are human, when they receive and offer assistance. The fact that a human beings exist in fellowship with other human beings is not accidental or contingent. I am not Thou, but I am with Thee. Humanity is the relation of this “with.” The fellow human beings belong to humanity, the Thou to the I, and is therefore welcome, even in otherness and particularity. I have waited for Thee. I sought Thee before Thou didst encounter me. I had Thee in view even before I knew Thee. The encounter with Thee is not the encounter with something strange that disturbs me, but with a counterpart that I have lacked and without which I should be empty and futile. Humanity is the realization of this togetherness of human beings and human beings grounded in human freedom. However, we have to safeguard this statement against two misunderstandings. First, humanity in the highest sense does not consist in the fact that the one loses himself or herself in other, surrendering, forgetting, or neglecting one’s own life, task, and responsibility. Second, humanity in the highest sense cannot consist in the fact that the one only intends and seeks in the other, oneself, and thus uses the encounter with the other to extend, enrich, deepen, confirm, and secure one’s own being. The way of humanity does not lie between these two misunderstandings, but above them. In a togetherness that one accepts gladly and in freedom, humanity is neither a slave nor a tyrant, and the fellow human being is neither a slave nor tyrant, but both are companions, associates, comrades, fellow human beings, and helpmates. What we indicate in this way is really the secret of humanity. The encounter takes place between people who meet gladly and in freedom, how they open up themselves to each other, and speak with each other, and listen to each other, and help each other. However, in so doing, we presuppose as the living center of the whole the decisive point that they meet gladly and in freedom, not as tyrants and slaves, but as companions, associates, comrades, fellow human beings, and helpmates. However, how are we to describe this decisive thing? We can say of what takes place between human beings is that of a discovery, the mutual recognition that each is essential to the other. If we are to embrace human nature as such, as created and given by God, then we must grasp as its motivating element the decisive point that human beings are essentially determined to be with their fellow human beings gladly, in the indicated freedom of the heart.

3. Humanity as Likeness and Hope

            In its basic form, humanity is human beings in community. Everything else that we describe as human nature and essence stands under this sign to the extent that it is human. If it is not human being in community, it is not human. However, God provides the provision that human beings should not break loose from this human factor. They cannot forget it. They can misconstrue it. They can despise it. They can scorn and dishonor it. However, they cannot slough it off or break free from it. Human beings are fellow human beings. They are in the encounter of I and Thou. They have no choice to be fellow-human or something else. Their being has this basic form.

            The reality of this truth is that we cannot speak of humanity apart from speaking of male and female. The races of humanity are only variations of the same structure. In the distinction of man and woman, we have a structural difference of human existence. In all the common and opposing features of human existence, there is no human being in isolation, but only male and female. In the whole reach of human life, there is only masculine or feminine being, feeling, willing, thinking, speaking, conduct and action, and only concretely masculine and feminine cooperation in all these things. They are present, in addition, when human beings encounter male and female, human beings remain what they are, and therefore a being who cannot find a true counterpart in woman, but in man. Our present concern is not with the physiology and psychology of the sexes. We issue the following warning in respect of the involved psychological question. The point is that we must avoid such generalized pronouncements. Real man and real woman are far too complex and contradictory to sum them up in portrayals of this nature. What distinguishes man from woman even in this relationship of is something discover, perceive, respect, and value in the encounter between them that in the ability to define it. It is to be constantly experienced in their mutual exchanges and coexistence. Man is to woman supremely the other, the fellow human being, to see and to be seen by whom, to speak with and to listen to whom, to receive from and to render assistance to whom is necessarily a supreme human need and problem and fulfillment. The relationship between man and man on the one hand and woman and woman on the other is a preliminary for the true encounter between man and fellow human beings. Here, where they are structural, that the antitheses between woman and man are so great and estranging and yet stimulating that the encounter between them carries with it the possibility of a supreme difficulty otherwise absent. Yet, in all antitheses their relatedness, their power of mutual attraction and their reciprocal reference the one to the other are so great, illuminating, and imperative that the possibility also emerges at least of a supreme interest otherwise absent. The sphere of this special difficulty and interest, of this play and counter play of the sexes, is much greater than the circle of what one usually understands more narrowly as sexual love in more or less close connection with the problem of marriage. In the wider circle around the narrower, we might find this connection in the relationship of fathers and daughters, mothers and son, brothers and sisters, and in similar relationships, it plays its fruitful but perhaps disturbing and even dangerous role in the whole sphere of education and instruction, and the life of churches of all confessions. Indeed, the subterranean motive in all possible forms of fellowship between man and woman among which we have to remember with all honor, the innumerable ways in which it finds compensation or sublimation in friendship between man and man or woman and woman. Yet, man and woman fully and properly achieve their encounter only where there is the special connection of one man loving this woman and one woman loving this man in free choice and with a view to a full life-partnership. A connection that is on both sides as clear and strong as to make their marriage both possible and necessary is a unique and definitive attachment. Two human beings love each other and that in small things, and great alike they may have the same thing, each other. We said at the outset that human is fellow-human, in the encounter of I and Thou, that humanity is an inviolable constant of human existence in the fact of the duality of male and female, which cannot be resolved in a higher synthesis. We have this constant so clearly before us that we can only live it out, however well or badly. There can be no question of setting this fact aside, or overlooking it in practice. There is no being of humanity above the being of male and female.

            The Old Testament Magna Carta of humanity is the J saga in Genesis 2:18-25. In the saying that man should not be alone we have the radical rejection of the picture of humanity in isolation. This man created good by God must have a partner like himself, and must be a partner to a being like himself. Yet, this partner is also different from him. He could not be a “help-mate” alone. The fact that he is not alone, but complete in this duality, he owes to the grace of his Creator. We might speak of the Song of Solomon as a second Magna Carta of humanity in the Old Testament. One might think that the statement by Paul would contradict the point here.


Galatians 3:26-28 (NRSV)

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.


Paul is saying that the being of Christians based on the grace of God commonly directed to them and commonly received by them in faith, is one that makes impossible any exaltation of the one over the other or hostility of the one to the other. In the Christian community, there can be no assertion of natural and historical antitheses. For in this community all are one in Christ Jesus in the sense that all live thankfully by the grace that God shows equally to each of them as mercy. However, Paul is not saying that the antitheses are simply set aside and done away by the being of Christians in Christ. Thus, the fact that male and female are one in Christ does not mean that they are no longer male and female.

            Behind the Old Testament vision of sexuality is the covenant between Yahweh and Israel. God did not will to be alone, but chose to have a partner in Israel. Further, in the New Testament the covenant is between Jesus Christ and the church.


2 Corinthians 11:2-3 (NRSV)

2 I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Romans 7:1-6 (NRSV)

 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

4 In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (NRSV)

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (NRSV)

 1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflectionof man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head,because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

Ephesians 5:22-33 (NRSV)

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.


46. Humanity as Soul and Body

Through the Spirit of God, human beings are the subject, form, and life of a substantial organism, the soul of their bodies, wholly and simultaneously both, in effaceable difference, inseparable unity, and indestructible order.

1. Jesus, Whole Human Being

            We now confront the problem of the constitution of this being, and therefore the problem of human existence and nature. The being of humanity exists, and is therefore soul. It exists in a certain form, and is therefore body. This is the simplest description of the being of soul and body, as well as their relationship. The human being is soul and body, defining the constitution of the human being. This church dogmatics has an advantage over the older dogmatics in that it does not begin at this place, but rather, has the ground covered as we have done thus far. At this point, we must acknowledge all kinds of propositions concerning humanity arising from non-theological studies of humanity. Many of them can lead us astray. I have chosen the language of soul and body because it remains closest to the language of the bible.

            Jesus is one whole human being, embodied soul and body. In the New Testament, what we learn of the inner life of Jesus is far less than we would like. We have the same hesitation regarding His physical life. Nevertheless, the oneness and wholeness of the human nature of Jesus is the first thing we note. A second point in this area is that the fashioning, structuring, and determining of this oneness and wholeness occurs within, and therefore is of necessary and of lasting significance. The New Testament shows this with the unique relation between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Because this human being is the Messiah and the Son of God, He stands to the Holy Spirit in this special relationship. We have here to regard this relationship as the particular determination of the human constitution of Jesus. Jesus is true human being in the sense that He is whole human being, a meaningfully ordered unity of soul and body. The relationship between soul and body in Jesus is also comparable with the relationship between Him and His community. With all purposefulness, Paul indicates and describes the community as the body of Jesus and Jesus is His relationship to it as its Head.

2. The Spirit as basis of Soul and Body

            Humanity exists because it has spirit. That humanity has spirit means that God grounds, constitutes, and maintains humanity as the soul of the body. In the briefest formula, this is the basic anthropological insight with which we have to start. We must advance from the starting-point that humanity we cannot understand humanity without God.


Acts 17:28 (NRSV)

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.’


With the expression, “soul and body,” we affirm first that the human being is one who also belongs to the visible, outward, earthly world of bodies. To call a human being a soul is simply to say in the first place that he or she is the life that is essentially necessary for the body. Both concepts are analytical. Soul would not be soul, if it were not bodily. Body would not be body, it if were not besouled. We are not free to make abstractions here, either on one side or on the other. Since the human being is besouled body and bodily soul, and no abstraction is possible, partaking in the heavenly side of the cosmos, but also lives bodily, the human being necessarily stands even as body in clear relation to its higher, invisible and inner side.

            Spirit is, in the most general sense, the operation of God upon the things God has made, and especially the movement of God towards humanity. Spirit is the principle of the human relation to God, of human fellowship with God. This relation and fellowship cannot proceed from within a human being, for God is the Creator. The same Spirit, who is there the principle of human renewal, is here the principle of creaturely reality. Without Spirit, there can be no prophet or any other commissioned agent of God, and no living member of the body of Christ. However, without the same Spirit, humanity cannot in any sense be humanity, nor in any sense soul of the body. This leads us to the final question of what it means for humanity to have the Spirit.

            To have Spirit means that humanity may life and therefore be soul of the body. We can make four delimitations of this proposition. First, that human has Spirit means that God is there for human beings. Second, that human has Spirit is the fundamental determination that decisively makes possible the being of humanity as soul of the body. The whole human being is of the Spirit, since the Spirit is the principle and power of the life of the whole human being. Third, since humanity has the Spirit, the Spirit is in the human being as soul and body. The Spirit is the nearest, most intimate and most indispensable factor for an understanding of the being of humanity and the existence of humanity. Fourth, the Spirit stands in a special and direct relationship to the soul or soulful element of human reality, but in only an indirect relationship to the body. The soul is the life of the body, and therefore the human life as such that humanity may not only have but also be when it receives the Spirit.            

3. Soul and Body in their Interconnection

            We not turn to the question of the inner structure of this creatureliness. We must discuss the matter of soul and body in their interconnection, in their particularity, and in their material relationship. We must first address the matter of the inner unity of human creatureliness and therefore soul and body in their interconnection. Soul is life, self-contained life, the independent life of a corporeal being. Life in general means capacity for action, self-movement, self-activity, self-determination. Independent life is present where this self-movement, self-activity, and self-determination are not only the continuation and partial appearance of a general life process, but where there is a specific living subject. Not every corporeal being is living. Purely elementary corporeal beings are not this. They lack the capacity for action. To ascribe soul to corporeal beings like a stone or a mass of water or a puff of wind or a flame would be a contradiction. We do not know what we are talking about if we try to do this. Soul is life. What is lifeless is soulless. There are corporeal beings of which there can be no doubt that they are living but real doubt of whether their life is independent. We say more than we can answer for if we speak of plant souls, for example. Independent life does not emerge except where a specific point of space does not bind the capacity for action of a corporeal being. The capacity for action of the beast and of humanity is independent life of this kind. Soul is independent life. However, independent life in itself would be an empty and impossible concept. What is life without something quickened and living? We say nothing at all in the words life and independent, if we do not speak immediately of something quickened and alive. Even when we try to define independent life as the self-movement, self-activity, and self-formation fulfilled by a specific subject, we clearly presuppose not only the time, but also a place and a material in and on which this movement, activity, and formation is accomplished. The one human being is wholly and simultaneously soul and body. We must note three delimitations at this point. First, we contradict the abstractly dualistic conception of Plato and Aristotle, and the mistaken incorporation of their teaching into Christian tradition. Second, on the other hand, we cannot accept the reactions in which some have attempted toward an abstract monism, one of which is materialist monism. Third, we must also react against monistic spiritualism, such as that of Paul Haeberlin. In this respect, spiritualism would do well to allow itself to have materialism correct it. Humanity itself is also body. Humanity is more than body,. Yet, humanity is also a material, spatial, and sensible body. In sum, if materialism with its denial of the soul makes humanity without a subject, spiritualism with its denial of the body makes humanity without an object. Here human speech is wider than human thought. It is a remarkable thing that, in our use of the decisively important personal pronounces, we do not even remotely imagine that our expressions refer to the existence and nature of two substances or merely to one or other of them. On the contrary, we say with equal emphasis and equal right: I think, I see, I know, and I have a toothache, I hate, and I am operated on, I have sinned, and I am old. Fundamentally, we know very well that all these things, though some are spiritual and others bodily, concern me. they are affairs of the one subject I, which is the soul of its body and for this very reason is wholly and at the same time soul and body. 

4. Soul and Body in their Particularity

            We now approach the second subordinate question, concerning the inner differentiation of human creatureliness, asking about the particularity of soul and body. Humanity has Spirit, and through the Spirit is the soul of its body. This means at least that humanity is capable of meeting God, of being a person for and in relation to God, and of being one as God is one. Humanity is capable of being aware of self as different both from God and from the rest of the created world, yet bound up with God and with the rest of the created world. Humanity is capable of recognizing self and of being responsible for self. Humanity exists in the execution of this self-recognition and self-responsibility before the Creator. As humanity meets God and stands before God, two definite presuppositions emerge concerning the creaturely nature of humanity. First, humanity is capable of perceiving the God who meets it and reveals divinity to it. Humanity is capable of distinguishing God from the human self. Humanity can recognize the divine being, Word, and will. Humanity can understand the order that subsists between humanity and God. Second, God entrusts body and soul to humanity in order to become the partner of God, to meet God, to stand and walk before God, to be right in self-reflective responsibility before God. I can find no partition between desiring and willing, or between sensing and thinking. On the contrary, we have to understand both desiring and willing as soulful and bodily, both being primarily of the soul and secondarily of the body.

5. Soul and Body in their Order

            We must now discuss the primacy of the soul. The formula of the primacy of the soul that is our starting-point can only suggest what we have now to affirm, that the nature of humanity as soul and body is an intelligibly ordered association of these two movements, that there is a cosmos in which rules the Logos, that there is control on the one said. As this takes place, humanity is fully humanity in the unity of and differentiation of soul and body. As God grounds, constitutes, and maintains humanity as soul of the body, and thus receives and has the Spirit, there occurs the rule of he soul and the service of the body. In this occurrence, humanity is a rational being. We thus understand humanity as a rational being with regard to soul and body. In virtue of the soul, the body has a full participation in rationality. The soul rules the body and serves the soul. Humanity is a rational being because God addressed humanity as such and because God created humanity as such. The imperative that commands us always to understand conduct ourselves as rational beings is categorical in that God imposes this imperative upon humanity. Theological anthropology cannot go behind this necessity because without this recognition it cannot even begin to consider humanity at all. As God addresses humanity, God treats humanity as a being that can rule self and serve self. God treats humanity as a rational being. God created humanity as a rational being. We shall develop what we have to say about humanity as a rational being under three heads. First, it humanity understands itself in its relation to God as ordained by God, humanity cannot in any sense understand itself as purely soul or as purely thinking and willing subject. Second, if humanity understands itself in its relation to God as God established and ordained it, humanity cannot understand itself merely as body, merely as a sensing and desiring subject. Third, if humanity understands itself in its relation to God as God established and ordained it, in relation to soul and body as the two moments of its being, humanity can only understand itself as a single subject, as soul identical with body and as body identical with soul.

            We may now return to the analogies suggested earlier. The human being engaged in this activity, as the unity of a ruling soul and a serving body, is in himself or herself a likeness of the fellowship of God and humanity. To exist as a human being is to exist in the order, rationality, and logicality that consists in the ruling and serving that so mysteriously pervade the whole work of the Creator with the things God has made.

47. Human Beings in their Time

Humanity lives in the allotted span of its present, past and future life. God was before humanity and will be after humanity, and fixes the boundaries of the being of humanity. This God is the eternal God, the Creator and Covenant-partner of humanity. God is the hope in which the human being may live in his or her time.

1. Jesus, Lord of Time

            Human beings live in their time. This simple statement denotes the second circle of problems to which we must now turn in our investigation of the constitution of human existence. They live as the soul of their bodies. However, all along, this presupposes that they are temporal. If they live at all, they live in their time. This life is a series of the acts of their movement, enterprise, and activity. If they are to fulfill their being and nature as soul of their bodies, they cannot do without time. Even the eternal God does not live without time. They are temporal. The eternity of God is authentic temporality, and therefore the source of all time. The constitution of the being of human being as the soul of their bodies presupposes their temporality. We must now ask and state what the form means for human existence.

            “Jesus, Lord of time” as the title of this subsection indicates the conclusion to which our investigations will lead us. Here is a brief outline. Like all other people, the human being Jesus is in His time, His lifetime, the time He needs like all other human beings to live a human life. However, in this time of His He lives as the One He is in virtue of His unity with God. As in His unity with God, He lives the life of the supreme Representative and Judge, His life does not belong exclusively to Him. It is a life lived for God, and therefore for humanity. As He lives this life in His time, it ceases to be exclusively His time. His time becomes time for God, and therefore for every human being. The two-fold answer that He gives, to God on the one hand to human beings on the other, makes Him the contemporary of every human being, whether they have lived, live, or will live. The way in which He is their contemporary varies according to whether they live with Him lived before Him or will live after Him. Yet, He is the contemporary of them all because He lives for God and for them all. Jesus not only lives in His own time, but as He lives in His own time, and as there are many other times before and after Him, He is the Lord of time. This is the insight that must now be established and expounded. Let us take the simplest and most obvious consideration first. Like all human beings, the man Jesus has His lifetime. He has the time bounded at one end by His birth and at the other by His death. He has a fixed span with a particular duration within the duration of created time as a whole. However, we cannot recount the history of the human being Jesus, this salvation history, unless we remember that the New Testament has something more to say of Him, though still in the form of history, at the very pont where the history of another human being would inevitably stop. Jesus has a further history beginning on the third day after His death and therefore after the time of His first history and clearly ends. In temporal sequence, it is a second history of Jesus. It is the Easter history, the history of the forty days between His resurrection and ascension. The second stage of our investigation, more difficult, but rewarding, leads us inevitably to this point. In the first instance, we must grasp that when the New Testament speaks of the event of Easter, it really means the Easter history and Easter time. We are here in the sphere of history and time no less than in the case of the words, acts, and death of Jsus. The event of Easter is their prism through which the apostles and their communities saw the human being Jesus in every respect of His relation to them, as the One who “was, and is, and is to come,” as in Revelation 4:8. What implications has it for the being of Jesus in time that He was in time in this way too, as the Resurrected? What is the implication of the fact that after He had completed the span from birth to death He had this subsequent time? The answer I that the particular content of the particular recollection of this particular time of the apostolic community consisted in the fact that in this time the human being Jesus was manifested among them in the mode of God. We need to keep a clear view of His humanity and divinity at this point. Now they actually beheld His glory. During these forty days, the presence of God in the presence of the human being Jesus was no longer a paradox. In and with the presence of the human being Jesus during this time, in the unique circumstances of the forty days, His disciples make a decision between belief and unbelief. There takes place for them the total, final, irrevocable and eternal manifestation of God. God, the object and ground of their faith, was present as the human being Jesus was present in this way. That this truly took place is the specific content of the apostolic recollection of these days. However, when we go on to ask how all this happened, we must give the straightforward answer that the Jesus who three days earlier had been rejected by the Jews and put to death by the Gentiles and buried by His disciples was among them again as a living human being. He was the concrete demonstration of the gracious God. He was then the concrete demonstration of the God who not only was authority over human life and death, but also wills to deliver humanity from death. He was the concrete demonstration of the God who was not only a different time from that of humanity, but also whose will and resolve it to give humanity a share in this time of His, in His eternity. This human being, the incarnate Word of God, was both present and apprehensible as the triumphant justification of God and humanity, as the revelation of the divine sovereignty over live and death that delivers humanity, and finally as the One who exists in the higher, eternal time of God. The Easter history opened their eyes to the nature of this human being and His history, to the previously concealed character of this history as salvation history, and therefore to the fact that what had happened had done so once and for all. It opened their eyes to the way in which the “once” of this event differed from their own history and all history, and indeed from every other “once.”

            Absolute time does not exist. We need not be surprised if the nature and laws of all other times, and all that we think we know as time, this Easter time illuminates and relativizes. Relativized does not mean discarded. Time is real, and will always be so. Even its end will not mean that God throws it away. Yet, even now, its meaning does not lie in itself. The fact that God has placed all other times in proximity to this time that even in them we may discern traces of this eternal time, of the true and proper time in which they necessarily have a share because, even though at a different level, they too are real times. We might recall these New Testament texts.


Galatians 4:1-5 (NRSV)

 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3 So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (NRSV)

9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Mark 1:14-15 (NRSV)

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

1 Peter 1:20 (NRSV)

20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.


Behind the application of the concept of the fulfillment to time lies a definite view of time. It pictures time as an empty vessel, not yet filled, but waiting to for a particular time to fill it. As all the commandments, promises and prophecies of the prophets and righteous people of the Old Testament are without content, apart from the coming of the kingdom in the human being Jesus, and therefore defective in themselves. Yet, being related to this event, and destined all along for this content, they are not for nothing, so too it is with time in itself as such. It is empty in both the negative and positive sense. Empty of this content and empty for this content. It has both the defect ant the advantage of being time that is hastening toward the time of Jesus and is then destined to move away from His time. There is no fulfillment of time without the time of fulfillment. We have called this time of His at the heart of other times the time of God and eternal time. We have called it the time that God has assumed for us, and thus granted to us, human beings of all times, the time of the covenant of God, or, as the Bible sees it, the great Sabbath, the year of salvation, and fulfilled time. We must now try to assess the material implication is of all this for our understanding of this particular time.

            The time of Jesus is also a time like all other times. First, the life of Jesus begins, and therefore it was once future. However, the human being Jesus already was even before He was. Hence, the time before His time was also His time. Second, the life of Jesus has duration, and therefore it was once present. For all its singularity, this present reaches back to His past when His time was still future and forward to His future when His time will be past. The human being Jesus is as He was and will be. Third, the life of Jesus ends, and therefore there was a moment when His time became past. However, its end is such that it is always present and still future. The human being Jesus was as He is and will be. Even the time after His time is the time of His renewed presence, the time of His new coming, and therefore His time. This means, however hat from the standpoint of the three dimensions of every conception of time, His time is not only the time of a human being, but also the time of God, eternal time. Thus, as the title of this sub-section suggests, He not only is in time and has time like other human beings, but He is also Lord of time.

            We now proceed to a brief exposition of the Christian view of the human being Jesus in His time with specific reference to the three dimensions of the concept of time.

            First, after Easter and Pentecost, the primary conviction of the New Testament community is that the human being Jesus is really and transcendentally present, in a way that we could not say of contemporary members and other people of their age. We cannot understand or portray His history as a thing of the past, a thing of yesterday. The yesterday of Jesus is also today. By way of anticipation, we may say that His presence does not abrogate the historical distance in which Jesus confronts them. His today does not cancel His yesterday. Again, by way of anticipation, the presence of Jesus in His community is full of import for the future. His presence impels and presses to His future, general and definitive revelation, of which the Easter history is a particular and provisional form. However, we must not forget that He who comes again in glory, this future Jesus, is identical with the One proclaimed by the history of yesterday and really present to His own today. We can summarize this point by reference to Revelation 1:8, “I am the one who is.”

            Second, the present does not restrict the being of Jesus. Jesus not only is. He has been. We direct our gaze backward from the present. What do we see? What is the yesterday of this today? The answer seems at first sight quite simple. What we see is obviously the pre-Easter life of Jesus. We see his death on the cross, the parting from His disciples, His going up to Jerusalem, His journeys to Galilee, His words and deeds during this time, and few glimpses of His boyhood and infancy. However, when we really see Him in all this from the standpoint of the first community and its experience of Easter, what impresses us is the fullness of this yesterday, of this time that was. How could it be of less importance than the time of the apostolic present? The Yesterday of the New Testament obviously suggests a prior yesterday, a time preceding even the time of His way from Bethlehem to Calvary. We refer to the prophetic time and history of the people of Israel attested in the Old Testament. This is the next stage in our retrospective consideration of the time before. The apostolic community of Jews and Gentiles regarded itself as the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob now come to its promised goal. When He who had come opened their eyes to see Him as He really was, they saw in Him, and through Him in the long history of Israel, the reality of the divine covenant. In this magnificent panorama they saw a single though manifold pre-figuration and expectation of the One who had actually come when this history end and the voice of the Old Testament had been silenced. Yet, the apostolic community looked back even further into this yesterday from the place that we must take up with it if we are to achieve a true understanding. It saw in the human being Jesus, the real object of the foresight and fore-ordination of God in the creation and ordering of reality distinct from Himself. Hence, for the apostolic community the yesterday of Jesus extends beyond the prior yesterday of the Old Testament to the primal history and primal time that are beyond the reach of historical investigation, not only in practice, but also in principle, to the history and time when being, history and time began as such. To the extent that the time when the Creator began to execute His will, it too was His time, the time when He was the primary, proper object of this divine will, foreseen and foreordained in the creation of all things. We can sum up this point in Revelation 1:8, “I am the one who was.” The transfiguration of Jesus in Mark 9:2-8, the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:9-11, and the infancy narratives provide illustration of the points made here.

            Third, the being of Jesus in time is not merely a being in the present or the past. It is also a being in the future, a coming being. From the standpoint of the apostles and their communities, we must also say that He comes. Christians live no less in expectation than in recollection or simply in His presence. Hence, the proclamation of Him of the Church is no less eschatological than soteriological and pneumatological. It is no less proclamation of His future and the approaching end of time than of His past in which time has found its beginning and center, or of His present in which we move from that beginning and center to the end of time. As we must never forget, its gaze is always on Him. It may look backwards to His past even as far as the eternal counsel of God. It may look to His present at the right hand of God, from His general and conclusive revelation. However, in every case it looks only to Him. In Him, it sees the fullness of everything fro which those enlightened by Him are thankful, whether present or expected. We can summarize this point by referring to Revelation 1:8, “I am the one who is to come.” Two passages have particular connection with the view of time presented here.


2 Peter 1:16-21 (NRSV)

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

1 Peter 1:10-12 (NRSV)

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11 inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!


We find here the reason that the New Testament looks to the future coming of Jesus, and always in an imminent way. The apostolic community, in light of the promises of the Old Testament, in light of the words of Jesus and the presence of God in Easter, in light of the presence of the Spirit in the community, looked forward to His coming. We must not underestimate the majesty of the Christian community through the presence of the Spirit. However, we must also not exaggerate the present existence of the church in relation to the future coming of Christ. The church is on the march, for its fulfillment is is still to come. It anticipates the change foretold in the New Testament. It bears witness to the authority of Jesus. The church must not invest itself with perfections of authority, dogma, and ministry that belongs that can only belong to Christ.

2. Given Time

            Fur us, the past is the time that we leave and are in no longer. It was once ours. We are so no longer. The future is the time that we do not yet have, but perhaps will have. We can at least look back at the past as it slips away. However, it may well be pure illusion to suppose that we can look to our own being of the future or the world of the future. We do not even know whether we will have a future. We do not know whether the time to come will be ours at all. However, even if it will be, it is not ours now. We are only moving towards it. We do not know and cannot conceive its contents, its nature and happenings. We may anticipate it in expectation, but it is only in expectation that we can anticipate it, filling it with definite conceptions, hopes and fears, desires, intentions and plans. Even this anticipatory filling of the future is very restricted, for only the future itself can teach us what is really desirable or dangerous, necessary or superfluous, possible or impossible. Anticipation is no substitute for the reality anticipated. The future when it comes may confound partially or totally our expectations. The real nature of our being in time is most obscure of all, however, at the very point where it ought to be clearest, namely, the moment we regard as our present. Here, where midway between vanished past, and the unknown future that awaits us, we think we can take our ease and enjoy in impregnable security our being and having, and our identity with ourselves, we find that we are wholly insecure. For what is our present but a step from darkness to darkness, from the “no longer” to the “not yet,” and therefore a continual deprivation of what we were and had in favor of a continual grasping of what we will be and have? Our past and future do at least have a real if limited content, but the fullness of our present is obviously only the remarkable act of existence itself in which we have already been deprived of our past, but have not yet been able to grasp the future, everything being wholly behind us and everything wholly before us. What are we now? What do we have? The past had at least duration; the definite duration of our own and all human days and years that, whether remembered or forgotten, did actually come and go in their sequence. Similarly, the future, if it comes at all, can at least have duration, consisting in a further sequence of hours and days. However, what is Now? What is the present? It is the time between the times. This is no time at all, no duration, no series of moments, but only the boundary between past and future, a boundary that is never stationary, but always shifts further ahead. The present is the moment we can never prevail upon to stay, for always it has already gone or not yet come. In practice, we can experience the present only in the form of recollections and expectations. This is our being in time. This truth doubtless finds suitable expression in the metaphysical conception of the infinity of time. Infinite is the abyss into which the past and all that it comprises, all that we have been, sinks and disappears before our eyes; an abyss that is deeper than all the virgin forests of pre-historic times, with the fabulous monsters and inhabited them. Infinite, too, is the future to which everything is bound to hasten, whether it likes it or not. Infinite is the flight that is also a chase, the chase that is also a flight; what we call the present; the succession of moments, or rather of constant shifting of the boundary, between the darkness there and the darkness there. Infinite is the impossibility of escaping time, of not accepting time, of not being in time. Infinite is the possibility of escaping its enigma as the enigma of humanity itself, human beings who are, and who would like to be in time as well as to have time, who are temporal, and whose being in time is of this nature.

            Jesus is not only God and therefore different from us, but also a human being and therefore like us. We can therefore learn much from the time of Jesus. What we have described is sinful human being in time. The existence of the human being Jesus means that God became a human being, the Creature became a creature, and eternity became time. It means that God takes and has time for us; that God is temporal among us as we are. Yet, God does this in a manner appropriate to divinity. God is temporal in unity and correspondence with divine eternity. However, what can this mean but that God is temporal in a way that also corresponds to human beings as the creature God has made, in the original and natural form of the being of humanity in time before it was perverted and corrupted? A first proposition is that the existence of the human being Jesus in time is our guarantee that time as the form of human existence is something God has willed and created, that God gives to humanity, and that is real. Time is real. We are in time. Time is not the abyss of our non-being. We have time. Threatened though we may be, we are not in time in such a way that it continually slips away into infinity and the form of our existence. To be human beings is to live in time. Humanity is in time. This is involved in the fact that the being of human beings is their life, and that their lives are reception and action, rule and service. If this life of theirs is real, so too is their time as the stage on which they live out their being. We can say this in the strict sense only of humanity. We do not know what time means for animals or plants, or for the rest of the universe. We may see how intimate is the relation between humanity and time from the fact that such decisive relations for human beings as that between God and human beings on the one hand and human beings and human beings on the other are purely temporal, historical relationships. These relationships consist of actions in their performance and therefore in the sequence of their initiation, execution, and completion. God would not be my God if God were only eternal within divinity, if God had no time for me. In the Christian view, God loves and elects me, God wills and intends me, God calls, judges, punishes, accepts, delivers, preserves and rules me, God is my Light, my Commander, my Succor, my Comfort, and my Hope. All this is history, has its time, and refers to me in this time of mine, even the eternity of God before I was and when I shall have ceased to be. Human beings are in the time given to them. Unless we remember this, we shall fail to realize that time is our real form of existence. We have no control over time and our being in it. All this supports the view that existence itself ordains time as our form of existence. We can see time in the most intimate connection with ourselves, with our being and action. We are and work only in the connection. God creates and wills time as the form of human existence. Eternity is the dimension of the life of God, the life in which God is self-positing, self-existent and self-sufficient as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this in contrast to time as the dimension of our life, the dimension in which past, present, and future follow in succession.

            We shall now attempt a second and very different analysis of the being of humanity in time.

            First, let us consider the tense in which its reality is most impressive and palpable, but also most vulnerable, as our being in the present. Human beings are in time, which means they are now, crossing the frontier between past and future, one moment is just ahead and the next just behind. Every conception of human being, life, and activity has to do concretely with this step from the pat to the future. It is always now that I am or am not, that I have or have not, that I know or do not know, that I do or leave undone, that I enjoy or eschew, love or hate, am said or happy. Now contains my positive or negative reaction to my environment both human and non-human. Now contains my decisions. I really have time for it. I am really in time with all my being, life, and action. I am. However, is it really true that I am? Only now can we see how significant it is that every Now, in its particular relation to the past and future, is an opportunity that comes only once and then, perceived and grasped or not, passes never to return. We have to reckon with each moment because God has particular moments, in the being, speech, and action of God in relation to us. Moments continually come and go. Now is no time for dreaming about past or future. Now is the time to awake, to receive or act, to speak or be silent, to say Yes or No. now is no time to send as our proxy act under our mask. Now, we must step out and act as the human beings we really are. The urgency of the moment demands absolute sincerity and readiness.

            Second, let us turn to our being in time in the past tense: “I have been.” In the first place, and positively, it means that I am now the one who has been. As I reach the frontier and cross into the future, I am not a mere cipher, a blank sheet of paper. I am gifted and burdened, freed and enslaved, enriched and impoverished, credited and committed, strengthened and weakened, inclined, directed and determined, by the many earlier transitions I have made in the past and right up to this point. I am what all my past life has made me. it does not matter how insensible I may be to it, how few my clearer recollections. When the hour strikes and registers my present Now, when I embark upon the new transition, I am what my past has made me, formed and molded by all my previous transitions. Whatever I may be, do, and experience now, and whatever I shall be, do, and experience after this Now, the prejudices and assumptions that I have brought from the past are in varying degrees significant for this Now and will continue to be so for my future. We could not choose memory or oblivion, or possibly a combination of the two, if we were dependent on ourselves for assurance of the reality of our being in time, and therefore of our real being even in the past. However, we are not dependent on ourselves if we accept the fact that the will and act of God are the meaning and ground of our being in time, and therefore in the time that is behind us. That we were is real because primarily, beyond us and for us, God was, in the omnipotent grace and mercy of God, as well as the holiness and righteousness of God. God loves us in our time then, and because God has not ceased to do so, we are real even in that time. The die has been cast. What we were, we were. With all that we did and omitted to do, all that we discovered and overlooked, all the good and evil that we did and suffered, all the joys that we experienced or missed because we were not equal to them. Everything was exactly as it was. We can take away nothing from it or add anything to it. We can improve upon nothing or make it worse. It was all before God, and it is still before God in all its realty. Neither recollection nor oblivion can alter the fact that it is still before God and therefore as real now as it was then. We do not even need our present, the remarkable result of our past, to establish this. We are really the persons we were in the whole duration and extent of our past, because in it we were before God, to whom we owed everything but were also responsible for everything. The result is that recollection and oblivion acquire a new character. Recollection is life with memory of our history and our willingness to learn from it. Yet, we cannot live in the past is if it were our true home, and the present and future a form of exile. Oblivion acquires a different perspective in the hands of God. What has been is real. While we may forget, God never forgets.

            Third, let us consider the future tense: “I shall be.” That I shall be, has its beginning in the present, and then reaches out beyond the present into the future. We know that the step from the past and the step into the future are not really two steps, but one. In popular terms, we may think of it as a further step. I am now leaving the Now previously entered, crossing its forward frontier. Like a wayfarer who finds no room in the inn, I am coming out again and continuing my journey in the hope of finding lodging further on. The future is the further side of the present, just as the past is its nearer side. In the present, they touch each other. The past moved towards the present while the future moves away from it. I am now waiting a new present. I am eagerly stepping towards it. I am grasping it. However, this eager waiting, stepping, and grasping begin now. They immediately cease to be now, but it is worth insisting that they begin now. Hence, our Now is always full of the future as well as the past. As we are, we anticipate the future. We project ourselves into the future. We see and will ourselves, as we shall be. We act as though our future being had already arrived. To this extent, the future determines us. Specific hopes and fears color our thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions. All our human activity, but also all our human experience and suffering, hastens towards a telos. All our present joy is at the decisive point a foretaste of the new and true joy that is still to come. Similarly, every present pain is only a sinister herald of what we fear will be worse pains. However, am I really, what I shall be? The step in which I transcend my Now presupposes a place in front of me in which to plant my feet. However, from a distance there is no certainty that I can do this. That step forward may be a step into the void, into the abyss. There may be time for others, but not for me. My own time may be up. The future of which I am full may be a preparation leading to nothing. The future may be an indicator pointing into the void, a presentiment resting on an illusion, a prophecy that time will never fulfill. The future of which I am full is not my real future. It is not even a pledge of it. It proves only that I now live as if I had a real future, a real being in time in this third tense. However, life does not leave us in this dilemma. We do not have to choose between these two equally futile attempts to escape our being in time. On the contrary, we can count on the fact that the will and act of God are the meaning and ground not only of our being in time generally, but also of our being in the future. True, the future stands at every moment under the question whether it will be our future, our time at all. However, in the first instance, we are not the ones who will be in the next moment, tomorrow, or a year hence. It is God, our Creator, Deliverer and Sustainer, who will still be for us and will be faithful to us. If we consider God, we have to say that even in the future tense time is a reality that God assures. It is the framework of our being, and its end will not be terror and cannot terrify. We could not say this without God. We could than understand the end of our time only as a catastrophe, and our whole being in its movement toward this end as a threatened being. However, we are not without God. The same God who has loved us and loves us will still love us as surely as God is eternal. This means that even our future being, as the object of the love of God that God will not let slip, is real before God and therefore in truth in all its allotted and salutary compass and to its appointed limit. The fact that our time hastens towards its end would be intolerable only if we wanted to be God and therefore eternal instead of real people under and with God, and therefore temporal. The future tense of our time could terrify us only if we had to be people without God, strangers to the covenant of God. However, there is no natural urge compelling us to be without God and strangers to the covenant of God. As created by God, God and the covenant of God embrace human reality from all eternity. If our future gives advance notice of itself in our present in the pictures, we make of it, if even now we begin to be what we shall be, we must still remember and insist that we place even our present anew before God and under God. To return to our dilemma, we need to consider the question of whether it is better and more advisable to take the unreflective or the reflective way in relation to the future. Surely, the unreflective way is right, and it is better and more advisable to step unreflectively from today into tomorrow, if we must fix our eyes on God alone. After all, we move towards the more imminent or distant end appointed, and therefore we always move into a future rushing on to this end. If this provokes concern, it is not our concern but God’s. in other words, we can cast our care on God, freeing ourselves form the reflectiveness to which it gives rise by realizing that it is really the concern of God, that God cares for us, giving us time and its end, and therefore time that rushes on to this end. Whatever happens, we shall have God with us and over us. That being so, there is firm ground ahead that will certainly carry us. There is room for us to live, move, and have our being. Why should we not proceed with confidence? There is no need to suppose that we are masters of our future, or that we posit it absolutely in the form in which we conceive it. We are surely free to live today responsibly for tomorrow. Is not this the freedom to pray the fourth petition of the Lords’ Prayer: “Give us today our bread for tomorrow”? For tomorrow, even if it were our last, we shall still be under God and with God. An unreflecting consideration and apprehension of the future is justifiable if it is confidence that that the future is that which God gives, and this confidence alone. It is justifiable so long as we remember that in our future God shall judge and limit us, not overshadowed by our end, but irradiated by the goal God has set for us. However, we might also say something for the reflective way, even from the same standpoint. God constantly gives us life, and the time needed for it. This suggests that God continually and conclusively challenges us to gratitude towards God and responsibility before God. The infinite terror without which we cannot go into the future must be fear of God. However, fear of God is only when we clearly realize that, as our Judge God is also the One who has intervened and God became responsible for us in the mercy of God. We shall be in the hands of the Lord who from all eternity has been our Covenant-partner and Friend. This will make it impossible for us to escape terror before God. God is not mocked. God is the God whom we must fear. We must render an account of ourselves to God.

            In conclusion, we need to remember the presupposition that has led to this result. We understood time and our being in time as real by considering it as the form of human existence God willed and created. We thus purged the concept of time from all the abstractions by which we inevitably confuse and darken it when we leave the divine will and action out of account and we do not understand time as the creation of God. This conclusion, developed in our second analysis, rests on the promise given us in Jesus, on the resurrection and lordship of Jesus over time. For on this depends the fact that we can relate human time to the eternity of God, and that the eternity of God can and must be seen and understood as the divine eternity for us, God as the Creator and Giver of our time, and therefore our being in time as a realty. All this depends on the reality of the divine being, intervention and work for us as it has taken place in Jesus.

3. Allotted Time

            We shall now consider time from the outside, as the totality of that movement, as the succession of those moments of transition in which we continually come and go, continually leave ourselves behind us and have ourselves before us. We shall now consider it as the series of moments, and the acts that full them, in which we are continually present “between the times.” In this totality, succession, and sequence, it is our human time. In this totality, succession, and sequence, it is the sphere of human life. Human beings are in this span, and not before or after it. Only as such allotted time do human beings have their time. Human life protests against this fact. It protests against the fact that the space for this development is to be that allotted span. It is not simply a matter of accepting this allotment of our time, but of welcoming it with gratitude and joy. However, it this protest were only an abstract desire for life, life hungering for life and never satisfied, but always beating angrily against the barrier set up by the fact that its time is allotted, it would be easy to dismiss the question as foolish and the protest as unjustified. However, human lfie is more than the satisfying of lan abstract craving for life. Even in its wildest perversions and sistoritons, human life has the determination to be lived for God and one’s fellow human beings. To be unfathomable and inexhaustible is proper to it, as its craving for duration is legitimate. It rightly protests against the fact that it ahs an allotted span of time, for if it is to fulfill its determination it would seem to need unending time. When we raise the question on this ground, we cannot so easily suppress or dismiss it. However, supposing that in this demand, question, and protest, humanity does not make any demand, but appeals to the promise given with creation in relationship with God, to the gift and task given human beings with their creation in relationship to their fellow human beings. Life under the Word of God never seems as though it can have enough time to fulfill the determination that the Word of God has given it. Every limit can only mean a lack of fulfillment. Raised from this standpoint, the question is not one that we can dismiss by saying that we ought not to ask it. On the contrary, we must try to answer it from the same angle. The question is undoubtedly right jto assume that human life demands duration in the light of the determination given and with its creation. Human life has an urge for perfection. Human life is impatient with all its limitations. It storms all barriers. It consists in the denial of all denials. Humanity under God and with fellow human beings, which is real humanity, cannot accept the fact that once it was not under God or with fellow human beings, and that one day will be so no longer. However, we could also make the further assumption that human life needs time as its dimension, and that God has allotted this time. Human life has margins and measurement. We can then draw several assumptions. First, God lives in divine time. Divine time is eternity, which is not the same as endless time or timelessness. Rather, eternity is the fullness of beginning, middle, and end simultaneously. God lives in a different dimension.  Human beings, of course, only have the allotted time God has created and given. Human beings have creaturely life and creaturely time. However, since human beings have a relation to God, life with God suggests bursting the limitations of allotted time. The promise, gift, and task from the eternal God is the source of the discontent human beings have with allotted time. Second, we advance a step further if we grasp that one could serve the legitimate demand of human life for limitless duration and its character as a striving after perfection if God placed unlimited dimension and infinite time at its disposal. Of course, infinite time would have value only if it would allow human beings to achieve the perfection and divine determination of human life. Since life is a gift of God, the desire for a long life reflects a desire for as much of the gift that one can receive. In reality, infinite time would only mean infinite striving for the perfection we seek. Third, if we go further, we realize that unrestricted human life would make us worse off than we are now with allotted time. We would never reach the goal of a human life. We would experience the condemnation of perpetual wanting and asking and therefore dissatisfaction. This picture is hell, a life of misery. We desire a bad thing when we desire endless duration of this human life. Fourth, we need to show the positive good we experience to live in allotted time. This means the fact that it begins and ends must lose the character of a restriction and threat to human life. The divine promise must overshadow the apparent threat and restriction. In allotted time, we must receive an offer greater and more powerful than the deepest human need or the must urgent human question. Within the allotment of time, we receive the assurance that regardless of its length, we shall receive gift that the allotment of time cannot achieve or assure. We can say such things about the allotment of time because we live in relation to God.  God shows care for us by giving us an allotted span instead of unending time. In this allotted time, God is around us, God is our Neighbor with whom we have to do on the margin of life. God is behind us and before us. The aim of God is to demonstrate the fellowship that God willed to grant us. The glory of God embraces us. Fifth, for a deeper understanding, we need to take up an earlier point. The determination given to our lives by God makes the craving for duration and perfection a serious, legitimate, and weighty craving. Is our life too brief and is our time too short to satisfy this demand? The fact is, given the purpose God has for human life, the accomplishment of the purpose is in the hands of God. For this reason, the limits of allotted time have the positive function of placing the accomplishment the divine purpose for a human life and for human community beyond those established limits. Our legitimate hunger of duration and perfection misses the mark if we think we could accomplish them apart from fellowship with God. Sixth, we need to take a final step in order to attain full clarity. We have already assumed that God is for us. The glory of God is to elect human beings for God. In freedom and sovereignty, God addressed to a being wholly other that God that God is Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer. This being can only receive these acts of God as a gift. God is the one who gives life, who sustains life, and who brings life to its completion. If God is there for us, who is? If God is not there for us before we were and when we shall be no longer, then our only prospect is annihilation. Therefore, the fact that God has allotted our time simply means the proximity of the free grace of God in this clarity.

4. Beginning Time

            The problem raised by the fact that the time given us is an allotted span has two aspects that we must now consider in detail. Our time begins, and it ends. Most authors focus on the second aspect – human life has an end. There, somewhere ahead of us, lies the term of our lives, the frontier of our time, which unknown point draws for us, and which we approach with every day and hour. At that point, we shall be no longer. However, the first aspect is just as real. There is a term and frontier from which we come, a point where we were not yet. The only difference is that we move further and further away from this point with every day and hour, so that the question posed by our beginning seems to decrease in urgency in proportion as the question posed by our beginning seems to decrease in urgency in proportion as the question of our end increases. That our being in time will one day end, when our future will never again follow our present, appears far more disquieting than the fact that it once began as a present without a past. This reality is far more disquieting. For our lives, and with it our time, is set irreversibly in this direction, so that what looms before us is the approaching end and not the receding beginning., which we have no urgent or pressing cause to consider, since it is plainly and self-evidently given and lies unquestionably behind us.

            We may have various reasons for refusing to enter into this strange discussion about the date of the inception of human life. In any case, none of the various attempted solutions leads us even the slightest step forward from where we stand, reckoning with a beginning of human life, and therefore with a time when we were not, which was not yet our time. That this problem of the origin of our lives is so great is due to the fact that the theological answer to the problem of allotted time that we have just given has reference to and embraces not only the more obvious problem of our exist, but also the less obvious of our entry. The result of our radical examination tells us that we derive from this God. We certainly come from non-being, but we do not come from nothing. We do not come from an abyss that has spewed us out only to swallow us up again. God is not nothing. God is not chaos. Further, the biblical text has numerous references to the question of from whence have human beings come.

5. Ending Time

            Let us now turn our attention to the other aspect of the problem of allotted time. Time as God has given it will end. This is the second point settled with the time given to us. Our present proceeds towards a point where we shall be no longer. The question of our Whither is in practice much more disquieting than when seen from the standpoint of beginning time. Our disquiet arises from the fact that our lives run from beginning to end, and not in the reverse direction. Hence, when we look ahead it is our end that we see and contemplate. Our beginning lies behind us, receding ever further into the past. Hence, the nearer our end approaches, the less does our beginning seem to claim our attention. Life desires life. Live hungers and thirsts for life. Live strives and calls for further life. The limitations of life terrify life. Life would like to overcome such limits. Life would like to assert itself against them and renew itself in defiance of such limits. Life is in flight from the non-existence from it springs. These limits remind life of its origin. Life reaches its present point from the non-existence in which it originated. Life is a state of transition. Life has its present in this transition. However, in no resent can it find satisfaction. For the present never stays. Life can only pass through the present, offering no sense of abiding. Life must repeatedly demand that transition. Being in time, it demands a future. The real disquiet arising from the fact that our existence in time ends consists in the fact that the flight from non-existence, still hungering and thirsting after further life, we shall not be able to live any further. The time we shall then have will be a time with a present, but with no more future. We shall then have been, and we shall still be. However, the transition will now be out of life as it was formerly into life. It will be that “all is over.” This will be the last grim fact that will star us in the face. We shall die. This will be the end awaiting us. Whether it be near or far, it is certainly approaching nearer and nearer. “Time departs and death comes.” Since death comes and time departs, our attempted flight becomes increasingly hopeless. The chances of life are forever diminishing, and its limitations loom ever larger. Our hopes, expectations and plans become increasingly relative and limited, and their futility ever more apparent. They hasten and we hasten towards the point of negation, the same point from which all things derive. When we die, all things and we ourselves end. This is what makes the finitude of the time given us the more critical and incisive form of its limitation. Because our time is finite, our life in time is in fact a time fraught with anxiety and care. Death overshadows our lives. That fact that at a particular moment, at the beginning of our time, we emerged from non-being to being is not intrinsically negative or necessarily evil. This fact is the opposite. It signifies something supremely positive if we come from God. However, with respect to our end, the whole picture is different. If death is indisputably a return to non-being, and if this can mean only a return to the same God who called us out of non-being to being, we can see our future prospect in a very different light.

            Between the beginning and end of our lives as already lived and still to be lived, stands our lives that in accordance with its determination and the freedom we enjoy in it may be lived in a positive relation to God and an equally positive relation to our fellows. However, we have not lived and do not and shall not lie in this way, but quite differently. Between our beginning and our end, between our emergence from God and our final confrontation with God, stands the fact of the abysmal and irreparable guilt that we have incurred from the beginning of our existence, are still incurring and will increasingly continue to do so until the end. We have guilt in relation to God and to our divinely appointed fellow human beings. We have guilt of many kinds, great and trivial, gross and refined, blatant and complicated. However, we always have guilt. Guilt means retrogression. Retrogression consists in a failure to use our God-given freedom. Retrogression consists in a failure to be truly human in our relationships with God and with our fellow human beings. Retrogression consists in an inconceivable renunciation of our freedom. Retrogression consists in our incredible, inexplicable and impossible choice of the imprisonment of a being in renunciation on both sides. Retrogression consists in our incomprehensible lapse into a state of ungodliness and inhumanity. That we are guilty in this boundless and quite inexcusable way is what will confront us at the end of our time and stare us in the face when we die. It is in this irreparable state of transgression that God shall translate us from being to non-being and brought face to face with our Creator. With all our life up to this point, with our life as we have now concluded it, we shall meet God and be wholly dependent upon God. That we shall be no more will mean concretely that our past will be only one of total guilt and retrogression – one long failure.

            Death, as it actually encounters us, is the sign of the judgment of God on us. We cannot say less than this, but we must not try to say more either. We understand death, as it meets us, only as a sign of the judgment of God. For when it meets us, as it undoubtedly does, it meets us as sinful and guilty people with whom God cannot finally do anything but whom God can only regret having made. Human beings have failed as the creatures of God. Human beings have not used the previous freedom in which they had the privilege to exist before God. Human beings have squandered it away in the most incredible manner. Human beings can hope for nothing better than for God to chop them down and cast into the fire. We cannot persuade ourselves that death as the sign of divine judgment standing over us, the fear of death and a life spent in fear of death, is natural, normal, and good in the sense of being a positive ordinance of God. Human beings who fear death, even though they contrive to put a somewhat better face on it, is at least nearer to the truth than those who do not fear it, or rather, pretends that there is no reason why they should do so. Since death is the sign of the divine judgment on human sin and guilt, human beings rightly fear it. There is no truth in the suggestion that death is our brother, sister, or in some way our friend, or even our deliverer. Such turns of expression fail to face up seriously to the grim reality, and vanish like bubbles in the air. The biblical text also confronts us with its negative character.

            However, the point where we shall be at our end is not merely death, but God who awaits us. Death is not the enemy we ought to fear, but God whom we ought to fear. In death, we are not to fear death itself, but God. However, the God who awaits us in death and as the Lord of death is the gracious God. God is the God who is for us. We need not fear death, but only God. However, we cannot fear God without finding in God the radical comfort that we cannot have in any other. However, this simply means that God is our Helper and deliverer in the midst of death. We die, but God lives for us. Even in death, God does not lose us, and therefore we are not lost. One day we shall cease to be, but even then, God will be for us. Hence, our future non-existence cannot be our complete negation. The ineluctable, remorseless and terrible work of death executes itself upon us. However, whatever else may happen, we cannot cease to be under the sovereignty of God, the property of God, the objects of the love of God. Death is our frontier. However, our God is the frontier of our death. God does not perish with us. God does not die or decay. As our God, God is always the same. Even in death, God is still our Helper and Deliverer. If so, we ourselves derive from God. We may sum up by saying that in the light of the New Testament it is not too much to say that the existence of God is our full consolation, assurance and hope in death. For the existence of God is visibly and concretely actualized in Jesus Christ as this fullness that excludes any lack. However, we may also say that in the light of the New Testament it is not too little to say that our consolation, assurance and hope in death are restricted to the existence of God. For this is actual and visible in fullness in its restriction to the concrete existence of God in Jesus Christ, whereas outside this restriction there can only be lack.

            Of course, the bible makes it clear that God has superiority over the underworld and death. We might summarize the New Testament hope on three points. First, the relationship between the crucifixion of Jesus as the event in which humanity’s sin and guilt and consequent death are abolished and time is fulfilled, and the resurrection of Jesus as the preliminary indication of this event establishing faith in Jesus as the Deliverer from death. Second, the relationship between the resurrection of Jesus as the preliminary indication inaugurating the last time and establishing the Church and its mission and the return of Christ in glory as the conclusive, general, and definitive revelation of this event. Third, above all, the being of human beings with Christ is born again in the resurrection to a life in God concealed throughout the last time, and will be revealed in glory as one who has this life when Jesus returns in glory as the goal of the last time.

            We have now reached the point where we can answer the question facing us in this connection. The question is whether in the finitude of our time, in the fact that the being of a human being has an allotted span, we really have to do with its nature as willed and created by God, and therefore with the good and immutable determination of God. We can only regard certain realities as evil: finite existence, the boundary ahead of the time give to us, on the other side of this boundary we shall be no more. All of this seems an abnormal determination of our being and therefore unnatural. The conclusion suggests itself everywhere that in the finitude of human life, in the fact that a term is set to it, we have to do with the great curse laid upon humanity, with an alien and inimical threat to human nature. Even what we have said does not constitute a final objection to the fact that the finitude of our being belongs to our God-given nature. A strict identity of dying and judgment in death is possible only if we ignore the fact that God has acted for us at Calvary. By what God did for us there, by the action of the free grace of God, God has made death relative to the extent that God has set our death, as suffered by Jesus for us, at a certain distance from our end. Death can only be the sign of our end, reminding us of the judgment and at the same time of the might act of salvation Christ brings. However, the fact that we belong to Jesus Christ implies a limit and making relative of this fact. We have received the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Christ has delivered and redeemed us. Therefore, our end does not have to be the judgment of death. Christ did not have to stand under the judgment of God or suffer the death of a reprobate. His life did not have to have this end. The free grace of God, the great love of this human being who was also the Son of God for us, made Christ take upon Himself this end for us. However, let us now turn our attention again to ourselves. It seems as if our human existence, if our existence is to be the object, recipient and vessel of the free grace of God that has been at work for us in Jesus, must stand equally under the determination of the finitude of Christ. Must we not also be able to die, to go towards death, if what God has done for us in Jesus is not to have been done in vain? What would become of us if in an endless life we had the constant opportunity to achieve a provisional ordering of our relationship with God and our fellow human beings in the way we know so well? Or rather, what would become of us if in an endless life we postponed the ordering of our relationship with God and our fellow human beings, accomplishing it at best only in that daily drowning of the old Adam that is always so doubtful a matter because the old Adam can swim? This could only mean in fact that we should be able to sin infinitely and even quantitatively multiply our guilt on an infinite scale. Human beings as such have no beyond. Nor do they need one, for God is the beyond for human beings. The beyond of human beings is that God as Creator, Covenant-partner, Judge and Savior, was, is, and will be the true Counterpart in life, and finally, exclusively, and totally in death. Humanity as such belongs to this world. This view of human nature, with its frank recognition of the fact that it ends as well as begins, will be most important for our understanding of the divine command and the bearing of Christian ethics. This view gives to human life an importance as something that will one day find completion, and thus will not continue indefinitely. Therefore, this view gives to human life an urgency required of it that would obviously be lacking if we set our hopes on deliverance from the limitation of our time, and therefore on a beyond, instead of on the eternal God.

Volume III, Part Three, Chapter XI: The Creator and the Creature of God (1950)

48. The Doctrine of Providence, its Basis and Form

The doctrine of providence deals with the history of created being as such, in the sense that in every respect and in its whole span the history of created being proceeds under the fatherly care of God the Creator. God accomplishes the will of God and we see it accomplished in the election of the grace of God. Therefore, the election of grace is in the history of the covenant between God and humanity, and therefore in Jesus Christ.

1. The concept of Divine Providence

            Medieval scholasticism treated the doctrine of providence as part of the doctrine of the being of God. Post-Reformation dogmatics brought it into close relation with the doctrine of creation. We follow the latter tradition, and our first question is how far it is correct and meaningful to take this course.

            By providence I mean the superior dealings of the Creator with creation, the wisdom, omnipotence, and goodness with which god maintains and governs in time this distinct reality according to the counsel of within the will of God. Our first task is to see why we cannot follow the example of the scholastics and treat the subject denoted by this word, like predestination, in the context of the doctrine of God. On this point, predestination is a matter of the eternal election of the Son of God to be the Head of His community and of all creatures. Predestination is a matter of the divine resolve and action, of the eternal decree, which does not presuppose the act of creation and the existence of creatures, but is itself their presupposition. Providence belongs to the execution of this decree. Eternal, divine providence has its ground in the decree of predestination. However, it presupposes the work of creation as done and the existence of the creature as given. Providence is the knowing, willing, and acting of God in relation as Creator to created things. This contains the objection that we have to bring against the presentation of Peter Lombard and Bonaventura among the Scholastics. The act of creation takes place in a specific first time; the time of providence is the whole of the rest of time right up to its end. God would not be the Creator who, having willed and made the creature, left it to its own devices, and did not act towards and with it, or ceased to do so, in the sense of the concept of providence, as its Preserver and Ruler. We must not equate God the creator with a mere manufacturer, or the work of creation with a manufactured article. The eternity of God is the pledge that God will give what God has created the time it needs so long as God wills. The deistic argument is void because it equates the relation between Creator and creature with that between a manufacturer and his or her work. The reason is that deism does not take into account the fact that in this relation as understood in biblical theology we have to do with the external presupposition of the covenant, which for its part is the fulfillment of the divine election of grace that is as such a denial of God’s lack of concern for being outside God. We cannot compare the God with whom we have to do at this point with an architect or clock-maker. We can sum up the simple meaning of the doctrine of providence in the statement that in the act of creation, God the Creator as such has associated divinity with creature as the Lord of its history, and is faithful to it as such. Hence, whatever may take place in the history of the creature, and regardless of how this may appear from the standpoint of its own law and freedom, it cannot escape the lordship of its Creator. In this history, we need not expect turns and events that have nothing to do with the lordship of God. This Lord is never absent, passive, non-responsible or impotent, but always present, active, responsible, and omnipotent.

2. The Christian Belief in Providence

            Belief in the providence of God is the joy of the confidence and the willingness of the obedience grounded in tis realty and its perception. In the belief in providence, the creature understands the Creator as the One who has associated divinity with it in faithfulness and constancy as this sovereign and living Lord, to precede, accompany and follow it, preserving, cooperating, and overruling, in all that it does and all that happens toit. Belief in providence takes practical shape in the fact that the creature that enjoys this recognition may always place itself under the guidance of its Creator, recognize its higher right, and give it its gratitude and praise. In the light of this statement, we can make three sharp delimitations.

            First, the Christian belief in providence is faith in the strict sense of the term, and this means that it is a hearing and receiving of the Word of God. The truth that God rules, and that the history of existent creation in its given time is also a history of the glory of God, is not less inaccessible and inconceivable, no less hard for humanity to grasp, than the truth of the origin of creation in the will and power of the Creator. In both, we find ourselves in the sphere of the confession that is possible only as the confession of faith, or not at all. The notion against which we have to delimit ourselves at this point is that which regards the Christian belief in providence as an opinion, postulate, or hypothesis concerning God, the world, humanity, and other things, an attempt at interpretation, exposition, and explanation based upon all kinds of impressions and needs. Even in the form of belief in providence, Christian faith has its ground on the Word of God, and can draw its life form this alone.

            Second, the Christian belief in providence is also faith in the strict sense to the extent that, with reference to its object, it is faith in God, in God as the Lord of the things God has made, watching, willing, and working above and in world-occurrence. Our present reference is to faith in the more general presence of God in world-occurrence. Of this, we must say that it is real, and takes place in the world, but the world of occurrence conceals it, and therefore one cannot perceive or read off from this. Its revelation is not world-occurrence itself, but the Word of God, Jesus Christ. This means that no human conception of the cosmic process can replace God as the object of the belief in providence. Human beings have some conception of their life and that of their nearest fellow human beings. They have a picture of their life work as it has so far developed and will do so, or should or should not do so, according to their insight, understanding, and judgment. Their particular notion of those different determinations of creaturely being, of good and evil, right and wrong, weal and woe, will naturally play an important part in this. Such pictures may have a wider reference. They may be pictures of the life process of a society. For example, they have pictures of the church, or a particular form of the church, or a nation, or group of nations, or the whole of human history. Some standards, moral or amoral, technical, cultural, political or economic, will dominate the one who forms them, leading them to assert progress or decline, formation, reformation or deformation and determining both their assessment of the past, and their expectations, yearnings, and fears for the future. Such pictures, always on the same assumptions on the part of the one who forms them, may have an even wider reference. They may embrace the whole of being known to humanity, perhaps as a kind of history of evolution, perhaps more modestly as an analysis and contingencies. There is no objection to humanity making these small and great conceptions of the course of things. Indeed, we can commend it. Our present point is that no such conception can replace God as he object of the belief in providence. No such picture can come in question as a picture of God. The belief in providence will realize that even in them, in the strict sense of the concept, it has to do only with the masks of God. The belief in providence embraces these conceptions, but it also limits them. It reckons with the truth that they contain. It also reckons with the distinctive dynamic with which they do not merely reflect, but shape history. However, it remains free in face of them. It does not rest in any of them. What we have to avoid is the equation of the belief in providence and the confession with a philosophy of history. In the knowledge of the providence of God by faith, there can never be any question of speculation or theory. The seeing of the ways of God can never be an end in itself. It can never be a matter of aesthetic contemplation. It is always a matter of the practical insights necessary and salutary for humanity at specific points.

            Third, we now come to the third and most important delimitation. In its substance, the Christian belief in providence is Christian faith. The word of God that it believes, in which it believes, and which sets it in the light in which it may see the lordship of God in the history of creaturely being, is the one Word of God beside which there is no other. The history of creaturely being is the history of the glory of God in the fact that it does not merely run alongside the history of Jesus Christ and therefore the history of the covenant of grace between God and humanity. It also has its meaning in this covenant, is conditioned and determined by it, serves it, and in its reflected light is the place, the sphere, the atmosphere, and medium of its occurrence and revelation. The Christian belief in providence receives its content, form, and distinction from other views apparently similar, by the fact that the lordship of God over the world that is its object is not just any lordship, but the fatherly lordship of God. In the language of the Christian belief in providence, fatherly means for of all, that the God who sits in government is the Father of Jesus Christ. In the belief in providence, we think of God as over us, of God the Creator in the majesty, transcendence, and lordship of God over the things God has made. We are not in strange hands, nor are we strangers, when God is over us as our Creator and we are under God as the children of God. We are the children of God for the sake of the Son and with the Son. We are creatures in the hand of the Father. This fatherly hand is the divine power that rules the world. We can know no divine power over us that is not this fatherly hand. As this fatherly hand, we know this hand as kind, friendly, and loving. Even as our Creator, God is not alien or ungracious, but rather is gracious. God is gracious as a Father to the children of God.

3. The Christian Doctrine of Providence

            Our only remaining task in this introduction is briefly to describe what is meant by a doctrine of providence that his Christian. God has made plain what God wills as the Lord of the human being created by God. God is the Lord of human history, the meaning and purpose of its history, the goal and therefore the glory of the lordly action of God. God has made this plain because has revealed it to us in the Word of God. God has revealed it in the simple way in which God has revealed the divine self as the triune God who, as the Father is over us and as the Son for us, and both in the unity in which as the Holy Spirit God creates our life as a life under God and for God. God has revealed who God is as the One who is free, sovereign, and omnipotent grace. God wills and works what God has revealed as the will and work of God in Jesus Christ. God wills and works this alone, with no reservations or secret suspicions that God might perhaps be doing something very different, willing and working a plan and purpose distinct from and independent of the glory of God, of the free and omnipotent grace of God. The older Reformed theology needed to derive more fruitful reflection on three New Testament texts.


John 5:17 (NRSV)

17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”

Colossians 1:15-17 (NRSV)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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,


if we take seriously the starting-point and concept of the subject given by the Word of God as the self-revelation of God, in its center and substance we must have the follow decisive understanding of the history played out under this lordship. It is the execution of the election of grace resolved and fulfilled by God from all eternity. It is thus the history of the covenant between God and humanity. It is the history in which God establishes the fellowship of God with humanity, and prepares and accomplishes its completion in the self-giving of God to human nature and existence, to conduct it to its manifestation at the expiration of the last time. That world history in its totality is the history in which God executes the will of God as a will full of grace must thus be taken to mean that in its totality it belongs to this special history. Its lines can have no other starting-point or goal than the one divine will of grace. They must converge on this one thin line and finally run in its direction. This is the theme of the doctrine of providence. It has to do with the history of the covenant, with the one thin line. The doctrine of providence must not level down the special history of the covenant, grace, and salvation. It must not reduce t to the common denominator of a doctrine of general world occurrence. In so doing it would lose sight of the starting-point and therefore of its concept of the subject. Then it would no longer be speaking of the world dominion of God revealed in the Word of God. It has to do with the history of the creature as such. The human being, to whom God has addressed the eternal grace of God, and with whom God deals in the eternal grace of God on the special line of this special history, is also quite simply the creature of God, and indeed the creature of God within a creaturely cosmos, under heaven and on earth. The special occurrence in Israel, in Jesus Christ, and in the church, interweaves itself into the general occurrence in a way that what takes place particularly bears the character of the other. We can understand it from the standpoint of this general occurrence, as a part of the history of the creature. Abraham, and his descendants, and the prophets and apostles, and even Christians as people called and awakened to the consciousness, thankfulness, obligation and mission of covenant-partnership with God, are all people in the cosmos and participants in its history. It is not obvious that the history of the creature takes place under the lordship of God in such a way that God orders it in relation to the history of the covenant. This is open to question. If it is true, it is a matter of special knowledge, of a special content of the Word of God. However, it might well be otherwise. There might be two histories of the same divine origin and under the same divine control, running parallel as two independent and unrelated sequences. The covenant is not creation, but its internal basis. Creation is not the covenant, but its external basis. It is not self-evident, but we have to see it particularly, that the covenant in virtue of its external basis and creation in virtue of its internal are also connected in their history, and in this too stand in a positive relationship to each other. The connection between creation and covenant is an assumption of two important texts.


Ephesians 1:11 (NRSV)

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,

Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.


Therefore, a positive, material, and inner connection exists between the two series, creation and covenant, general and particular.

            The faithfulness of God is that God gives support and direction to the history of the creature of God in the fact that in this history, God calls Abraham, and rules the people of God, and gives the divine self in the Son, and will finally show who God is in this One as the Lord of the whole. The faithfulness of God is that God coordinates creaturely occurrence under the lordship of God with the occurrence of the covenant, grace, and salvation. The faithfulness of God subordinates the creaturely occurrence to the covenant and makes it serve it. The faithfulness of God integrates creaturely occurrence with the coming of the kingdom of God in which the whole of the reality distinct from God has its meaning and historical substance. The faithfulness of God causes creaturely occurrence to cooperate in this happening.

            Our primary emphasis must now be upon the fact that this accompaniment of the history of the covenant of grace by that of creaturely being, this coordination, integration, and cooperation of the latter, is the work of God. If in its continued existence the creature may serve the will of God in the covenant of God, grace and salvation, it does this in the individuality and particularity given it with its creation by God, in the freedom and activity corresponding to its particular nature. The creatures of the earth live their own lives. Human beings, too, live their own lives in accordance with the particular spirit that is the basis of human nature. God made all creation to exist in this relationship according to its own manner and freedom. However, the fact that it actually does this is the direct of work of God. Neither generally nor in detail has God created a machine that works at once in harmony with the will of God and therefore with the history of the covenant of grace.

            To the relative freedom and autonomy in which the creature begins and continues to exist in face of God, there corresponds the perfect sovereignty in which God is present in its whole history and in which God coordinates and brings it into a positive relationship with the history of the covenant of grace. It is not glorious in itself. It can become so only in the right of the living God. That God uses it in the service of this kingdom; that God coordinates and integrates it with the work of God in the kingdom; that God causes it to cooperate in the history of this kingdom, this is the rule of the providence of God. In so doing, God acts with a sovereignty that has its self-evident limit in within the being of God, in the unity and steadfastness of the will of God, in the glory and mercy of God, in the immutability of the purpose of God. Accordingly, it has its limit also in the nature of creation, in the goodness and perfection given it, in its serviceability to God. However, in what this consists is known only by God as its Creator and Lord. We can perceive it, and therefore the limit of the sovereignty of God that it sets, only when we perceive the use that God wills to make and does make of it. The extent of this use is the extent of its nature, goodness and perfection, and the extent of the sovereignty of God over it. Since we do not know the totality of the rule of God, it is not for us to fix the limit of the sovereignty of God. It certainly cannot have its limit in what we know of it, or of creation.

            The faith awakened at the one point by the revelation of God, being faith in God the Lord, is necessarily faith in the lordship of God even at points where there is no such revelation. Faith can awaken where to all appearances we have to do only with creaturely occurrence, where the orders and contingencies of nature, the works of caprice and the cleverness or folly, the goodness or badness of people seem to be the only reality. Nevertheless, God is God who is freely, graciously, mightily present and active at these points too as the One who is prior to all creaturely occurrences, supreme over it and at work in it. This Nevertheless is the problem of the belief in providence and the doctrine of providence. It can only be a Nevertheless. What human beings see is simply the multiplicity and confusion of the lines of creaturely occurrence, which one cannot identify with the doing of the will of God, with the work of the freedom, grace, and power of God.

            Is there a legitimate answer to the question of the concrete significance of this actual and sovereign work of God, and therefore of this coordinating and integrating of creaturely history with the history of the covenant of the grace of God? Is there a legitimate answer to the question of the concrete significance of the cooperation of creation for good and therefore in the doing of the gracious and saving will of God, as affected by the disposal by God? It cannot maintain that in the history of the covenant of grace the creature can be a sovereign subject side y side with God. In the covenant of grace, it is a matter of the reconciliation of the world with God, of the redemption of humanity, of the hushing of the signing of all creation, of the revelation of the glory of God. What takes place in the covenant of grace does so wholly for humanity and not through humanity. However, we must take something else into account, and this is the theme of the Christian belief in providence. We cannot properly define it. We can only indicate it in descriptions that are not adequate in detail. While God alone is the ruling, determining and conditioning Subject in the history of the covenant of grace, God is undoubtedly not alone in this history.

            God has a partner in humanity and to that extent in the cosmos. If in the first instance we simply ask, concerning the function in which the creature is this external basis of the history of the covenant, there primarily suggests itself the concept of service on which we have already touched. A servant is present at the work of his lord, and has a meaningful part in it. We shall now attempt a different comparison. The service of the creature is that of an instrument. There is one indispensable presupposition of the covenant of grace and the kingdom of Christ and its history even outside the free and gracious will of God it consists in the fact that God is not alone but with the creature, so that the latter has existence and continued existence alongside and outside God. In order that God may work for, to and in it, it must be there in its distinct reality. However, to its being, and therefore to the dealings of God with it, there also belongs the fact that it has time, space and opportunity both to exist and to do so for the glory of God. It must all be coordinated and integrated with the work of the grace of God and cooperate in it. It cannot help to affect this work. It cannot be its subject. The created cosmos, including humanity, is this theater of the great acts of God in grace and salvation. With a view to this, humanity is the servant, instrument, and material of God. We are in the house of our Father, in a world ordered according to the fatherly purpose of God, as we are in the created cosmos, under heaven and on earth, and ourselves cosmic creatures. It cannot help us, deliver us, or reconcile us with God. We are at home in this sense. Our salvation and future glory do not have their source here. Yet, it is not a matter of indifference, nor can we perceive it without joy and gratitude. We cannot say that even the picture of the theater and home is wholly adequate. The image lacks the things that one can plainly bring out concerning the working of God through the creature by the pictures of the servant and instrument, and concerning the creature as the object of working of God by that of the material. However, in the sense indicated it does at least indicate the way in which we can describe the teleology of the divine work.

            What recognizable character is proper to creaturely occurrence in relation to what it ahs to accompany under the providence of God? What does it mean for an understanding of creaturely occurrence that it takes place in this coordination under the divine rule? We venture to answer, as we may well do in the light of I Corinthians 13:12, that creaturely occurrence acquires in this coordination the character of a mirror. This comparison brings out the distinction and interconnection of the two historical sequences. The original, the primary working of God, is the divinely ruled history of the covenant. The mirror has nothing to add to this. In it, the history of the creature as such cannot play any role. The mirror can confront it only as a reflector. It cannot repeat it, or imitate its occurrence. It can only reflect it.

            We shall conclude by mentioning some of the important deductions we can draw from the previous insights.

            First, the free love of God alone can give it this function, telos and character, and not its own goodness.

            Second, since God remains faithful to the external basis of the covenant in creation, we walk by faith, and not by sight.

            Third, world-occurrence speaks equivocally. If we hear it say this or that, how can we justify ourselves except based on a significance with which we have already encountered? From world-occurrence, there are only arbitrary and highly debatable ways to a world principle whose superiority, power, and credibility on can even remotely compare with the world rule of God.

            Fourth, one cannot develop a closed and static Christian system. The establishment of a fixed Christian view, of a lasting picture of the relationship between Creator and creature, would necessarily mean that in taking today the insight given human beings today human beings harden themselves against receiving a new and better one tomorrow. If we understand the matter within these limits, we may well say that as the believer has faith in the providence of God in world-occurrence the believer may live with a partial worldview that is provisional and modest, but also binding.

49. God the Father as Lord of the Creature God Made

God fulfills the fatherly lordship of God over the creature of God by preserving, accompanying, and ruling the whole course of its earthly existence. God does this as God reveals the mercy of God and as God is active in the creaturely sphere in Jesus Christ and God manifests the lordship of the Son of God in the creaturely sphere.


            Our present task is to unfold and clarify what takes place when God accomplishes what we define as the providential ordering of God and therefore the fatherly lordship of God over the creature.

1. The Divine Preserving

            We shall begin wit the first affirmation, that God fulfills fatherly lordship over the creature by preserving it, upholding it, and sustaining it, in its individual existence and by giving to this existence its continuity. God does this in fatherly wisdom and power, as the Lord of the creature who is also the Lord of the covenant of grace. The power in which God sustains the creature is the mercy God reveals in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as active within creation and in creaturely form. The purpose in which God sustains creation is the revelation of the lordship of the Son of God, for whose sake God has given to each creature its individual being. Therefore, this specific power and purpose makes divinely necessary and operative the preservation of the creature as such. The creature has to be preserved because this particular will of God has to be done, and is in fact done, both in heaven and on earth, because Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father and is our Advocate. Christ is the one who represents our right to existence and the necessity of our existence, and of the existence of the entire creaturely world. Christ is the one who is the divine basis of the preservation and continuance of that existence. This is what makes the preservation of the creation a divinely meaningful and a divinely effective work. Its wisdom and power consist in its basis in Jesus Christ, the only beloved Son of God, and therefore in God. The love of God preserves the creature. This preserving is not by chance. This preserving is purposeful at the deepest possible level. This preserving has no external circumstances that menace it. This preserving is a perfect act of lordship.


Romans 11:36 (NRSV)

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 8:6 (NRSV)

6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

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,


            First, we will now consider in what sense we have to understand the statement that God preserves the creature. God arranges that it has its reality not only outside and beside God in a moment that corresponds to the eternity of God, but also in a temporal sequence, so that it can have it continually, thus enjoying a continuing existence.

            Second, we enquire further concerning the order of the divine preserving of all things. It takes place as a free act of God, but in such a way, that creation itself is the means by which God preserves it. God acts directly in creation and indirectly in preserving the creation by sustaining the context of creaturely life.

            Third, the mode of the divine preservation is inconceivable. We can understand it only as an act of the free goodness of God. God willed to preserve the creature thus far, God obviously wills the preserve it further, an example of the overflowing of the free love and therefore of the incomprehensible character of God. We cannot say that God continues to create it. God has completed creation, and completed it well.

            Fourth, we must now take expressly into account the fact that the creature for its part stands in need of preservation by God and therefore of the free goodness of God. That which is not is that which God as Creator did not elect or will, that which as Creator God passed over, that which according to the account in Genesis 1:2 God set as chaos, not giving it existence or being. That which is not is that which is actual only in the negativity allotted to it by the divine decision, only in its exclusion from creation, only, if we may put it thus, at the left hand of God. However, in this way, it is truly actual, relevant, and even active after its own particular fashion. It is a question of the reality that we can adequately describe only by defining it as the possibility that God in the eternal decree of God rejected actuality only under the almighty No of God, but does have and is actuality in that sense. To this sphere, there belongs the devil, the father of lies. To this sphere, too, there belongs the world of demons, sin, evil, and death, not death as a natural limitation but eternal death, the enemy and annihilator of life. Why does nothingness menace the being of the creature in such a way that it needs the divine preservation, sustaining, and deliverance if it is not to fall victim to it and perish? Obviously, something far more serious than non-being is a menace to the creature. The fact that God has rejected and excluded non-being makes it a menace to the creature. God has said No to it what God said Yes to the creature. We can understand this as chaos as the bible states it. God knows this nothing as the opponent of the creature, as that which may seduce and destroy the creature. God knows that under the dominion of this nothing the creature must perish. It stands on the frontier of the creature, and yet itself is not a creature, makes it so strange to the creature. In virtue of this fact, it appears to be similar to and even like God, perhaps a second god. Yet, it still is nothing. Again, its strangeness and its appearance of god-likeness are not without serious foundation.

            Our starting-point must be the proposition that the assurance that God does preserve the creature in spite of this great and immeasurable danger is not at all a self-evident one, but one that requires a serious basis if it is to be convincing and credible. For why should the idea of a creation of wrath be a false one? We might put it in this way, God did at first will to preserve the creature even after creation, and God has done so for quite a time. God has had enough of us. Where formerly God exercised patience, God now allows free rein to the wrath of God. God repents of having made the creature. God abandons it to the chaos towards that it always strove in spite of the patience of God. The only valid answer is that it is not so because according to the work and revelation of God in Jesus Christ it is not at all the will of God to abandon the creature in its proximity to the non-existent, in its conflict with chaos. On the contrary, from all eternity, the merciful will of God was to take up the cause of the creature against the non-existent, not from the safe height of a supreme world-governor, but is the closest possible proximity, with the greatest possible directness. God placed divinity within the contradiction; God drew to the divine self and bore away the whole enmity, problems, and power of the non-existent. God tasted and suffered the whole onslaught of sin, the devil, death, and hell. In so doing, God broke it, blunting its weapons and depriving it of all claims against the creature of superiority over it. God allowed the divine self to be denied in order to remove the denial, thus completing the work of wrath, but also the work of grace, uttering a complete No but also a complete Yes, and giving to the creature its freedom. This is the eternal will of God fulfilled and accomplished in Jesus Christ. In light of this will and work, we have to regard the question of the conserving of the creature as one that God has already decided. God does preserve the creature. In the light of this truth, we can understand why and to what end God does so. The creature exists as the mercy of God operative in Jesus Christ is effective towards it, and in order that the glory of the beloved Son of God may be manifest in it. This is why God preserves it. God does so because the Son represents the creature is the beginning, center, and end of its existence. Christ does so because God has promised and given to the creature to come to terms not with what does not exist, not with chaos, not with its own denial, but with the gracious intercession of God for it. God does so because its destiny is to participate in this work of salvation. For this participation, it must be able to be; it must have permanence and continuity. God must preserve it.

            In the light of this fact, that we can now give a serious theological answer to the question of the need of creature of preservation by God. It has its root in the foreordination of the creature to participation in the divine covenant of grace. Now e come to the last and decisive reason why this is so. Our need of the divine preservation has to be so utter and completely because existence in this need is the creaturely existence that correspo0nds to our participation in the divine covenant of grace. In the fulfillment of this covenant, God our Creator first gave up divinity to that need. God did not redeem us from outside, from a safe distance, but from inside, by taking our place, by entering into our resistance to that all powerful negation of our being, by coming into the very midst of our actual subjection and impotence in face of that negation. This is how God fulfilled the covenant of grace. This is how God maintained our cause in Jesus Christ and carried our cause through to victory against nothingness and chaos.

            We need to distinguish between saving grace and the gracious preservation of creaturely being by God. In words like kept, established, preserve, we find this emphasis in the New Testament, which normally relates the idea to the final hope that still awaits future deliverance with the return of Christ. In the Old Testament, we find confidence and protection in Yahweh as rock, fortress, and refuge in a similar position.

            We may conclude that as God preserves the creature, the creature may continue in being. Humanity may continue to be humanity. Individuals may continue as such. Natural and historical groupings may continue. Humanity may continue as the sum of the temporal and spatial totality of human creation on earth and under heaven and in relation to the entire conceivable and inconceivable cosmos. Finally, the known and unknown creatures of this cosmos may continue, following their own path in relation to humanity and in that autonomy over against it that to us is enshrouded in mystery. It may continue to be as a creature within its limits. It may have its place in space and its span in time. It may begin at once point and end at another. It may come, stay, and go. That the creature may continue to be in virtue of the divine preservation means that it may itself be actual within its limits. God is to be all in all, as in I Corinthians 15:28, but this does not really mean that the all will no longer be, that God will be alone again. It means rather that in the final revelation of the ways of God, the creature will see God to have attained the ultimate goal of God in all things with the creature, the creature not ceasing to be distinct from God. That the creature may continue to be in virtue of the divine preservation means finally that it may continue before God eternally. In the final act of salvation history, the history of creation will also reach its goal and end. It will not need to progress any further; it will have fulfilled its purpose. Everything that happened in the course of that history will then take place together as a recapitulation of all individual events. It will be made definitive as the temporal and of the creature beyond which it cannot exist any more. Its life will then be over, its movement and development completed, its notes sounded, its colors revealed, its thinking thought, its words said, its deeds done, its contracts and relationships with other creatures and their mutual interaction closed, the possibilities granted to it exploited and exhausted. In all this, it will somehow have a part in that which Jesus Christ has been and done as its Foundation, Deliverer, and Head. It will not need any continuance of temporal existence. Since the creature itself will not be there, time, which is the form of its existence, will not be there. Yet, this does not mean that God terminates its preservation. God preserves within appointed limits, in its limited place, with its limited possibilities, and in its limited temporal duration. The eternal preservation of the creature of God means negatively that its destruction is excluded no less by its beginning in the creation of God than by its end in the revelation of Jesus Christ and therefore by its very limitations. The eternal preservation of the creature means positively that it can continue eternally before God. God is the One who was, and is, and is to come. With God, the past is future, and both past and future are present. Everything was open and present to God; everything in its own time, within its own limits; but everything open, and present to God. Similarly, everything that is, as well as everything that was, is open and present to God, within its own limits. Within its own limits, any that will be in the future, anything that was, and anything that is, will be open and present to God. One day, when the totality of everything that was, is, and will be will only have been, then in the totality of its temporal duration it will still be open and present to God, and therefore preserved. God will eternally preserve it; revealed in all its greatness and littleness; judged according to its rightness or wrongness, its value or lack of value; but revealed in its participation in the love that God has directed towards it. Therefore, nothing will escape God. Everything will be present to God exactly as it was or is or will be in all its realty, in the entire temporal course of its activity, in its strength or weakness, in its majesty or meanness. God will not allow anything to perish, but will hold it in the hollow of the hand of God as God has always done, ad does, and will do. God will not be alone I eternity, but with the creature. God will allow it to partake of the eternal life of God. In this way, the creature and will continue to be, in its limitation, even in its limited temporal duration. How could it not be, when the creature is open and present to God even at its end, and even as that which has only been? This is how it will persist. In all the unrest of its being in time, the rest of God will enfold it, and in God, it will itself be at rest, just as even now in all its unrest it can be at rest in the rest of God. This is the eternal preservation of God. It is not a second preservation side by side with or at the back of the temporal. It is the secret of the temporal. A secret of the temporal is already present in the fullness of truth, which is already in force. Yet, it has still to be present in the fullness of truth; it has still to come into force; God will still reveal it in all its clarity. As we read in Psalm 135, “For the mercy of God endures forever.”

2. The Divine Accompanying

            We shall now describe a second aspect with the proposition that God accompanies the creature. The concept refers to the lordship of God in relation to the free and autonomous activity of the creature. The fact that the divine lordship extends beyond the creation of the creature means that God maintains it in its own actuality, that God gives it space and opportunity for its own work, for its own being in action, for its own autonomous activity. The fatherly providence of God involves far more than that God preserves the creature and gives it its own autonomous activity. God does do this. Now, we have to describe a second with the proposition that God accompanies the creature.

            First, God does not preserve the creature merely to abandon it to its own activity once God has set in motion. Every moment of its activity and existence, the creature has need of a momentary preservation. The divine wisdom and omnipotence accompanies the creature in the specific form as fatherliness.

            Second, if God accompanies the creature, God affirms, approves, recognizes, and respects the autonomous actuality and therefore the autonomous activity of the creature. God does not play the part of a tyrant towards it. Alongside God, the creature has a place. Alongside the activity of God, the creature has a place. God cooperates with the creature, which means that as God works, God allows the creature to work.

            Third, if God accompanies the creature, God goes with the creature as the Lord. God is Creator and Sustainer of the creature. If we are to understand, then at this third and decisive point, we must again think of the form in which God is almighty, genuinely, and supremely almighty, in Jesus Christ and in the covenant of grace. God loves the creature. God genuinely recognizes and affirms it for what it is in itself and what it does by itself, that God does not annihilate it but for the first time reveals its true nature. However, God loves the creature quite freely and without any question at all of merit or achievement on its part. God loves it in such a way that God gives the divine self to the creature. God loves it in accepting solidarity with it.

            The doctrine of the concursus must be as follows. God, the only true God, so loved the world in the election of the grace of God that in fulfillment of the covenant of grace instituted at the creation, God willed to become a creature in order to be its Savior. This same God accepts the creature even apart from the history of the covenant and its fulfillment. God takes it to the divine self in such sort that God cooperates with it, preceding, accompanying and following all its being and activity, so that all the activity of the creature is the activity of God, and therefore a part of the actualization of the will of God revealed and triumphant in Jesus Christ.

            We now turn to the material side of the question and our answer to it. When God works, the operation of God is almighty in relation to that of the creature. The divine potency is above that of the creature because God is eternal love. The love of God is primary. God loves the creature, and then at best loves God in return. The love of God is essential. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God is love, and in the overflowing of this love, God loves the creature. However, the creature can only accept this love, and be content to try to respond to it. It is because it is eternal love that the power of the divine operation is superior to all other powers, and the knowledge of it is not open to discussion. Love is free or it is not love. When the love of God overflows in the creating, the preserving, and now the accompanying of the creature, this means that God reveals this love in its freedom. In this freedom, it becomes necessary to God. This freedom of God applies the activity of God based on the good-pleasure of God. Further, this act of sovereignty accomplishes the will of God. The concurrence of God with the creature means that the activity of God conditions the activity of the creature. As God cooperates with the activity of the creature, the activity of God precedes, accompanies and follows that activity, and one can do only the will of God. Reformed teaching emphasized the general decree of the will of God as unconditioned, unlimited, and irresistible. As a result, Reformed teaching tends to sound like Stoic or Islamic resignation. It did not consider the possible concurrence of the creature with the will of God. They also referred to Romans 9 and the murmuring of the clay against the potter.

            To understand the divine concurrence, the divine accompanying of creaturely activity, in a Christian sense as the sovereign act in which the will of God is unconditionally and irresistibly fulfilled in the activity of the creature, we have not to begin with empty concepts but with concepts that are already filled out with Christian meaning. When we say God, we mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit as eternal life. When we say the will of God, we understand the fatherly good will. When we say the work of God, we understand the execution in history of the covenant of grace upon the basis of the decree of grace in the sacrifice of the Son and the awakening to faith and obedience.

            When we think of the divine concurrence, we think of the activity of God precedes that of the creature. God precedes with the will and work of God all other will and work because the divine decree of grace in Jesus Christ has already preceded the creation of all things and therefore the being and activity of the creature. God precedes it in the same way as the eternity of god precedes all time and all being in time.

            When we think of the divine concurrence as the divine foreordination of creaturely activity, this means that we must differentiate the divine activity from all other forms of ordination. For example, the totality of activity that determines the individual is not an autonomous causal nexus but one that the divine activity accompanies, dominates, and controls. It is not absolute, but relative. It does not subsist of itself, but is ordering and cohesion is the work of God. It is not closed, but open. Not merely in its creation and beginning, but at every point in its history, it remains open to the divine activity that does not rend and destroy it, but continually gives it the form that it has to have according to the divine good pleasure. Hence, it has no autonomous or absolute power over individual creaturely occurrence, but only the limited and qualified power that the superior power gives to it of the preceding divine activity. Similarly, it has no native wisdom of its own. There is no cosmic reason, no world-soul, by whose principles or intuitions the activity of the creature has its ordination. It has wisdom and reason only in the sense and to the extent that the preceding operation of God enables it to be a witness to the divine wisdom and reason. Materially, we can conceive of this nexus as the sum total of all moving forces in the cosmos. Let us grant, then, that before and in all individual creaturely activity there does operate the active force of creaturely being as a whole and in general, and that the activity of the individual creature has to be understood as a participation in this total force. However, if we grant this, then we cannot possibly equate the divine activity that is the foreordination of all creaturely activity with the activity of its total force. The idea of such a force may be useful as a comprehensive concept to describe the life God gives to the creaturely world and which indwells it as the gift of God. However, we must remember that even this total force is still the gift of God. It is not the giver. Its operation is not the divine operation. It operates independently only as God allows it to do so and where and how God wills to cooperate with it.

            Formally, we can also think of the creaturely nexus that precedes individual creaturely occurrence as the sum and substance of the norms to which all creaturely is subject according to the judgment of human experience and the capacity of human thought. Hypothetically, we can reckon with the fact that there are such things as the unbreakable and unbroken external physical laws. Even conceding that is the case, we still cannot equate the practical validity and actuality of those laws with the divine activity that foreordains creaturely occurrence. The laws known to us are obvious attempts within the framework of our own experience of creaturely occurrence, and the possibilities and necessities of our own thought, to establish and attest the fact that there are such ontic laws, and a foreordained order and form of all creaturely occurrence. We will also leave the laws known to us open to the revision of content and formulation that may become necessary because of our encounter and their confrontation with new and actual occurrence. These laws are arrows pointing in the direction of real order and form. For this reason, they can never become absolute dogmas, nor assume the character of ontic law, and therefore of a foreordination even of the order and form of any given event. We believe that we can perceive, describe, and define at least some of these laws. To this extent, a necessary order and form in the nexus conditions all individual existence. Chance does not rule, but constancy, not caprice but faithfulness. All occurrences take place within the framework of a definite rule. Naturally, God does not contrive or overturn any real or ontic law of creaturely occurrence. This would mean that God was not at unity with God in the will and work of god. However, we must allow that God can ignore the laws known to us. God does not act as a god of disorder, but as the God who has a divine order, who precedes creaturely occurrence even in the fact that our human concepts of order do not bind God, however, great may be the noetic clarity and certainty that we believe them to possess. If we hold fast to our starting point, the activity of the merciful God, who to the glory of God and the salvation of the creature has turned to the creature in eternal love. The foreordaining activity of this God is not a constraining, humiliating, or weakening of the creature. The God who became a creature in Jesus Christ, the God who places the creature so absolutely at the disposal of God only that God may place the divine self absolutely at the disposal of the creature. God does not find divine triumph in the creature’s lack of freedom or power as compared with the unconditional and irresistible lordship of god. God does not work alone when God works all in all. The Father of Jesus Christ is the Lord over all things, and keeps continually before us the majesty, omnipotence, constancy, and faithfulness of this Lord. For this God does not let go the creature. God does not allow it to fall, not for a single moment or in any respect. God will not allow others to mock God. God has taken into the divine hands the relationship between God and the creature. This God is directly present to the creature always and in all places by the Holy Spirit. If only the older Calvinist teaching made it clear that what concerns us is the predestinating activity of this God!

            The second essential proposition is that the divine activity accompanies that of the creature: concurrit. What we speak of is the activity of God who was, is, and is to come, who precedes, accompanies, and follows all actual concurrence. The fullness of the divine activity reveals itself in the light of its relationship with creaturely activity. In the light of what has gone before, God effects creaturely occurrence, the living basis of its occurrence, and the living basis of its order and form. We have to understand the activity of God and that of the creature as a single action. We have indicated the limits of the concept of accompanying. God would not be God at all if God were not the living God, if there were a single point where God was absent or inactive, or only partly active, or restricted in divine action. The earth belongs to God, and this is something that continues to be true in the most direct way possible.

            The time has now come when we must consider what we mean when in this matter of the operation of God, and therefore in the exercise of the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, the pre-eminence of God over the activity of the creature, we speak about the fulfillment of the will of God in creaturely occurrence. How does God call forth the activity of the creature? How does God control it? How is it that life is so completely the master of it, and so disposes concerning it, that we can say that it is the fulfillment of the will of God and therefore divine activity? In the operation of God as cooperation with that of the creature, we have to do with the mystery of grace in the confrontation and encounter of two subjects whom we cannot compare and do not fall under any one mast-concept. Divine activity is not like setting in motion a locomotive. Divine activity is not a matter of imparting a quality of the divine essence. Divine activity is single, united, and unitary, and at the same time manifold, and therefore not uniform, monotonous, and undifferentiated. The events in which God cooperates with the creatures of God are individual events that have their own importance and demand consideration in and for themselves, but which God holds together as a single whole in the one objective form and structure. God, who in the fullness of individual works, is always the same in being and purpose. We can now proceed to answer positively the question of the How of the divine operation. If Christian theology sticks to its own last, not launching out into problems for whose origin it cannot accept responsibility, it will concern itself with seeing and hearing the work of the true God that precedes any consideration of cosmic occurrence. Christian theology has to do with Jesus Christ, with the history of the covenant of grace as it leads up to God and has its source in God, and therefore with the almighty operation of God governing all cosmic occurrence as God has revealed at this point. It first knows the activity of God in a particular cosmic action in which God has made who God is, known to others. The operation of God is divine moving of all creatures by the force, wisdom, and goodness that are the Holy Spirit. The divine operation is a fatherly operation. The God who in Jesus Christ is active by the Word and Spirit reveals who God is as the One beside whom there is no other being or operation. God is the One who is and works only in the one way, who works as there revealed, and who does so even when God does not encounter us directly as in the history of the covenant of grace, in Jesus Christ, but is rather concealed and hidden. As we believe in God and confess God at this point, we believe and confess at all points as the One who always active in, with, and over the creatures of God by the Word and Spirit of God. The fact that this is true allows us to think of all divine activity as fatherly. The fact that the Lord of the world is our Father stands or falls with the fact that even in the world, divine activity is the activity of Word and Spirit.

            In conclusion, even under this divine lordship, God does not suppress or extinguish the rights, honor, dignity, and freedom of the creature, but rather vindicates and reveals them. The unconditioned and irresistible lordship of God means God does not jeopardize nor suppress the freedom of creaturely activity, but rather confirms it in all its particularity and variety. The basic condition for a perception and understanding of this proposition is not intellectual but spiritual. It means overcoming and removing several fear complexes. One suggests that God is a kind of stranger, alien, or enemy to the creature. Another suggests that we better serve the freedom, claim, honor, and dignity of the creature the more it can call its own sphere marked off from God and guaranteed against God, and the worse for it if we restrict this sphere, and worst of all if we take it away completely. Another fear suggests that one has a legitimate interest to defend the claim of the creature in face of an unjustified and dangerous claim on the part of God. God is the Father, not that of a father-complex, but the Father of Jesus Christ and beloved Father of us all. The simple demand to acknowledge God as the One who does all in all results from our reflection upon Christ, the resurrection, grace, regeneration, becoming a new creation, the majesty of the Word of God, the church, and the sacraments. Yet, we suddenly have anxiety, as though we ascribe too much to God and too little to the creature, as though perhaps we encroached too far on the particularity and autonomy of creaturely activity, and especially on human freedom and responsibility? As if there could be any sense in sheltering from such a demand under the safe cover of a crude or subtle synergism! What sorry lip-servants we are! There is reason for it. In the depths of the church, our fear of God is in fact far stronger tan the love with which we have for God. If our Christian perception and confession does not free us to love God more than we fear God, then we shall necessarily fear God more than we love God. Yet, just as we have established the activity of God over against that of the creature remains divine, so too we establish that the activity of the creature over against that of God remains that of the creature. The overruling will of God does not involve a kind of absorption and assimilation of creaturely activity into the divine, and therefore a disintegration and destruction of the creaturely in favor of the divine. Just as we respect God due to divine unconditioned and irresistible activity, the activity of divine grace, so God respects as such the creature to whom God is gracious. We also need to re-affirm the mode of divine operation as Word and as Spirit. These are the theological arguments that we have to put forward.

            To conclude this subsection, the activity of God follows (succurrit) that of the creature. In its totality, the conception of God accompanying the creature on its own path includes not merely the preceding and accompanying of God as the Lord, but also divine follow it as the Lord. God accompanies the activity of the creature as its Creator and Lord. This means that even the effects of this activity, even the changes brought about by it, are still subject to divine disposal and control. When the effect was there as intended to be, could be and actually was according to that activity. The arm of God remains outstretched even when God allows the creature to fall. God outruns the creature, and divine activity follows the activity of the creature, in the sense that God acts as the Lord even of the effects of creaturely activity. The end of the temporal act is like its beginning. The act could only begin with God, and it can only end with God. In the one case as the other with God means in the service of the omnipotent operation of God. The effect produced by the particular creature, the change that it effects either in its own circumstances or in those of its creaturely environment, is not is own. The moment one produces the act, the effect that I produce is no longer mine. I did produce it, and the fact of it is irrevocable, for I did not produce it apart from God, but with God, and under the lordship of the divine preserving and accompanying. However, just because the effect is brought into being under the divine lordship, it does not belong to the creature to appoint or fix the form and compass or the meaning and range of this effect, no matter how ineluctably the effect follows from the most personal being or activity of the creature. The word I utter now is my own. Having uttered it, I have truly uttered it. I have given rise to a fact I can recall. For all that, I cannot hasten after my word, and arrange that as my word others will receive, understand, and repeat it in the way that I myself intended. I utter the word, but as a word I have uttered it acquires its own history quite independently of anything that I contribute to it. I have no further power over the fact to which I gave rise. When someone has heard my word, the person heard it. The person could give that word the content, meaning, and power in which it will become to the person a relevant, enlightening, and convincing word. Just as I cannot hasten after it, the person cannot hasten toward it. The person has heard the word spoken, but as such, it has its own history independently of the person. It is for the person a fact, but it is a fact over which the person has no power. This positive aspect we have to emphasize. As effect, everything is merely what it can be and is for the creature and similar creatures in virtue of the active creaturely subject are only a provisional aspect of occurrence. The fact that God does it means that for every effect produced by the creature, whatever it may be, there is in the final and best sense of the word a meaningful, good, and right application, that not one of these effects is lost, and that no activity of the creature is in vain. Seeing that they belong to this order, it is the freedom of God that we have to respect, to love, and to honor them. That it has to be loved and honored results from the fact that God, who is Lord and Master in this respect, too, is not a God who is unknown to us, but the God who is our Father in Jesus Christ, the eternal Father of all the creatures of God.


3. The Divine Ruling

            We come now to the third aspect of the fatherly lordship of God over all the things God has made, and on that is decisive for the whole doctrine of the divine providence. The fact of the overruling of God is the fact that in the majesty of divine mercy, God continually preserves us in being and continually accompanies us with divine presence. However, this fact calls for explanation. God rules as Father. Divine ruling is the ruling of the definite and conscious will of God. Behind it is meaning and purpose, plan and intention. God has an aim for the creature when God preserves and accompanies it. Divine preservation and accompanying are a form of guiding, leading, ruling, and active determining of the being and activity of all the reality that is distinct from God. God directs it to the thing that that accords with divine good-pleasure and resolve. Based on its creation, divine direction has to do and to be in the course of its history in time. Divine direction has to do with the telos that this history must attain. God sets for this telos, and God is the ruler who guides it towards this telos. When we make the simple but meaningful and momentous statement that God rules, we must understand it primarily to mean that God alone rules. The fact that God alone rules includes the further fact that God is the only goal that God has appointed for the creature and towards which god direct it. Proceeding from God and accompanied by God, the creature must also return to God. It must do so, for this is its greatness, dignity, and hope. The movement towards God is the meaning of its history. Because God rules alone, and because God is the goal to which God directs creaturely history, God is above the necessity that rules and revealed in this history, and above its real and obvious contingency, above the continuities and discontinuities, above the various uniformities and the various freedoms of world-occurrence. It belongs to the world-rule of God that this is the case, and one of the most cogent reasons why we can believe in this rule but cannot see it. What we can see is only necessity and contingence, continuity and discontinuity, law and freedom, which exist side by side with each other and in opposition to each other. God rules in and by this necessity, but God also goes makes a uniquely divine way through iut. God is also Father and King in the contingency and discontinuities and above all the freedom of world-occurrence. One cannot calculate or foresee the way of God. We will constantly experience new surprises even for the wise. God is always doing something new and disclosing something new. God is he God of miracles. However, we do not find God only in the extraordinary, exceptional, unexpected climaxes, and nadirs of world-occurrence. God honors law as well as freedom. God loves the law-abiding bourgeois as well as the nomad.

            Reformed dogmatics formed a path in this matter that opposed the Stoic doctrine of fate and the Epicurean doctrine of chance.

            We must now turn to the concept of divine ruling itself. Rule means order. The rule of God is the operation of God over and with the temporal history of that reality that is distinct from God. The operation, by which God arranges the course of that history, maintains and executes divine will within it, and directs it wholly and utterly in accordance with that will. The rule of God is the order of God in this active sense, divine ordering of all temporal occurrence. If God orders world-occurrence, then this includes at once the general fact that God controls creaturely activity. That fact that God controls it means that God is the Lord of the creature even while the creature has its own activity. God controls its independent activity. God uses the creature for divine ends. In so doing, god does not encroach too much upon it. God does not do violence to the character and dignity that it has as the realty that is distinct from God. On the contrary, as the realty posited and existing by God, this realty is different and autonomous, and therefore God maintains it and gives it a sphere in which to work. God safeguards its character and dignity, its individuality as a creature, in the mere fact that God confirms the divine relation to it and its relation to God. God could not pay it any higher honor, nor treat it more seriously, than by acknowledging in face of the lordship of God as Creator the fact that God makes the activity of the creature the means of divine activity, that God gives to the creature a part in the divine operation. This is the depth of divine mercy and the greatness of the glory that God intends for it and lavishes upon it. Freedom apart from this limit would not be creaturely freedom, but the freedom of a second god. All creaturely activity aims at a certain effect. This aiming at an effect is as such a matter of the free striving and willing of the creature, directed by God even in its freedom. In this striving and willing, the creature is active. Its activity is not effecting, attaining, and achieving. The end attained, the goal achieved, and the bringing about of the effect desired – all these lie quite beyond the striving, willing, and working of the creature. If God controls creaturely occurrence and not fate or chance, then we heave to say quite baldly that the decisive moment, the very meaning of creaturely activity, its effect, and the goal or end in which it culminates, are all the gift and dispensation of God. This, then, is the divine order of world-occurrence, the controlling of creaturely activity in its execution and in its results. As far as God determines all creaturely activity and its effects, we understand that the individual actions that go to make up world history are at least coordinated actions, coordinated that is, by divine all-embracing ordination.

            However, if we are to understand the divine rule as the ordering of world-occurrence, we shall have to go much deeper than this. In determining creaturely activity and its effects, God directs it to a common goal – God. However, this does not mean that particular creatures and individuals and natural and historical groupings and relationships are prevented by God from existing in their particularity and for particular ends. Nor does it mean that the particularity of their activity and effects, and the endless variety of happenings that go to make up world history as a whole, will later be ironed out and destroyed in favor of an all-comprehensive and unified plan. The Ruler of world history is also the Creator who has given this particularity to the various creatures and creaturely groupings. In preserving them, God gives them room for their particular activity. If God directs the individual to God as the common goal, God preserves it from individualism and the simple opposition of other individuals. God preserves the totality from chaos. However, divine direction must also have the positive meaning that a subordination of all creatures to God, the ordination that is thereby affected is also the creation of a mutual relationship between the individual creatures and creaturely groupings. God harmonizes and coordinates the creatures one with another, but this does not mean that the individual creature has no meaning nor right to exist except as a non-autonomous atom, a mere cog in a machine, a functionary in collective action, and ultimately and supremely in the one collective action of world-occurrence as a whole. This is how the creature can exist by and to its fellow-creatures. It belongs to the glory of God and its own salvation that it can exist in this way. It could not experience the justification and deliverance of its existence in particularity by subordination to God if it did not also know this coordination. 

            We now need to move from these formal considerations to the material content of what we have discussed thus far. When God rules all creaturely occurrence as King and Father, what does this mean? What is that actually happens?

            The Father, the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, about whose lordship over all things we have been speaking, is the King of Israel. Philosophically, the naiveté of the account has objections, but this naiveté is its strength. There in one normative biblical concept we have the solid foundation of all that we have said, the foundation that we have now to unfold, and to which we have now to relate all that we have said. The King of Israel is the King of the world. The form of the idea acquires concrete substance. We have to think of definite places, such as Canaan, Egypt, Sinai, Canaan again, Jordan, Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea and Galilee, the various places beyond in Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, and finally Rome. We have to think of definite events and series of events that according to the witness of the Old and New Testaments actually took place at these periods and in these places, relating them always to the spoken and actualized “I am.” Then, we have to think of the concrete Scripture that bears witness to these events, the text of the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament form of the spoken and actualized, “I am,” the King of Israel is the same Lord of the same covenant. However, now God illuminates the obscurity that dominated the history of covenant in its Old Testament form, removing the incompleteness of it and fulfilling the expectation. Now, in utter discontinuity with all that Israel has been and accomplished, God in free grace directs to its goal the covenant that God had instituted and faithfully maintained and which Israel had constantly broken. “I am – the way, the truth, and the light,” as stated in John 14:6. Further, this New Testament community is the new Israel.

            This is the insight that must be the filling out and substance of the Christian doctrine of the divine governing. To understand the divine governance, we have to observe a twofold rule. First, we have to look at world events in general outwards from the particular events attested in the Bible, from the activity of God in the covenant of grace that God instituted and executed in Israel and in the community of Jesus Christ. They take place as the fulfillment of the meaning of this occurrence, as sits preservation, deliverance, and glorification and manifestation –- an anticipation of what the totality of heaven and earth, and what humanity on earth and under heaven, is one day to be according to the will of God. These particular events are not an end, but an original and pattern of the general events. They are not an end in themselves, but a ministry in and to the whole of the creation of God. Second, we have to look back from the world events of nature and history, both far and near, both above and below, to the particular events that the Bible attests. To the history of the covenant of grace from the promise that initiated it to its final fulfillment. The general events do not happen for their own sake. We cannot make the history of the covenant a private history. We cannot make universal history private over against it. From this point, God rules heaven and earth. The Christian belief in the divine world governance consists in this. We cannot consider or understand the history of salvation attested in the bible simply in and for it. It relates to world history as a whole. It is the center and key to all events. We cannot consider world history or understand it simply in and for itself. We must relate world history to the history of salvation. The history of salvation is the circumference around that center, the lock to which that key belongs and is necessary. In view of this relationship, we must give up trying to develop the idea of a general kingship of god, and turn to the kingship in the Old and New Testaments in the light of which we can again consider and understand divine kingship in general. Without this substance and form the doctrine of the divine world-governance might, and necessarily would, be erroneous, or remain an empty scholasticism. If we look at this factual relationship, and therefore at the rule of the God of Israel, we see that in the world-governance of God everything has to be and is absolutely under God, and yet everything attains in freedom to its own validity and honor. To fill out the idea of the divine world-governance along biblical and Christian lines is to make it concrete, to actualize and verify it. If we think of it as filled out in this way, we do not consider the empty framework of a mere concept of God, but a form, a face, a history. Only when we can presuppose this filling out along biblical and Christian lines that the idea of the divine world-governance becomes a practical idea. It becomes an idea that illuminates both individual life and the life-process generally. It becomes an idea that gives direction. It becomes a significant idea. If the King of Israel, the Lord of the covenant and the God in Jesus Christ, who is the Subject of this governance, then even the concept of the world-occurrence to which it relates signifies something much more than a mere mass of things and events, which in spite of all its variety lacks finally either contour or direction. If the King of Israel rules, then of course this means that each thing and everything takes place in a uniform order as God directs it. However, it means more. It means all occurrences have a definite form. It shows direction in the all-embracing unity. This means that there is a first and a last, an above and a below, a foreground and a background. Paul provides a vivid picture of this image.


1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (NRSV)

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.


If this image, and not that of the sea or globe, is normative for our understanding of the cosmos that God rules and of universal occurrence as God directs it, this means that we can never think this thought without a Word God addresses to us. If the idea of the divine world-governance concretely fills out as we have suggested, then at once the divine economy and disposition catches us up into them. We at once begin to have dealings with this King, with the Lord of this history, with the will of this Lord and King, with the supremacy of this free grace. In advance of all our own opinions and attitudes, we see ourselves questioned, invited, and called. We know that with all that we are to be and to do, we will always give either an affirmative or a negative answer. For good or evil, we have to answer individually to the Lord of the world who is our Lord. We cannot think about the relationship between the Creator who rules and the creaturely world that God rules without thinking about ourselves, without thinking about ourselves as a definite factor within the history of that relationship. What this context is, is revealed to us in the history of the covenant and salvation to which the Bible bears testimony. It has its ground in the free election of grace. It has its beginning here in the form of the particular and sacred work of God in the creation of the world. It continues with the reconciliation of the world to God as foretold in the history of Israel and accomplished in Jesus Christ. When the interim period of the proclamation of this work is over, it will culminate in the perfecting or redemption that consists in the general revelation of the creative and reconciling act of God. In this, we find true economy and disposition. The history of the covenant and redemption whose center is Jesus Christ reveals the context, the economy, the disposition. In a hidden form, we find this covenant and redemption present and active in world-occurrence generally. We distinguish the two spheres only by the fact that in the one case we find it hidden and in the other revealed. From this particular, sacred history, we see that even world-occurrence generally had its beginning by the grace of God the Creator. That love that appeared in Jesus Christ decisively altered and conditioned it and the death and resurrection of Christ authenticates it. It moves towards its own perfection and therefore to the end of the age in the still future revelation of Jesus Christ. The existence of this particular, sacred history means that we can no longer think of world-occurrence generally as a raging sea of events that has neither form nor direction. World-occurrence is something formed, and world-occurrence forms according to the sense revealed in this history.

            I want to throw some light upon the assertion of the provisional hiddenness of the divine world-governance. Certain constant elements belong to it. First, I point to the history of Holy Scripture. I think of the origin, transmission of the text, its exegesis and influence in the course of history. We can take up the position that humanity necessarily occupies according to the content of this Scripture. Then, we can receive and accept its witness, and the Old and New Testament message of the Word and work of God to which it bears testimony. As we encounter this witness, we encounter God in gracious and compelling existence, who then claims us, liberates us, and captivates us. Second, I point to the history of the church. The church is a result of the bible, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. It has its own history. We now live in the last time to which the apostles point. The last time is the time of church. The church is the communion of saints, the personally called fellowship of those who by the self-revelation of the King of Israel to which Scripture bears testimony. Church history is the history of this fellowship within world history. The church is one of those special elements in world-occurrence that point to the divine world-governance. We think of the remarkable claim with which the church exists. We think of its capacity for resistance and renewal. The church also lives in its time. It is not a continuation of biblical history. Third, I point to the history of the Jews. Their preservation through history is an indication of the world-governance of God. They have outlasted the empires that have conquered them and in which they have lived. They maintain themselves as a people among other people. This separation of the Jews is a source of irritation to others. The Jew can be a German, Swiss, or French, but remains a Jew. Fourth, I point to the limitation of human life. I myself am a sign and testimony of the divine world-governance, and I myself am always present to me. I myself, who am somewhere on the way between the beginning and the end, and conditioned by both. I myself, who once was not, and one day will be no longer. I have my own individual life characterized by its individual limitation. I am, as the object of this disposing. The fact of my limitations does not affect me any the less definitely and movingly, any the less decisively and personally, because I know that it extends not merely to me but to all people, and indeed to all living creatures. That I am a particular form of this general truth only makes it more relevant to me. It certainly makes it relevant. The truth is a general one that does not alter the fact that it affects me and is undoubtedly present to me. The proposition that God sets a term to the life of humanity, so that it begins at one moment only to end at another, is one that belongs to the sphere of theological anthropology. Our concern now is with the fact that this natural limitation, as will be the Creator who is also Lord of the history of the creature, takes on the form of actual events in the individual life, first at the beginning of this life, and then at the end, that is, that we were all born, and shall all die. These two events always make human life into a history. The brackets that enclose our lives are not the same. The acts of lordship under which we stand and which determine the once-for-allness of our existence are not the same. The one is a giving, the other a taking. The one is a calling to, the other a calling away. The one is an establishing, the other a completing. Like a real drama, this drama has its time. A history without an end would not be a history. The lordship under which we live, and the once-for-allness which it gives to our life, have provided that it should be a real history with both a beginning and an end. In the limits fixed by them, in the freedom given within them, and based on the peculiar possibilities offered by them, all world-occurrence in heaven and earth takes place for us. Here and now, in the history that is our wrestling with this two-fold movement, all world-occurrence has its effect upon us, and actively and passively, in action and in contemplation, both moving and also moved, we participate in it. Knowing ourselves, we know heaven and earth. Proving ourselves in the tiny place allotted to us and the short hour seriously accorded to us, we prove creation as such and as a whole. In the history of our life, takes place all history in miniature.

            To sum up, we testify not merely to a higher being, but to God. We testify not merely to a divine nature, but to the activity of God. We testify to a God who does a new work in which God is the almighty Lord, in which God is unique, in which God is the judge of humanity and as such is the Ruler of all things. In our movement from birth to death, we are the sign and testimony to ourselves of this Lord of life and death, of the lordship of this God.


4. The Christian under the Universal Lordship of God the Father

            The doctrine of providence is with all its elements an integral part of the Christian confession. Therefore, the subject to which we were referring is the living member of the Christian community. What concerns us now is that the Christian alone is the creaturely subject that can join in a confession of the divine providence because it knows this providence, because it participates in the divine world-governance in this special and inward way. What concerns us now is the Christian as the point from which we can understand all that we have said in the matter as actual reality. We are enquiring in to the specific being and attitude in which the preserving, accompanying, and ruling are just as visible to the Christian in the developed form of the divine operation as are happenings on the street to a person looking out of a window. We are asking how it is that this self-evident manifestation of the divine lordship is both possible and actual in the Christian community. We can best begin by making the simple assertion that even the Christian is only a creaturely subject, and that in solidarity with all other people and creatures, people stand under the universal lordship of God. They have the same disadvantage that this means for every human being or every fly, that they cannot be their own lord, but also with the same advantage, that they do not need to be anxious concerning their own preservation, way or end. How is it that the Christian attains to the reality of acknowledging this fact of divine providence? Our answer can be the simple one: the Christian sees what others do not see. The world-process in which the Christian participates in solidarity with all other creatures might just as easily be a vain thrusting and tumult without either master or purpose. This is how many see it. However, the Christian sees in it a universal lordship. The Christian sees in it the universal lordship of God, of the God who is the Father, who is the Father to the Christian. Seeing God, the Christian sees the legislative, executive and judicial authority over and in all things. The Christian sees it as the authority of God. The Christian sees it as the authority of the Father. What the Christian sees at that center and on that circumference is not something that frightens the Christian. God the Father as the ruling Creator is not an oppressor, and Christ as a subject creature is not oppressed. Nothing on earth needs to frighten the Christian. Nothing needs to cause the Christian to flee or rebel. In virtue of what the Christian can see, the Christian is the one who has a true knowledge in this matter of the providence and universal lordship of God. This providence and lordship affect the Christian as they do all other creatures, but the Christian participates in them differently from all other creatures. The Christian participates in them from within. Of all creatures, the Christian is the one who while the Christian simply experiences the providence and lordship of God also consents to it, having a kind of understanding with the overruling God and Creature. In practice, the Christian faces every day afresh the riddles of the world-process. One thing at least the Christian does not need to puzzle about. The Christian has learned who the source is, and what the Christian can expect from the source and what will always come from the source. The Christian will always allow everything to concern the Christian directly. With all the dialectic of the experiences and attitudes of the Christian, the Christian will allow everything to concern the Christian positively. The Christian will be thankful, and in the light of such thankfulness will look forward to what has still to come. The Christian will know the intention of world-occurrence. The Christian will be the child having deals with its father. This is the knowledge of the Christian in matters of the divine lordship. This Christian knowledge has nothing whatever to do with mere speculation, insight, or perception. It is a science or craft. The reference of Christian knowledge is to the relationship effected between the operation of God the Creator and the totality of creaturely occurrence as overruled by God. Christian knowledge is a dynamic attitude, in which the Christian, claimed by God, participates in the operation of God and creaturely occurrence. Such knowledge involves contemplation to be sure, but is active as well. Such knowledge involves perceiving, but also working. Both occur in such a way that it is quite impossible to separate the one from the other, because coming from the one the Christian is always leaping along the way to the other. The providence and universal lordship of God are not merely true to the Christian, but in this repetition, they are actual. They are actual to the Christian in faith, in obedience, and in prayer.

            What I want to do now is to expound the three forms of the one Christian attitude to the divine providence and lordship, and therefore the three forms of the same Christian knowledge at this point. First, faith is the receiving of the Word of God. Faith is lively confidence in which the Christian perceives and acknowledges the Word from God and as a Word spoken to the Christian, and in that, the Christian affirms to be such. Second, obedience is the doing of the Word of God, the alert response in which the Christian justifies it against self, against all people, against the world, in which the Christian finds justification. The justification of humanity consists in having and using the freedom to justify the Word of God. This means that the Christian experiences a claim, not only in the religious sphere, but also in the secular. The Christian experiences the claim not only in the spiritual, but also in the physical. The Christian experiences the claim not only in the ecclesiastical, but also in the political, economic, academic, and aesthetic. In this context, our concern is that the Christian does actually participate in the course and process of creaturely and universal occurrence as a whole. Third, prayer is a primitive movement. This third form of the Christian attitude is simple. Faith is prayer, and obedience is prayer. If we are to understand the essence of prayer, we must try to be clear concerning this asking that occurs in prayer. Of all the things that humanity needs, and needed in such a way that people can receive them only from God, which only God can give them to people as one great gift. To all the true and legitimate requests that people direct to God, one great answer exists. This one divine gift and answer is Jesus Christ.

50. God and Nothingness

            das Nichtige has several possible translation, such the null, the negative, non-existent.

1. The Problem of Nothingness

            Opposition and resistance exist to the world dominion of God. An entire system of elements exists in world-occurrence, which the providence of God does not comprehend in the sense in which I have described thus far. Therefore, God does not preserve, accompany, or rule it by the almighty action of God in the way God does creaturely occurrence. This system of elements to which God denies the benefit of the preservation, concurrence, and rule of divine fatherly lordship, and which sets itself in opposition to this divine fatherly lordship. Among the objects of the providence of God is an alien factor. Thus, we must investigate afresh the whole doctrine of the providence of God. At the same time, the statement by Paul must stand.


Romans 11:36 (NRSV)

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.


Yet, what does this mean in view of the fact that “all things,” includes the affect of nothingness, enmeshed in and bound up with it, sharing its nature, bearing its marks, and in some degree, directly or indirectly, actively or passively, overtly or covertly, being involved in the existence and operation of this alien factor? What is the meaning of the verse from this standpoint? Is not eh question of what we mean by the lordship of God posed afresh and differently against this background? Can we regard the question as answered as long as it remains open to enquiry in this respect? Does not even the best that emerges from the Word of God concerning the divine lordship over the creature remain unsaid if we do not also state it from the particular standpoint that it also belongs to the existence of life and activity of the creature to be involved in nothingness? We may say at least that we can rightly apply divine lordship only as we soberly acknowledge that we have here an extraordinarily clear demonstration of the necessary brokenness of all theological thought and utterance. The existence, presence, and operation of nothingness are partially the frontier of this relationship, having its ground in the goodness of the Creator and that of the creature. Nothingness is also the break that runs counter to the nature of this relationship, compatible with neither the goodness of the Creator nor that of the creature, nor can we derive from either side but we can only regard as hostility in relation to both. We are not now dealing with the break itself, but with the relation of God to it, with the providence of God and the extent to which it comprehends this break as well. Here, if anywhere, theology should acknowledge that nothingness binds itself to theology, and it cannot escape it. Here, if anywhere, theology as the subjective reproduction of objective reality ought not to impose or simulate a system. Here especially, theology must set an example for its procedure generally, corresponding to its object in broken thoughts and utterance. What is the nature of this opposition and resistance? What exactly is nothingness?

2. The Misconception of Nothingness

            We must indicate and remove a serious confusion that has been of far reaching effect in the history of theology. Light exists as well as shadow. A positive as well as negative aspect exists in creation and creaturely occurrence. This menace continually confronts creation. As the creation of God, it has not only a positive but also a negative side. Yet, we ought not to identify this negative side with nothingness. When Jesus Christ shall finally return as the Lord and Head of all that God has created, Christ shall also reveal that both light and shadow, the right and left hand of God, and therefore everything created, was good and glorious. Where is the error in this confusion, and why must we avoid it? We call it an insult to Creator and creature because it contradicts the self-manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. Since the Word of God became flesh, God has acknowledged that the distinct reality of the world created by God has acknowledged that the distinct reality of the world created by God is in both its forms, with its Yes and No, that of the world that God willed. God has revealed its right to this twofold form, and therefore the goodness of creation. We cannot believe in Jesus Christ and repudiate this right of the Creator and creature proclaimed in Christ. We cannot ignore the fact that in Jesus Christ, God has again claimed the whole of creation as the work of God, adopting it and taking it heart in both its positive and negative aspects. In the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we must abandon the obvious prejudice against the negative aspect of creation and confess that God has planned and made all things well, even on the negative side. In the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we cannot admit to seek nothingness here. In this confusion, people also make an error in relation to nothingness itself. When people seek where one cannot find the enemy, the enemy goes unrecognized. The enemy assumes a form, a relatively and ultimately innocuous form, to which the enemy has no right and in which one cannot take the enemy seriously.

3. The Knowledge of Nothingness

            Jesus Christ reveals not only the goodness of the creation of God in its twofold form, but also the true nothingness that is utterly distinct from both Creator and creation, the adversary with whom no compromise is possible. God can deal with it and has already done so, in accordance with the fact that God transcends it from all eternity in the divine essence. However, we must understand that God has treated it as an adversary, as the No that is addressed to God, as the nothingness that is the true nothingness in opposition to God and the will and work of God. If we are weak and inclined to conciliation or appeasement, we treat the enemy of God as our friend, thus renouncing our one hope of deliverance from the danger that overhangs us. The Word became flesh means the Word became a creature of this kind, a lost creature. The Word of God, the Son of God, the divine, became flesh, meaning that God saw a challenge to the divine in this assault on the creature of God, in this invading alien, in this other determination of the creature of God, in its capture and self-surrender. The Incarnation means that God took to hear the attack on the creature of God because God saw in it an attack on the divine cause and therefore on God, seeing the divine enemy in this domineering alien, intruder, usurper, and tyrant. What is nothingness unmasked and deprived of that camouflage by which it seeks to deceive us? The answer is that nothingness is the reality on whose account God willed to be become a creature in the creaturely world, yielding and subjecting the divine to it in Jesus Christ in order to overcome it. Nothingness is the reality that opposes God, subjected to and overcome by the divine opposition and resistance, and in this twofold determination as the reality that God negates and is distinct from God. The true nothingness is that which brought Jesus Christ to the cross, and that which Christ defeated there. If we have confusion concerning it, we do not see it from the standpoint of Jesus Christ. We open our eyes to the most important of all its form, the real sin of humanity, its source, and its several manifestations and consequences. When seen in the light of Jesus Christ, the concrete form in which nothingness is active and revealed is the sin of human beings as their personal act and guilt, the aberration from the grace of God and its command, the refusal of the gratitude humanity owes to God and the concomitant freedom and obligation. When seen in the light of Jesus Christ, the real sin of human beings is the arrogant attempt to be their own master, provider, and comforter. Human beings have their unhallowed lust for what is not their own, the falsehood, hatred and pride in which they enmesh themselves in relation to their neighbor, the stupidity to which they condemn themselves, and a life that follows the course thereby determined on the basis of the necessity thus imposed. In relation to the gracious Creator of humanity, humanity ought to be both free and bound by nature to a creaturely and earthly perfection, corresponding to the perfection of its Father in heaven. In relation to the gracious Creator of humanity, humanity could live in this righteousness. The sin of humanity consists in the fact that humanity repudiates this possibility. When the Word of God became flesh, God took up the cause of sinful humanity enslaved to nothingness and subject to sin, putting the creative will of God into operation and revealing it as the will of the mercy of God.

            The other material reason for strict adherence to this source of knowledge is as follows. In Holy Scripture, while it maintains the full responsibility of humanity for its commission, it describes sin as human surrender to the alien power of an adversary. Contrary to the will and expectation of humanity, the sin of humanity is a detriment. The enemy leads humanity astray and lets humanity harm itself. Sin is not only an offence to God. It also disturbs, injures, and destroys the creature and its nature. The New Testament says that Christ suffered death for the forgiveness of the sins of many, but it also says that Christ did so in order to take away the power of death as the condemnation and destruction of the creature and offender against God. In the resurrection of Christ from the dead, God reveals that God has done this. The resurrection sums up the whole process of revelation. This being the case, we have every reason to adhere to the truth that Jesus Christ is the objective ground of our knowledge even of nothingness. 

4. The Reality of Nothingness

            What is real nothingness? First, in this question, one may well object to the word “is.” Only God and the creature of God really and properly are. However, nothingness is neither God nor the creature of God. However, it would be foolhardy to rush to the conclusion that it is therefore nothing, that is, that it does not exist. God considers it. God has concern for it. God strives against it, resists and overcomes it. Second, we cannot equate nothingness with what is not God and not the creature. Third, the revelation and knowledge of nothingness is not a matter of the insight that is accessible to the creature itself and set under its own choice and control. Fourth, nothingness is that from God separates the divine and in face of which God asserts divinity and exerts the positive will of God. God elects, and therefore rejects what God does not elect. God wills, and therefore opposes what God does not will. God says Yes, and therefore says No to that to which God has not said Yes. God works according to the divine purpose and in so doing rejects and dismisses all that gainsays it. Both of these activities, grounded in the election and decision of God, are necessary elements in the sovereign action of God. Nothingness “is,” therefore, in its connection with the activity of God. It “is” as long as God is against it. Fifth, the character of nothingness derives from its ontic peculiarity. It is evil. What God positively wills and performs is the grace of God. What God does not will and therefore negates and rejects, what can thus be only the object of the alien work of God, of divine jealousy, wrath, and judgment, is a being that refuses and resists and therefore lacks divine grace. This is evil in the Christian sense, namely, what is alien and adverse to grace, and therefore without it. Sixth, the controversy with nothingness, its conquest, removal and abolition, are primarily and properly the affair of God. It is true that it constitutes a threat to the salvation and right of the creature, but primarily and supremely it contests the honor and right of God the Creator. It is also true that in the form of sin nothingness is the work and guilt, and in the form of evil and death the affliction and misery, of the creature. Yet, in all these forms, it is primarily the problem of God. Even the human being who submits to nothingness and becomes its victim is still the creature of God. The divine care for the creature of God takes substance as its work and guilt, affliction, and misery engender such rebellion and ruin, such disturbance and destruction. The incredible and real mystery of the free grace of God is that God makes the cause of God that of the creature, which is not even the equal of nothingness, let alone its master, but its victim. The threat of nothingness to the salvation of the creature is primarily an assault upon divine majesty. For the sake of the creature that of itself can be no match for it, God is willing not to be an easy match for nothingness. God casts the divinity into this conflict that is not necessarily a divine conflict. Where the creature of God stands or succumbs, God comes and exposes divinity to the threat of assault, to the confrontation with nothingness that the creature cannot escape and in which it falls an easy prey. God is not too great, nor is God ashamed, to enter this situation already corrupted, to confess God the Friend and Fellow of the sinful creature. The sinful creature is not only subject to the assault but broken by it, to acknowledge God the Neighbor of the sinful creature stricken and smitten by its own fault, and to act accordingly God inaugurates the history of the covenant with this impotent and faithless partner. Though Adam is fallen and disgraced, he is not too low for God to make God the Brother of humanity, and to be for human beings a God who must strangely content for the status, honor, and right of humanity. For the sake of this Adam, God becomes poor. God lets a catastrophe that might be quite remote from God approach God and affect the heart of God. God makes this alien conflict the conflict of God. God does this of free grace. For God is under no compulsion. God descends to the depths, and concerns God with nothingness, because in divine goodness God does not will to cease to be concerned for the creature of God. God thus continues to act in relation to nothingness with the same holiness with which God acted as the Creator when God separated light from darkness. God continues to be the Adversary of this adversary because divine love for the creature has no limit or end. Thus, it follows that the controversy with nothingness, its conquest, removal, and abolition, is primarily and properly the cause of God. God has assumed the burden and trouble of confrontation with nothingness. God would rather be unblest with the creature of God than the blessed God of an unblest creature. God would rather let God be injured and humiliated in making the assault and repulse of nothingness the concern of God than leave the creature of God alone in this affliction. This is how God comes on the scene. Seventh, nothingness has no perpetuity. God is the basis, essence, and sum of all being. For all its finiteness and mutability, even the creature of God perpetuity that God wills to grant it in fellowship with God. God does not create nothingness, nor is there any covenant with it. Hence, it has no perpetuity. It is from the very first that which is past. God abandoned it at once in creation. What is nothingness? In the knowledge and confession of the Christian faith, nothingness is the past, the ancient menace, danger and destruction, the ancient non-being that obscured and defaced the divine creation of God. However, God consigns it to the past in Jesus Christ, in whose death it has received its deserts, God destroying it with this consummation of the positive will of God that is as such the end of divine non-willing. If the obedience of Christian faith conditions our thought, we have only one freedom, namely, to regard nothingness as finally destroyed and to make a new beginning in remembrance of the One who has destroyed it. Only if the obedience of Christian faith conditions our thought is it possible to proclaim the Gospel to the world as it really is, as the message of freedom for the One who has already come and acted as the Liberator, and therefore of the freedom that precludes the anxiety, legalism, and pessimism so prevalent in the world. The problem of nothingness primarily arises in a consideration of the relationship between Creator and creature, and therefore of general world-occurrence.

            We deal with the problem of theodicy in this manner. We must say first of nothingness that we can review and interpret it only in retrospect of the fact that God has already judged it, refuted it, and done away with it by the mercy of God revealed and active in Jesus Christ. Secondly, it also follows that no true or ultimate power and significance can we attribute to the existence, menace, corruption, disturbance and destructiveness of nothingness as we may still see them. Whatever its actuality and potentiality, nothingness has only fragmentary existence. It is only an echo, a shadow, of what it was but is no longer, of what it could do but can do no longer. Third, it follows that nothingness can have even its semblance of validity only under the decree of God. What it now is and does, it can be and do only in the hand of God. How can it be otherwise when it can never escape the divine grasp? There is a legitimate place here for a favorite concept of the older dogmatics. Namely, God permits the hidden character of the kingdom of God, and consequently God still permits us to be a prey to nothingness. Until the hour strikes when the victory of Jesus will reveal its destruction, God thus permits nothingness to retain its semblance of significance and still to manifest its already fragmentary existence. In this already innocuous form, as this echo and shadow, it is an instrument of the will and action of God. Finally, in this form still left to it, nothingness exists and functions under the control of God. Therefore, even though it does not will to do so, God forces it to serve God, to serve the Word and work of God, the honor of the Son, the proclamation of the Gospel, the faith of the community, and the way in which God wills to go within and with the creation of God until its day is done. The defeated, captured and mastered enemy of God has as such become the servant of God.

51. The Kingdom of Heaven, the Ambassadors of God and Their Opponents

The action of God in Jesus Christ, and therefore the divine lordship over the creature of God, we call the “kingdom of heaven” because it claims for itself the upper world. From this, God selects and sends  the messengers of God, the angels, who precede the revelation and doing of the will of God on earth as objective and authentic witnesses, who accompany it as faithful servants of God and human being, and who victoriously ward off the opposing forms and forces of chaos.


1. The Limits of Angelology

            The doctrine of angels, unlike that of predestination, creation, or humanity, has in the strict sense no meaning and content of is own. Angels are not independent and autonomous subjects like God, humanity, and Jesus Christ. They cannot become the theme of independent discussion. Directed to God and humanity, and belonging particularly to the person and work of Christ, they are only the servants of God and humanity. They are, only as they come and go in this service. They are essentially marginal figures. This is their glory. Hence, we need to consider them in our present context, namely, in the consideration of the lordship of God over the creature, which has its meaning and center in its exercise in Jesus Christ. When we undertake to think and speak about angels, we have to remember that they are not leading characters and that we can thus speak of them only incidentally and softly.

            In the first sub-section, then, we shall attempt some basic and methodological clarifications in relation to these questions.

            First, the teacher and master in these matters in the Holy Scripture.

            Second, we have to ponder what it presents for our consideration, understanding, and explaining it as far as the limits of the matter itself and of our own capacity allow. The church has no right to appeal to this authority for continually speaking about angels in its songs and prayers and pictures if it is not prepared to consider what this means, sparing dogmatics the effort involved or concluding that it is not worthwhile. When the bible speaks of angels, it always introduces us to a sphere where historically verifiable history passes over into historically non-verifiable saga or legend.

            Third, if the doctrine of angels is to be theological in character; if, then, it is to be significant for the faith and proclamation of the church, then we must begin with the statement that we believe in order to understand.

            Fourth, we must view the task in this light. Confining ourselves to the understanding that it offers, and not turning back or aside to other grounds, motives, or concerns alien to the belief or witness of Holy Scripture, to freely selected constructions that might also cause us to put this remarkable question concerning angels and suggest this or that answer to it.

            Fifth, theology has only to be theology at this point, to. It has only to be on its guard against unwittingly becoming philosophy. It has only to accept the discipline of being wholly and exclusively theology. It has only to refrain from seeking rational probability, from also trying to be a little philosophy, whether on hermeneutical or apologetic grounds.

2. The Kingdom of Heaven

            Why is it that we are compelled to think of heaven as an above, earlier, and more, and earth as a below, later, and less? The answer that the bible gives to this question is simply that within the one cosmos God is nearer to one of the spheres, that is, heaven, then God is to the other, that is, earth. In the greter nearness ofheaven and the lesser nearness of earth it is not a question of qualities proper to heaven and earth as such, but of an action and attitude of God in which God draw and is nearer to heaven than earth. We are thus dealing with a qualification of the two spheres in which they are posited in this distinct relationship to god and the corresponding relationship to each other. It is for this reason that heaven is superior to earth. They receive and have it as and because there begins with their creation the history of God with them, the history of the grace of God and the covenant of God, and therefore the history of the cosmic rule of God. First, we might suggest that in the cosmos, it belongs to earth as our sphere to be open to the other sphere. Second, this other sphere is unfathomable, distant, alien, and mysterious in creation. The creed affirms that God is the maker of things visible and invisible. This statement has a biblical foundation.


Colossians 1:16 (NRSV)

16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.


The witness of Scripture is sparse in this matter, even though it is not obscure or ambiguous. For the sake of earth, God fulfills the movement to the world created by God. On earth, God demonstrates divine faithfulness and establishes the kingdom. God wills to be for us and with us. We are the target of the whole movement to the creature. We are of earth and on earth. Hence, the divine qualification of distinction of earth consists in the fact that the depth below to which God condescends occurs in free grace. Our sphere to which the God who reigns in the world stoops and comes down. All this is in order that the secret will of God has open and effective consequences in what God does. In this context, there can be nothing derogatory or disgraceful in the fact that earth is below. We do not contest tts glory as this particular sphere of the creation of God. It is no less glorious then other real or possible spheres may be in different ways. Earth is below because the person to whom God addresses the free mercy of God is below. It is below in the light of the majesty of the God who is active for and to humanity in the world. However, our present concern is with heaven. In that historical context, our first statement concerning it is simply that heaven is the place in the world from which God acts to and for and with humanity. I suggest reserve because, although we know heaven as another created place, the place of God, as a higher cosmic sphere confronting our own, beyond these delimiting definitions, heaven is unknown, inconceivable, and mysterious to us. Heaven is something. We cannot access it or know it, but it is a real context of being. In its own way, it has as much reality as earth, which is ontically and noetically our sphere. The place where God is as God turns to the world created by God itself belongs to this world of the things God has made. In heaven, things happen. God rules in heaven as in a creaturely sphere. We have to reckon with a happening that takes lace in this sphere. However, the goal of the lordship of God by which it has to orientate itself is a happening in our sphere, on earth, determines this heavenly happening. If we can assume this, we can venture the next step and say that this heavenly happening is one that God orders, harmonizes, and integrates, but that God also differentiates. If its nature is unknown, we are not wholly ignorant of its purpose, function, and direction. It is unitary, but not formless, collective, but not without individuation, total, but not uniform or monotonous. We must now venture a further step. If the kingdom that as the lordship of God comes from heaven to earth, and therefore commences and is first in heaven, is an order, then it embraces certain elements ordered within it and adjusted to its order. The New Testament offers one possible definition of angels.


Hebrews 1:14 (NRSV)

14 Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?


The bible offers other names for angels: the heavenly ones, the saints, children of God, seraphim, and specific names like Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. What is the order to which heavenly occurrence is subject both as a whole and as a detail, and by which it is both differentiated and integrated? Angels are in the service of God, of the merciful God, and therefore of the earthly creature to whom God has turned. The true service of angles, like that of all other creatures to God, is that of witnesses. Revelation 4-5 offers a general depiction of the ministry of angels.


3. The Ambassadors of God and their Opponents

            We must leave aside the foolish question whether and how there is or may be a special experience of angels. It is a foolish question because it is wrongly put. There can be no question of any special, autonomous or abstract experience of angles in and for themselves. The subjects of this kind of experience could not be the angles of God, but only ideas or ghosts or figments of the imagination or even demons and therefore the opponents of the genuine angels. It is best not to speak of any experience of angels at all. For the point at issue in the bible is always an experience of God and of Jesus Christ, and not an independent experience of angels. The real question is whether and how far there can be any experience of God and Christ, any encounter and co-existence with God, which does not take place in supreme truth and reality in the presence and with the participation of the angels of God. Each angel stands in relationship to God, and is an angel, and has its being is present, in the pact that it is the holy angel of God. What angels do, the manner and meaning of their ministry, one can understand from what they are in relation to God. A first and general statement is that with the commission and in the name of God they do exactly, neither more nor less nor to her than, what God wills with the coming of the kingdom of God on earth. In relation to God, humanity, and the earthly creation as a whole, what they do in this ministry is indirect. That God reigns is a rule to which no exception exists, even in the relationship of God to heavenly creatures. What they do in their service does not violate the sovereign right of God to which they too are subject and which God certainly does not confer on them. What angels do is confirmation of the sovereign right of God. Even the frequently heard expression that the ministry of angels consists in mediating between God and earthly creatures is an expression one should use with the greatest caution. God mediates the divine self, and does not need a third party for this purpose. The action of angels cannot be valued too highly. Their presence is not in any sense, not even partially, a presence of lordship. It is wholly the creaturely presence of service. However, all the same, it is a genuinely powerful presence. If we use the word angel, we must keep clearly in view the specific meaning of the term God with which it stands in such close relationship. The decisive thing about their activity is that they are the messengers of God. By way of appendix, do they reality and ministry of angels belong only to the history that took place then and there according to the witness of Holy Scripture, to the history of the establishment of the divine covenant with the fathers of the Israel, the appearance of Jesus Christ and the institution of the community of God? Or do angels belong to cosmic occurrence generally, and therefore to the history of all ages, and therefore to our own history too, including the life-history of each individual? If angels belong to the history of the covenant, they cannot be remote and alien in relation to other events before and after. Again, world occurrence generally, including that in which we ourselves participate or will participate, is not autonomous in relation to the history of the covenant, to the divine speech and action in Jesus Christ. In this history all history, and therefore our own, has its meaning and center.

            And now, to conclude our consideration of the kingdom of heaven and the ambassadors of God, we must take a brief look at a very different sphere. Why must our glance be brief? Because we have to do at this point with a sinister matter about which the Christian and the theologian must know, but in which they must not linger or become too deeply engrossed, devoting too much attention to it in an exposition like our own. Sinister matters may be very real, but they must not contemplate them too long, precisely or intensively. It does not make the slightest impression on the demons if we do so, and there is the imminent danger that in so doing we ourselves might become just a little or more than a little demonic. The very thing that the demons are waiting for, especially in theology, is that we should find them dreadfully interesting and give them our seriously and perhaps systematic attention. A quick, sharp glance is not only all that is necessary but also all that is legitimate in their case. Demons are not the poor relations of angles. Demons are the opponents of the heavenly ambassadors of God, as the latter are the champions of the kingdom of heaven and therefore of the kingdom of God on earth. Angels and demons are related as creation and chaos, as the free grace of God and nothingness, as good and evil, as life an death, as the light of revelation and the darkness hat will not receive it, as redemption and perdition, as kerygma and myth. What is the origin and nature of the devil and demons? The only possible answer is that their origin and nature lie in nothingness. As we have seen in the preceding section, nothingness is the element of contradiction and opposition that exists on the left hand of God, subject to the world-dominion of God, but also constituting a threat to the creation of God. In biblical terms, we can also describe it as chaos, or darkness, or evil, or Hades. We might call it the being that exists only as it denies all true being, and which true being denies. Of course, a similarity exists between angelic and demonic realms. The basis of the similarity is that nothingness is falsehood. It lies against God by desiring to rule and reveal itself alongside God, to be as great and important as God is. It lies against the creature by desiring to play in relation to it the role of a fellow-ruler. It lies by pretending nothingness is for God and the creature of a relevant and serous factor that has to be taken into significant account it lies by proclaiming that it can intervene between the grace of God and the salvation of the creature, rendering the grace of God weak, ineffective, hampering, and retarding the salvation of the creature. It lies by attempting to ingratiate itself with God and to impose upon the creature. It likes by pretending to be glorious and attractive on the one side of terrifying on the other. It lies by assuming form and power for a particular purpose. It lies in its whole movement and activity, in its whole march, in its whole invasion and assault. It lies in its representation of itself as a kingdom with a leader and subjects, as a system of government with legislative, executive and judicial organs. It lies by opposing itself as such to the kingdom of God. In so doing, it lies by opposing its own messengers, the demons, to the angels of God, attempting to give them the same names and appearance and activity. It lies when it does this, when it pretends that it, too, comes down from heaven to earth as a superior power or a whole host of superior powers, that it, too, has something to institute on earth, that its will is to b done on earth in opposition to the will of God. One form of the triumph that nothingness can achieve is to represent itself as a mere appearance with no genuine reality.  However, another side to the matter exists. We must not dream and say that in all that it does and is nothingness can be anything but falsehood. The other form of its triumph is to present itself as though it were no lie. It presents itself as though it really had something to proclaim and as though it could really found and organize a kingdom. It presents itself as though it could really come down from heaven to earth, as though its powers and forces were really agents that could contradict and withstand the grace of God and the salvation of the creature, as though it had rights over against God and the creature that entitled it to fear and respect. Nothingness is falsehood.

            In contrast to what I have said, some think of demons as fallen angels. We need to remember that the devil was always a liar and murderer.


John 8:44 (NRSV)

44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.


The textual basis for the view of fallen angels is obscure and uncertain texts.


Isaiah 14:12 (NRSV)

12 How you are fallen from heaven,

O Day Star, son of Dawn!

How you are cut down to the ground,

you who laid the nations low!


Genesis 6:1-14 (NRSV)

 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 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.” 8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

9 These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.


Jude 6 (NRSV)

6 And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day.


2 Peter 2:4 (NRSV)

4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment;

Volume III, Part Four, Chapter XII: The Command of God the Creator (1951)

52. Ethics as a Task of the Doctrine of Creation

The task of special ethics in the context of the doctrine of creation is to show to what extent the one command of the one God who is gracious to humanity in Jesus Christ is also the command of the Creator of humanity, and therefore already the sanctification of the creaturely action and abstention of humanity.

1. The Problem of Special Ethics

            As dogmatics enquires concerning the action of God and its goodness, it must necessarily make thorough enquiry concerning active humanity and the goodness of human action. We can view true human good human action from the standpoint of the true and active God and the goodness of God. This connection with dogmatics guards ethics against arbitrary assertions, arguments or conclusions, and allows it to follow a secure path to fruitful judgments. The task of theological ethics is to understand the Word of God as the command of God. The fundamental, simplest and comprehensive answer to the ethical problem is that humanity’s action is good as far as the Word of God sanctifies it, which as such is also the command of God. Ethics has first to attempt this with an upward look, in relation to divine action. To that extent, there is what we might call a general ethics, which forms part of the doctrine of God as a counterpart to the doctrine of election. We presuppose this general answer in Volume II, part two, sections 37-39.

            The matter of special ethics considers, with varying emphases and standpoints, the same questions and answer. We now look downwards to the human being who acts under the command of God, and therefore under the divine claim, decision, and judgment. If the outworking and shaping of human sanctification by the command of God in real human action is a problem of ethics, this means that ethics becomes concrete, particular, or special ethics. People sometimes take special ethics to mean the understanding of the command of God as a prescribed text, which, partly written and partly unwritten, is made up of biblical texts in which some believe they see universally binding divine ordinances and directions. They see certain propositions presumed to have universally valid natural moral law generally perceptible to human reason. They see particular norms that culture passes on historically in the tradition of Western Christianity and which lay claim to universal validity. The name of this approach is casuistry. The way of casuistry is unacceptable, even though it is convenient for spiritual advisors. I admit the prophetic ethos has a practical casuistry. It consists in the unavoidable venture of understanding of the concrete specific command of God here and now in this particular way, of making a corresponding decision in this particular way, and of summoning others to such a concrete and specific decision. On the other hand, casuist ethics does not exist. We cannot fix on the great or small text of ethical law. We can rely on no method or technique of applying this text to the plentitude of conditions and possibilities of the activity of all people. We can rely on no means of deducing good or evil in the particular instance of human conduct from the truth of this text presupposed as a universal rule and equated with the command of God. This is something that special ethics must not attempt. Why not? First, if special ethics becomes casuistry, this means that the moralist wishes to set himself or herself on the throne of God, to distinguish good and evil, and always to judge things as the one or the other. Second, casuist ethics makes the objectively untenable assumption that the command of God is a universal rule, a tissue of such rules and forms. Third, casuistic ethics involves an encroachment in relation to the action of humanity under the command of God, a destruction of the Christian freedom, in which alone this can be a good action.

            However, if we close the way of casuistic ethics to special ethics, how can we have a special ethics? Surely, this does not mean that the command of God comes moment to moment by a kind of direct inspiration and guidance, so that all one can do, is make oneself ready to receive the Word or command. The problem with this view is that humanity would then be in the position of Goethe’s mule, which has to find its own way in the mist. Naturally, this is not what I mean by my argument against casuistic ethics. Yet, the decisive word of special ethics in the command of God and human obedience or disobedience will continually remind us of the authority, guidance, and judgment of the Holy Spirit. It will remind us of the event which is renewed hour to hour and situation to situation, the even of revelation, and of belief or unbelief. it can offer only an encouragement to go to meet this event. Even in giving this encouragement, it cannot save humanity from what God expects of it, namely, to dare to make the leap of choice, decision, and action, which each individual must make. This leap is toward practical casuistry. Special ethics cannot conceal from human beings that this leap, if done in disobedience, is a leap in the dark in the worst sense of the term. The command of God is continually present to humanity in a series of innumerable individual revelations of particular form and content. However, the command of God is not present only in this way. The command of God owes its particularity and concreteness to a particular purpose and disposition of God. We have to take into account this connection and therefore the constancy and continuity of the divine command. The command of God takes place in individual decisions, but not in a way, that implies a completely new beginning. Face to face with the ethical question, we have not to consider a vertical dimension, the many events of the encounter between the command of God and human action in a singularity and uniqueness that one cannot anticipate and which scorns regimentation. However, these events take place in a definite connection. As an event that takes place in this connection is it an ethical event. As the vertical intersects a horizontal, one can call it vertical. We will need to consider the horizontal as well and therefore the constancy and continuity both of the divine command and human action. If we can know anything about this horizontal, it discloses a possibility of special ethics that has nothing to do with casuistry and yet which the event does not exhaust. Everything depends on whether we can know anything about the horizontal, the permanence, continuity and constancy of the divine command and human action. On this basis, special ethics can become a formed reference to the ethical event and therefore perform its service as instructional preparation. However, the point is whether we have reliable and legitimate information concerning it. To be reliable, the degree of certainty with which we claim to know about the constancy of the divine command and human action and abstention must be the same as that which the ethical event is known to us through the Word of God as the event of the claim of God, decision and judgment in respect of our conduct. Does the Word of God give us information concerning the constancy of the divine command and human action as concerning the reality of the command in the ethical event? We have reliable and legitimate information about this horizontal either by the Word of God or not at all. We will need to make fruitful the unity of ethics and with dogmatics. Two factors will make this possible. The first is the claim of God upon humanity, with the decision and judgment of God concerning humanity. The second is humanity whom God confronts, and with whom God has much concern in this event, in which we find that God treats with utter seriousness the human action of a free subject. The question arises whether the Word of God makes known to us these two factors, that of God and humanity. Hidden in their being, their manner reveals both God and humanity, in the Word of God, in Jesus Christ. They are mysteries. Yet, they are open mysteries in Christ. Their essence is imperceptible and incomprehensible. Yet, their work and manner makes them perceptible and comprehensible. One cannot fully declare them. Yet, in their outline, they are amenable to human perception and description, expressed and attested by human words. In Jesus Christ, the fact of the encounter of God and humanity is not merely a fact that one can recognize as such, but also a Word that one can know. This is the general dogmatic assumption to which ethics must cling. Therefore, we ask four questions. First, who is the commanding God as God is knowable in the Word of God, in Jesus Christ? God is the Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer of humanity, surrounding and holding humanity fast on all sides in this threefold activity, and therefore God is the one who commands. Second, who are the human beings who act as the Word of God makes it known? Humanity is the creature of God, the sinner to whom God has graciously offered freedom, the child of the Father. We must understand the human being who in the ethical event acts as this being. It will always be this human beings confronted with the command of God in the ethical event. It will always be the creature of God and the covenant partner with God, the pardoned sinner, the child of God, who even in the present is already expectant and certain of this eternal future. This human being is the other participant in this event. If we accept this information about God and humanity as given in the Word of God, the possibility and necessity of a special ethics confront us with a basic clarity. Comprehensively understood, its task will be to accompany this history of God and humanity from creation to reconciliation and redemption, indicating the mystery of the encounter at each point on the path according to its own distinctive character. This history of God and humanity is the constant factor and therefore the connection of all ethical events. Where the divine command and human action meet, they always meet the divine Creator and the creature of God, the divine Reconciler and the sinner upheld by divine faithfulness, the divine Redeemer, Perfecter, and the child of God with its eternal expectancy. This history is the reality in which the ethical event takes place, to which we look from the event, and from which we must look back to the event to see it in its concreteness. We may confidently refer to this history because we have to do simply with the self-unfolding of this event. In this event, as we have seen, it is always a question of God in divine articulation and differentiated action and of humanity in its correspondingly articulated and differentiated being in relation to this God. This means that the reality of this event is always an articulated and differentiated reality. When God and humanity meet as revealed in the Word of God, we see definite spheres and relationships in which this encounter takes place. The one will of God, without disunity within itself, has different forms; and similarly, the command of God, while it always commands humanity to do one thing, his different elements. The one will of God and the one command of God embraces the divine work as Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer. Similarly, the action of the one person is the action of the person on the three corresponding planes defined by the will and command of God. The reality in which the ethical event takes place is its reality in the spheres and relationships that arise and reveal themselves in this way. Neither the command of God nor the obedience or disobedience of humanity takes place apart from these spheres and relationships, nor can one abstract them from these spheres and relationships. The particular truth of the ethical event has in these spheres and relationships a general form. If we take the ideal case of a full knowledge of definite general spheres and relationships in which the ethical event takes place, then the question whether in these spheres and relationships God has commanded or forbidden this or that, and is therefore good or bad, gains a sharpness in which the question almost acquires the character of an answer. Our knowledge of these general spheres and relationships will never actually be full, so that the question of what God commands and forbids will always retain a certain breadth and openness. On the other hand, the question gains in precision in proportion as the knowledge of these spheres and relationships becomes broader and deeper. The service that ethics can render as special ethics is genuine and useful in proportion as it finds itself in this movement, and can thus indicate with increasing urgency and compulsion the divine command and the human action corresponding to it. We will not expect more than guidance from even the most particular ethics. What is more than guidance will be either arbitrary human assertion or the event of the revelation of which only God can be the subject. True dogmatics and true ethics steer a middle course, between what they must not be and what they cannot be. They do what human beings can do in the light of revelation. They give well-founded and legitimate witness, and therefore training in Christianity, and in the particular case of ethics training in keeping the command.

2. God the Creator as Commander

            The older dogmatics spoke of perichoresis of the three persons of the Trinity or the modes of being of the Trinity. It meant by this that God is always the One, not without the Other, but in and through the Other. Just as God in divine unity is not only one, but many and single, God is manifold and single. Similarly, God is one and indivisible in the divine work. God is Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer as one God rather than separate divine departments or branches of authority. All this is true also of the command of God. When we think of the command of God the Creator, we must do so with an eye to the command of God Reconciler and Redeemer. The perichoresis of the three modes of God does not destroy their independence. If the one whole God is the Subject and Author of creation, reconciliation and redemption, this suggests that divine action in each of these three spheres is a particular one. Consistent with the older Trinitarian dogmatics, we rightly ascribe the work of creation to the Father, that of reconciliation to the Son and that of redemption and consummation to the Holy Spirit, thus making a genuine distinction. Positively, we understand the one command of God successively as the Creator, the Reconciler, and the Redeemer. If God meets us in the revealed Word of God as inseparably one in this threefold form, but also as the One who has this threefold form in divine unity, our duty is to take the path thus indicated, considering the divine command in these different forms. This means inadequate knowledge will appear.

            The first presupposition is that the one command of God given to humanity is also that of the Creator.

            The second presupposition is that the one command of God given to humanity is already the sanctification of the creaturely action and abstention of humanity. What we really know of humanity, we know by means of this grace. How things stand with humanity, who and what they are, has its ground in it. What we claim to know about humanity apart from it, we only claim to know. On a closer examination, it consists only of the working hypotheses of human self-understanding. In the fact, revealed to us the Word of God, that God is gracious to humanity in Jesus Christ, we do not see any of these views of humanity either confirmed or questioned, nor do we see any new view of humanity. We see humanity as humanity truly is. This fact includes not only the “Behold your God!” but also “Behold the human being!” The Word of God is not only the mirror of the fatherly heart of God, but also of the particularity of humanity. When we see the glory of God residing in Jesus Christ, then we also see humanity, humbled, accused, and judged as a guilty and lost creature, as well as exalted and glorified as the creature elected and affirmed by God form all eternity. This is the real person in the mirror of the grace of God addressed to humanity in Jesus Christ.

            A third presupposition is that humanity is the being God created, willed, and called into existence in all its particularity, that is then as such the transgressor upheld in spite of human guilt and saved from perdition, and which as such is finally received with honor as the child of the Father. We confess the hidden quality of this knowledge of humanity as sinner, pardoned sinner, and as a child of God in future glory. We learn such things from the Word of God. What humanity knows of itself outside the mirror of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the phenomena of the human. In this mirror, humanity knows itself. Who and what is humanity as the creature of God? Humanity is a being in a history, and thus elected and summoned by God. Humanity is a being in the encounter between a human I and a human Thou, in fellow-humanity. Humanity is the subject of a material organism, soul of the body. Humanity has an allotted and fixed span by God.

53. Freedom before God

The will of God the Creator is that humanity, as the creature of God, shall be responsible before God. In particular, the divine command says that humanity is to keep a day holy as a day of worship, freedom and joy, that humanity is to confess God in the heart and mouth, and that humanity is to come to God with its requests.

1. The Holy Day

            To be a human being means to live in responsibility before God. The command of God claims this responsibility from humanity. The ethical event will always be the claim, decision, and judgment of God. In this respect, the good and evil in human actions will always reveal themselves. We shall first consider the particular thing that God wants from human beings in relationship to God under the concept of the commanded holy day. In this concept, God claims the whole time of humanity, and therefore a special and particular part of time. We enter the sphere denoted by the Mosaic fourth commandment. The concern of the Sabbath commandment is with that human action that consists in rest from personal work and therefore in readiness for the Gospel. By demanding human abstention and resting from personal work, the Sabbath explains that that commanding God who has created humanity, as well as enabled and commissioned humanity to personal work, is the God who is gracious to humanity in Jesus Christ. Thus, it points humanity away from everything that human can achieve and back to what God is for humanity and will do for humanity. The command to celebrate the Sabbath claims from humanity that which on the basis of human self-understanding humanity can understand only as a sacrifice of its human nature and existence, and against which humanity can really only rebel as life rebels against death. God take the case of humanity into divine hands and therefore out of those of humanity. The Sabbath commandment demands the faith in God that brings about the renunciation of humanity, its renunciation of itself, of all that humanity thinks, wills, effects, and achieves. The Sabbath has two benefits. It makes humanity free from itself and therefore free for itself in a special way, absolving human beings temporarily from their work. It makes humanity free for God in the sense of an opportunity to hear the Word of God. Without rest from work and participation in divine service, we cannot obey the Sabbath commandment. The Sabbath commandment can have its ground in the necessities of physical, psychological or social hygiene, and therefore set on a humanitarian basis. The Sabbath day is also the establishment and victory of a well-founded law of life and freedom. To observe the holy day means to keep oneself free for participation in the praise, worship, witness, and proclamation of God in the congregation, in common thanksgiving and intercession. The blessing and profit of the holy day definitely depend also on this positive use of its freedom. Its observance means resting, of course, but in the more positive sense, it means celebrating of a festival. This festival is the divine service of the congregation.

            I will conclude with four groups of questions. First, the holy day does not belong to humanity, but to God. We must not treat the day as if it belongs to us. Second, the meaning of Sunday freedom is joy in the celebration of a feast. Yet, part of that celebration, may include recreation in some kind of free work, which can become a liberating activity. Third, the holy day is the gift of God to humanity in relationship to others. Fourth, on the Christian interpretation, the holy day is not the last day of the week, but the first.

2. Confession

            I now mention the invitation and obligation of humanity to bear witness to God. God calls on humanity to confirm this knowledge, to declare and impart it. All divine commanding has this content, that God commands humanity to be a witness. Why is this so? Because God is gracious to humanity, loves humanity, and therefore does not will to be without humanity. God has already created humanity in this love. In the spoken word human beings come out into the open, making themselves clear, intelligible, and in some way responsible, venturing forth, binding, and committing themselves. In the human word, human beings hazard themselves. In the word, human beings continually hazard themselves to the glory of God, coming out into the open as a partisan of God. This confession is nothing more than a matter of human service in relation to the history of the covenant that is the meaning and inner basis of creation.

            I now want to approach this theme from four angles. First, the witness and confession claimed from humanity must always bear the character of offering honor to God, and therefore exist without ulterior motive. Second, the required confession occurs when human beings realize that the Christian faith experiences confrontation or questions by unbelief, superstition, or heresy. Such confession occurs in a specific situation not created by us, but a situation that we perceive, and therefore speak. Third, the Christian faith that confesses in this opposition has to be the faith of the Christian community. There are indeed all kinds of private Christian beliefs as well, personal Christian convictions resting on individual experiences and lines of thought. There are also the convictions of distinct groups or whole communities within the Christian community. In the groups around prominent Christian personalities, definite forms of private belief arise. This is a circumstance worthy of all honor, and who of us can say that this private faith is not one to proclaim? We have to consider that the more our faith is such a private faith, the less will its declaration bear the character of genuine confession. Fourth, confession is a free action. Neither calendar nor clock binds confession. When its hour comes, it must occur.

3. Prayer

            Alongside and in all other human activities, humanity must not fail to turn to god, to go directly to God. In its broadest outline, this is the special movement of prayer. God loves humanity and makes common cause with humanity. The distinctive feature of the specific, conscious and express prayer required by the divine commandment is that it takes the form of speech. It is already speaking, even when it is only sighing and stammering. Hence, this is not a matter of mere existence, of a mood, of surrender to a feeling. In all circumstances, prayer is also a matter of human responsibility before God, a responsibility fulfilled in the particular form that humanity has recourse to God in prayer and encounters God as one who prays, because God wills to see and have humanity before God as this praying person and therefore as a free person. However, human beings who pray to God have something to say to God and dares to say it, not because they can, but because God invites and summons them to do so, because God who has spoken to humanity expects human beings in return to speak with God. Whether human beings speak well and badly is unimportant; what matters is that they may speak with God.

            I now want to establish several criteria for true prayer.

            First, the basis of prayer is human freedom before God. To pray is to ask. Prayer is the stating of a privation and desire, the expression of the certainty of finding it satisfied in, from, and through God, the uttering of the request that this may happen. Need does not always teach us to pray. It may also teach us an anxiety that competes with prayer. It may also teach defiance, cursing, and scoffing. It may also teach us to beg. It may also teach resignation. It will teach us to work. Deprivation and desire can lead us past prayer and lead to strange by-ways of self-help. However, awareness of the presence of all blessings and goodness in God will in itself not lead to prayer and therefore to asking. What God wills of human beings is that they shall pray to God, they shall come to God with their requests. God wills this just because prayer recognizes a natural relation between God and humanity. As the creature of God, humanity can only come to God and speak with God as a suppliant. Further, God lets humanity come to God with their requests, and hears and answers them. God lets human beings apply to God in this way, and with that, this should be the case.

            Second, prayer is decisively petition addressed to God. If human beings simply lay their need before God and come to God as a suppliant, they renounce all arbitrariness towards God, confessing that there can be no question either of representing themselves as worthy or of presenting anything worthy to God. When they come to God simply with their request, they come with empty hands. Empty hands are necessary when human beings spread out their hands before God and God fills them. These empty hands God wills of us when God bids us pray to God. Human request strips away all masks and camouflage. Of course, masks are part of the roles we play in life. However, we must step out of those roles. When we strip away the mask, we have nothing but privation and desire that human beings have in various human roles, in function and service. Of course, all human asking takes place in the context of repentance and forgiveness, as well as thankfulness. We do not pray gratefully without also praying with the recognition of the chasm between God and human beings.

            Third, “we” are the people who are with Jesus of Nazareth, who have Christ as their Head, who follow Christ because Christ has summoned, invited and claimed them, whom Christ has summoned to pray with Christ. “We” are the people who are closely united by their common Head and by the command of God, so that even in the solitude of the individual they pray and ask together, praying and asking what is the same thing, and doing so with and on behalf of each other. However, “we” do not form an exclusive circle. On the contrary, “we” are most intimately bound to the human world around us. “We” suggests unity and family among ourselves in order that we may be responsible for the world around us, representing our Lord among them and them before our Lord. The only advantage “we” have over the world around us is that we know that Christ is our Lord and theirs too, and that we may use the access to God that Christ has opened up for both us and them. This “we” takes away the egoistic character that prayer might have in itself as the utterance of personal privation and desire, as this personal asking. This “we” liberates human asking and makes it a genuinely human action.

            Fourth, true prayer is sure of a hearing before God.


Matthew 7:7-10 (NRSV)

7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?


1 John 5:14-15 (NRSV)

14 And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.


Mark 11:22-23 (NRSV)

22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.


James 1:5-7 (NRSV)

5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.


What does faith mean here? It cannot men trying to build a bridge into the darkness and emptiness, or of a titanic movement of defiance. Human beings who really pray, and therefore pray with this assurance of being heard, belongs to the “we,” to the body whose Head is Jesus Christ. However, in “Christ,” in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and therefore in fellowship with Christ, the praying person is not separated from God nor God from Christ. Rather, in Jesus Christ human beings are from eternity bound up with Go0d, and God from eternity with human beings.

            Fifth, we can consider various questions regarding the form of prayer in ethics. True private and public prayer will always have particularity in common. As petition, they will have the character of intercession. This follows both from the nature of the individual praying person as a member of the community, from that of each assembled congregation as a single form of the one ecumenical church in the narrower and wider sense of the term, and from its task in relation to the world, especially the world outside.  It will be a common feature of true private and public prayer that they both have a certain discipline. One such obligation might result from the fact that prayer is not a state, but an act. One can have quiet and silent prayer, and possibly the rule in individual prayer. However, prayer must take shape in definite thoughts and words. It will always be speech, whether silent or vocal. Human beings need to pray much more often than they are capable of freely forming their thoughts and words into prayer. They must continually learn to pray. Further, a request arises when it is close to our hearts. Hence, true prayer may be short. Its basis is the assurance of God hearing the one who prays. Does an obligation also exist concerning definite times and hours of prayers? The pious custom of morning and evening prayer has a solid basis in what is the meaningful alternation of light and darkness. Grace at meals has a solid foundation as a serious expression of human need and decisive divine help in the most vital sphere of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. When we consider all this, we must also say that private and public prayer, if genuine, will necessarily have it in common that they take place in humanity’s free, hearty, and spontaneous obedience.


54. Freedom in Fellowship

As God the Creator calls humanity into a relationship with God, God also directs human beings to other human beings. The divine command affirms in particular that, in the encounter of man and woman, in the relationship between parents and children, and outwards from near to distant neighbors, human beings may affirm, honor, and enjoy relationships with each other.


            Just as God destined human beings for covenant partnership with God, God has also destined human beings for fellowship with each other.

1. Man and Woman

            The first and typical sphere of this fellowship with each other is that between male and female. Human beings do not exist as such, but always as male and female. Hence, in humanity, and therefore in fellowship with other human beings, the decisive, fundamental, and typical question, normative for all other relationships, is that of the relationship in this differentiation.

            Limitation is the first thing that characterizes the encounter between man and woman as the divine command illuminates it. It certainly does no good if we think we must declare that man and wife in union attain to divinity. This is the very thing that they do not do. We must leave them on earth under heaven, in the light of the analogy suggested by Ephesians 5:32, but without raising this analogy either openly or secretly to the dignity of an equation. The limitation is more than sex organs and sexual needs. All this takes place only in the totality of the life of each of the partners, including the whole sphere of their encounter and co-existence: human beings and their fellows, Thou and I as man and woman. The human being claimed by the command of God is man or woman in this integration. Somewhere in the totality of their being, they live out their physical sexual life as well. The command of God claims the whole human being, we have said, and in so doing, it is the decisive sanctification of physical sexuality and the sex relationship. It sanctifies human beings by including sexuality within their humanity, and challenging human beings even in their bodily nature and therefore in their sexual life, in their answering of the problem of sex relationship, to be true human beings. The command of God challenges human beings to be a body, but not only a body; to be the spirit-impelled soul of the body; to be human being with other human beings. The point at issue in the command of God is that in everything, human beings should be obedient. Marriage is chaste, honorable, and truly sexual when the fellowship of the spirit and of love encompasses it, but also of work and of the whole of life with all its sorrows and joys, and when this total life experience justifies at the right time and place this particular relationship. When this context fulfills the relationship, when the environment of total co-existence demands and sustains fulfillment, then and marriage is right and salutary. If it does not take place in this context, it is not chaste, right, or salutary. Coitus without co-existence is demonic.


1 Corinthians 6:16 (NRSV)

16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.”

Ephesians 5:28-31 (NRSV)

28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24 (NRSV)

24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.


Another limitation consists in noting that one cannot exhaustively discuss the ethical question in relation to the sphere of male and female. Marriage is without doubt the telos, goal, and center of the relationship. We may provisionally define it as the form of the encounter of male and female in which the free, mutual, harmonious choice of love on the part of a particular man and woman leads to a responsibly undertaken life-union that is lasting, complete, and exclusive. The ethical question is not primarily or exclusively relevant to man and woman when it is a matter of establishing, concluding, executing and maintaining marriage. They are also man and woman, and as such stand under the command of God, when they are unmarried and have not yet attained this special concrete form of the sexual encounter, when they are widowed or divorced and no longer realize it, and especially when for some reason they can never realize it at all. Entry into the married state, and life within t, is a particular occurrence. It belongs to every human being to be male or female. It also belongs to every human being to be male and female. Man is human, and therefore in relationship with other human beings, as human beings are male or female, male and female. However, it does not belong to every human being to enter into the married state and live in it. The decision to do so is not open to each individual, and there are reasons why it is open to many not to do so. Even then, they are still human beings, and therefore male or female, male and female. The command valid in this sphere, and its promise, apply unconditionally to them.

            We shall not attempt to attain certain insights into the question what the command of God is, what is good and evil, in this sphere of male and female. We may begin with the simplest point that since God created human beings as male or female, and stands before God in this Either-Or, everything that God wills and requires of human beings the implication in this situation contains. It measures the question of good and evil in human conduct. God the Creator requires that human beings are male or female. They should acknowledge their sex instead of trying in some way to deny it. They should rejoice in it rather than have shame of it. They should fruitfully use their potentialities rather than neglect them. They should stick to their limits rather than seek in some way to transcend them. However, what is the man in his sex and the woman in her sex? We cannot characterize man and woman in the form of a definition, but only as we recall that in their very differentiation God has willed and made them in mutual relation and that the divine command has also the dimension or component that in the interests of this relationship they must be true to their specific differentiations. Man and woman is the human creature of God and as such the image of God and likeness of the covenant of grace. This reality is the secure theological knowledge with which we work and with which we must be content. What the command of God wins for man and woman is that they should be faithful to this their human nature and to the special gift and duty indicated in and by it. This means that although we recognize their achievements we definitely reject every phenomenology or typology of the sexes. Each man and woman owes it to themselves and to others to be faithful to their sexual characteristics. We threaten the fellowship when we fail at this point. Of course, this does not mean we can keep any special masculine or feminine standard. Different ages, peoples, and cultures have had very different ideas of what is specifically appropriate, salutary, and necessary in man and woman as such. However, this does not mean that the distinction between masculine and feminine is an illusion. The temptation that we have to see and avoid in this connection may take a very different form. The desire to violate fidelity to one’s own sex does not now think in terms of an exchange with the nature and characteristics of the opposite sex. It aspires beyond its own and the opposite sex to a third and supposedly higher mode of being, possible to both sexes and indifferent to both. That God created human beings as male and female in the image of God means that what God has created can never become a neutral It. They are human beings as they are male and female. All is well so long and so far as man woman are both fully aware of their sexuality and honestly glad of it, thanking God that God has allowed them to be a member of their particular gender and therefore soberly and with a good conscience going the way marked out for them by this distinction. However, things are far from well if man or woman seek to be in a way that their sex becomes indifferent, contemptible, vexatious, or even hateful, a burden that they bear unwillingly and from which they would gladly emancipate themselves as they ask after God and seek to be a human. This flight from living as male or female is the starting-point of the flight from God that inevitably becomes a flight into inhumanity.

            A second principle is that, looking in the opposite direction, we maintain that in obedience to the divine command there is no such thing as a self-contained and self-sufficient male life or female life. In obedience to the divine command, the life of man God orders, relates, and directs to that of the woman, and that of the woman to that of the man.


1 Corinthians 11:11 (NRSV)

11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.


That the man should be with the woman, and the woman with the man, applies to the whole sphere of relationships now under consideration. The primary and fundamental formulation of the relevant command should be that whether in love and marriage or outside this bond, every woman and every man should realize that they are committed to live consciously and willingly in this interrelationship as being in fellowship, and shaping it accordingly. As against this, everything that points in the direction of male or female seclusion, or of religious or secular orders or communities, or of male or female segregation, if it is undertaken in principle and not consciously and temporarily as an emergency measure, is obviously disobedience. These first steps may well be symptoms of the malady called homosexuality. This malady is the physical, psychological, and social sickness, the phenomenon of perversion, decadence and decay, which can emerge when human beings refuse to admit the validity of the divine command in the sense in which we have recently considered.


Romans 1:25-27 (NRSV)

25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.


From the refusal to recognize God, there follows the failure to appreciate human beings individually and in the proper ordering of their lives in relationship to other human beings. The real perversion takes place where human beings will not see the partner of the opposite sex and therefore the primal form of human beings in relationship, refusing to hear the question of this other person, trying to be human in the one gender in self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. The unwillingness to face the human being genuinely other in sexuality constitutes unwillingness to face one’s own humanity.

            The divine command is to orient the sexes on one another. This suggests, first, that they consider each other through knowing about each other with generous hearts, always ready to learn something new, to turn the corner and see something better. Male and female are riddles to each other. To live humanly means never to escape the astonishment of one’s own sexuality and the desire to understand that of the other. This suggests, second, willingness to hear the question the other puts to us. The puzzle the opposite sex implies is practical, obligatory, and human. They put the question to each other in their mutual confrontation.  Woman unsettles man, and man unsettles woman. They ask questions as to otherness. They wonder if the mode of life of the other gender is also genuinely human. If so, can the other disclose himself or herself in a way that I can understand it? This suggests, third, that we make responsible answer to the other. The man must give an account of his humanity to the woman, and the woman must give an account of her humanity to the man. On both sides, everything is at stake. They must fulfill their responsibility. As a norm and criteria, the other sex is either visibly or invisibly present. They elude themselves if they try to escape their orientation on each other.

            A third step with reference to the whole sphere of the relationship of man and woman brings us to the most delicate of the general questions that call for consideration at this point. A definite order controls the disjunction and the conjunction of man and woman, of their sexual independence and sexual interrelationship. As we must not equate the attitude and function of the man and those of the woman, we must take the further step that man and woman stand in sequence. They orient themselves to each other in this way. In this sequence, they are individually and together the human creature as God created them. We have considered this equality of man and woman as carefully as possible in our first two propositions. This man does not enjoy any privilege or advantage over woman, nor is he entitled to any self-glorification. This order simply points him to the position that, if he is obedient, he can occupy only in humanity, taking the lead as the inspirer, leader, and initiator in their common being and action. He can occupy this position as he humbles himself in obedience to the command that concerns them both, as he first frees himself from sexual self-sufficiency and takes seriously his orientation on woman, as he first enters into fellowship with her, as he first bows before the common law of humanity as fellow-humanity. Only as he accepts her as fellow human being, only together with her, can he be the first in his relationship to her. This suggests primacy of service. By protesting and rebelling, it may well be that she has contempt for order with which man offends her so deeply. The real service that she ought to render in this matter she does not perform by the mere fact of her opposing man when he turns order into disorder. This order gives her proper place, and in pride that it is hers, she may and should assume it as freely as man assumes his. She has to realize that she is ordered, related, and directed to man and ahs thus to follow the initiative that he must take. Nor is this a trifling matter. Properly speaking, the business of woman is to actualize the fellowship in which man can only precede her, stimulating, leading, and inspiring. How could she do this alone, without the precedence of man? How could she do it for herself and against him? How could she reflect or envy his precedence, his task and function, as the one who stimulates, leads, and inspires? To which to replace him in this, or do it with him, would be to wish not be a woman. The subordination about which woman is entitled to complain is certainly not that which the divine order envisages, in which she has second place as woman. On the other hand, the establishment of an equality with man might well lead to a state of affairs in which her position is genuinely and irreparably deplorable because both it and that of man are as it were left hanging in the void. If there is a way of bringing man to repentance, the way is that of the woman who refuses to let his disobedience corrupt her and make her disobedient. In spite of his disobedience, she maintains her place in the order even more firmly, inviting him to repentance.


1 Corinthians 14:34 (NRSV)

34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.

Colossians 3:18 (NRSV)

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Ephesians 5:23-24 (NRSV)

23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

1 Timothy 2:11 (NRSV)

11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.

Titus 2:5 (NRSV)

5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

1 Peter 3:1 (NRSV)

Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct,


At the same time, the New Testament offers other advice to men.


Colossians 3:19 (NRSV)

19 Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.

Ephesians 5:25-26 (NRSV)

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,

1 Peter 3:7 (NRSV)

7 Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

1 Timothy 2:8 (NRSV)

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;

Ephesians 5:21 (NRSV)

21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.


The divinely willed order remains the same. Its application to what God requires yesterday and today, there and there, from this man and that, varies, and so does also the content of the conduct that is commanded or forbidden, obedience or disobedient. Ethics can suggest the points of view from which we should ask concerning good and evil in the light of this order. It can indicate the very question that man and woman must answer in this respect, and in the answering of which ethics will see whether they stand in obedience or in disobedience. This task is the one to which we must now briefly address ourselves. The man, confronting woman in accordance with this order and therefore in obedience, is the strong man. Strength here means the man who is conscious of his special responsibility for the maintenance of this order, and engages in practicing it. The obedient man will in his proper place as a man set himself I its service. To the man who is strong in this sense there corresponds, when woman is obedient, the mature woman. The tyrant is always disobedient in relation to this order. The submissive woman in the sense of complacent, flexible, and compliant has no real existence, having no place in the order of the relationship of man and woman. She abuses the order as well. Somewhere in the submissive woman, lies concealed the rebellious woman. In her own way, even the submissive woman illegitimately exercises power over man. By her compliance, she grasps at control over man. Claim meets counter-claim, power meets power, tyrant meets tyrant. We referred to the mature woman. This woman will never put herself in the role of the compliant wife, whether she has to do with the strong or the tyrannical man. She will endorse the strength of the strong man that is the strength of his sense of responsibility and service, and successfully or otherwise, she will negate the tyranny of the tyrant. She will do both because she is an independent element in the order that binds both man and woman. In face of an erring man, the mature woman will not only be sure of herself in her quiet self-restriction, but she will also know her duty and witness towards him. Successfully or otherwise, she is in her whole existence an appeal to the kindness of man. She puts him under obligation to be kind. Such a woman puts man under an obligation. He can take her seriously.

            We now come to the center and telos of this whole complex problems, the problem of marriage. We may define marriage as something that fixes and makes concrete the encounter and interrelation of man and woman in the form of the unique, unrepeatable and incomparable encounter and relationship between a particular man and a particular woman. Their encounter and relationship signifies in this context a life-partnership. This partnership is not partial, but complete. It extends over the whole area of the human existence of both participants. It is on both sides a total receiving and giving. Again, it is not inclusive, but exclusive. No third person can share in it. Again, it is not temporary, but permanent. It lasts as long as the life of both concerned. Its establishment corresponds to its nature and constitution. The characteristic motive for this resolve and act is on both sides a choice of love in which man recognizes woman and woman man as the one and final partner in this fellowship, and they may and must desire and affirm each other, in this special sense and with this special intention. Finally, this life-partnership based on this resolve and act has the character of marriage by the fact that as an event and relationship that has significance for others, that is, a wedding. The wedding accomplishes a definite responsibility to others and with their acknowledgement.

            Our present concern is with the theological and ethical problems presented by marriage.

            First, in the light of the divine command, marriage is for some, as the choice of the unmarried state for others, the matter of a supremely particular divine vocation. It has the character of a special distinction, a special divine calling, a gift and grace. Marriage as a life-partnership is he touchstone whether or not this seeking and striving was and is that of genuine love. Marriage as a life-partnership is therefore the proof of love. In marriage as a life-partnership, it is a matter of repeating in all seriousness the Yes of love.

            Second, in the light of the divine command, they experience the call to be obedient to God, the fulfillment of this life-partnership becomes for them a task, a highly significant work. Focus upon sexuality, male comfort, female domesticity, child, or family as a principle aim of marriage becomes disruptive to the life-partnership God intends.

            Third, in the light of the divine command, marriage is full life-partnership. If the love that lies at its basis is genuine, it willed and wills total and all-embracing fellowship for life. This fact differentiates marriage from other relations between human beings and between man and woman. The man is the head of the woman in the fact that he summons her to the goal of freedom and fellowship.

            Fourth, in the light of the divine command, marriage is an exclusive life-partnership. Marriage is monogamy. In order to understand this principle, we must go back to the fact that true marriage has its origin in the love between one man and one woman. However, love means to choose, selecting this woman or man and no other. Don Juan is not a hero, but a weakling, in the sphere of love. Still following the same thread of thought, we can say that love makes a choice, and thinks and hopes to hit upon a true choice. In the grateful affirmation of the covenant, in the grateful affirmation of the electing grace of God, we say this man or woman, this partner, and no other. Although the Old Testament unthinkingly accepts polygamy, the implication of Genesis 2:18-25, the Song of Songs, and Hosea 1-3, envisage monogamy as true marriage. In the New Testament, polygamy seems to disappear from view. The passages that refer to marriage assume one man and one woman.

            Fifth, in the light of the divine command, marriage is a lasting life-partnership. To enter upon marriage is to renounce the possibility of leaving it. What would marriage really be, if we did not understand it as permanent? It would become association or temporary, a trial period. What would the love be that provided the basis for such a marriage? We would replace love by what is essentially a constant playing at love. The problematic relationship between man and woman has ruling tendency to permanence. It contains in itself the implication of a mutual coordination that the course and vicissitudes of time do not modify. The idea of trial marriage or provisional association, and therefore the whole idea of a temporary marriage, can never do justice to this inherent feature of every such relationship. What has God joined and forbidden to be put asunder? Undoubtedly a life-partnership in marriage that is rooted in a choice of love made under and according to the divine command and which is resolved, concluded and lived out in correspondence with the same command. The marriage that rests upon the command of God and therefore upon the divine calling and gift is something human beings cannot dissolve, even if they wish. In a marriage constituted by God, the indicatives “I am thine” and “Thou art mine” have the stern sound of the imperative that we must accept this “mine” and “thine” “till death us do part.” For the believer, it is still tense and critical. In this, as in other respects, the believer may be sick. The believer may live in a marriage that stands deeply under the shadow of the question whether it might not lack the divine joining. No marriage stands outside this shadow. Nor may we exclude the possibility that the recognition of faith might seriously be recognition of the divine judgment on a specific marriage. God may not have constituted it, and thus, it rests in the judgment of God, and therefore in truth, the couple has never genuinely concluded and established the marriage, in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

            Sixth, in the light of divine command, marriage requires from both participants free and mutual love. The basis of marriage has this human aspect. Two human beings resolve upon the establishment and maintenance of this life-partnership and therefore decide mutually to live in fellowship. Two human beings recognize each other in their reciprocal adaptation to be partners with each other in the specific sense of this life in fellowship. Two human beings choose each other as partners in this most intimate relationship. Two human beings love each other, with the love that has aimed at the fellowship in which the one wills to be the partner of the other and to accept the other as partner, in this undertaking. In this specific and mutual recognition, choice, and love of two human beings of opposite sexes, a marriage continually rises. The controlling element of love as thus defined is self-evidently that it has in view the divine joining of the two concerned. It thus intends something that only God can know about these two and do for them. It aims at something that is not under human control. It ventures something that we can venture only in faith in the divine wisdom and grace.

            Seventh, in the light of the divine command, its eventuality must have the character of a responsible act outwards in relation to those around. The genesis of marriage is an event in virtue of which the two partners joined enter in a new relationship to those around them, and the latter adopt a new relationship to them. In relationship to others, they are no longer these two individuals. They are now a married couple. Their transition from affection to love and marriage means that there has eventuated in the framework of the civil and ecclesiastical society to which they belong the foundation of a distinct and special circle, a family, a new sociological unity that can be broadened by the addition of children. a new life-cell has been formed in the structure of the whole. Those who enter and live in marriage must be clear that it implies a decision from this standpoint too. One cannot carry through on marriage as a purely private undertaking. Even the smallest cottage of the happiest of lovers cannot be habitable inside unless it has at least a door and a few windows opening outwards. At some point, it finds itself implicated in affinities and friendships as part of the Christian and civil community. The external form symbolizes this outward responsibility of marriage, and from this standpoint, it includes the institutional act and status of marriage. The equation of marriage with the wedding ceremony is a dreadful and deep-rooted error. Two people may be formally married and fail to live a life that one can seriously regard as married life. It may happen that two people are not married and yet in their precarious way live under the law of marriage. A wedding is only the regulative confirmation and legitimation of a marriage before and by society. It does not constitute marriage. Here, we touch upon the fundamental mistake in the traditional doctrine of marriage. It despises love, with all the inevitable consequences, because in relation to the genesis of marriage it looks only outwards to the institutional character of marriage, to the actual ceremony. The transition of two persons from love to marriage does in fact demand public advertisement and recognition and a definite form. How can two persons try to achieve this transition without confessing themselves to the world around as two who have become one, acknowledging their obligation towards it? How can they try to be a couple without coming forward and acting in society as such, and without others addressing and treating them as such? The act of marriage has first a domestic aspect. It normally signifies for young married people on both sides a broadening of the relationship in which the stand to their parents as children. The act of marriage has a legal side. The state demands notification, ratification and official proclamation of a real marriage. It makes the recognition of its legitimacy dependent on the fact that it corresponds with state ordinances and that the contracting parties respect its authority in the obtaining of state recognition for the validity of their marriage. Even ethically, the state has a right to demand this. It does so as the authorizing and authorized power of civil, that is, general human society within which marriage forms a special unity. Even the declaration of the state cannot constitute marriage. The act of marriage has finally an ecclesiastical side. The conclusion of a Christian marriage has the character of an event in the Christian community.

            I now want to look back over the whole path we have taken. What does it mean to keep the command of God? Who is really free and righteous in this sphere?

            The first answer is that one keeps the command who acknowledges its validity as a command in its exact formulation and total range at every point in which it concerns self and others, with full strictness and in its indissoluble unity. However, we must add that one keeps the command who allows others say of one that in any event one is at fault in relation to it, that one is its transgressor and an adulterer in the strict sense of the term.

            We might find some help in this area of we focus on the woman caught in the act of adultery.


John 8:3-11 (NRSV)

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”


When Jesus wrote on the ground, the most obvious explanation of this striking action is that Jesus indicates what did on Sinai.


Exodus 34:1 (NRSV)

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke.

Deuteronomy 4:13 (NRSV)

13 He declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets.


Jesus proclaims himself to be the Author and Expositor of the command that arraigns and condemns to death is adulteress. However, the Pharisees refuse to recognize both the Lawgiver and the divine laws. When he stoops down he again, we might remember another Old Testament text.


Jeremiah 17:1-3 (NRSV)

 The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts, and on the horns of their altars, 2 while their children remember their altars and their sacred poles, beside every green tree, and on the high hills, 3 on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your sin throughout all your territory.


His judgment is to pardon the adulterer. What does this Law imply? Certainly, this does not imply that this woman has not sinned and is not guilty and culpable. However, obviously in accordance with this pardon that the merited death sentence God has already pronounced and executed, it has fallen on another in her place and thus fulfilled the merited death sentence. Hence, it would not merely be useless but unjust to allow her to bear it over again. Jesus delivered her. He takes in all seriousness both the Law of God and the sin of this woman by substituting Himself for the transgressor and exculpating her. Why have the Pharisees departed? Their fault was not that they were not without sin, but that they were just as guilty and culpable as the adulterer was. Hence, the conclusion of the message of Jesus to the adulteress is, “Go, and sin no more.” The summons is that from now on she may live as a transgressor whom God raises up and directs by the judgment of the gracious God. Even in her condition as a sinner, she stands under the powerful impulsion of her translation in Christ into the condition of eternal righteousness, innocence and blessedness.  Even in the irreparable disorder of her life, she is already orientated towards the order of the divine kingdom. Even within the limits of what is beyond her power to alter, she is already willing and doing what she in fact can and must will and do in virtue of the promise made to her. Because of this counter-action, there had to be for her a henceforth. It meant a change that she had stood alone with Jesus in that circle, that she was subject to His judgment and that Christ pardoned her. “Henceforth to sin no more” means that now, when Jesus has pronounced the verdict and others have heard it, one must not live as though no one pronounced it and heard it, or, more positively, one must live as one who in all his or her uncleanness is sanctified by the preaching and hearing of this verdict.

            When humanity encounters the command of God, the encounter reveals its transgression. However, this judgment that none can escape is the wonderful judgment of divine grace. The command of God reveals the transgression as something alien. The command implies that God is rich in mercy toward humanity in spite of sin and in opposition to it. It implies that God is for humanity. Thus, the judgment of the grace of God will never allow humanity to come to terms and rest content with the fact that humanity is a sinner. 

            Because this is the case, we must say finally that in the light of the command of God, the sphere of the relationships of man and woman as they are embodied and lived out among us human beings is not simply a labyrinth of errors and failings, a morass of impurity, or a vale of tears at disorder and distress. By the grace of God, there are always in this sphere individual means of conversation and rescue, of deliverance and restoration, assured points and lines even where everything seems to vacillate and dissolve elements of order in the midst of disorder. If there is no perfect marriage, there are marriages that, for all their imperfection, the couple can maintain and carry through with promise and joyfulness, undertaken in all sincerity as a work of free life-fellowship. They can have loyalty even in the midst of disloyalty and constancy amid open inconstancy. They can have genuine, strong, and whole-hearted love even in relationships that cannot flower in regular marriage, but which in all their fragmentariness are not mere sin and shame, and do not wholly lack the character of marriage. God who commands does not only judge and forgive; God also helps and heals.

2. Parents and Children

            When human beings hear the command of God in this sphere, it means that God directs the children to assume a definite attitude of subordination in relation to their parents.


Exodus 20:12 (NRSV)

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 5:16 (NRSV)

16 Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Colossians 3:20 (NRSV)

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord.

Ephesians 6:1 (NRSV)

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Proverbs 30:17 (NRSV)

17 The eye that mocks a father

and scorns to obey a mother

will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley

and eaten by the vultures.

Romans 1:30 (NRSV)

30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents,

2 Timothy 3:2 (NRSV)

2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,


The New Testament describes those who try to evade and resist the mission that parents have to exercise towards them. The subordination required of them includes all that we call respect, gratitude, compliance and piety. However, the nerve of the whole is always this willingness to learn. This honor is required of children in relation to their parents. The superiority that entitles them to this specific respect from their children consists in their mission. The superiority that demands this respect consists in the correspondence of their parenthood to the being and action of God. God alone is truly Father. No human father is the creator of his child, the controller of its destiny, or its savior from sin, guilt, and death. No human father is by his word the source of its temporal and eternal life. In this proper sense, God is Father. God is so as the Father of mercy, as the Father of the Son. However, of the grace of this Father human fatherhood exists as well. What parents have to say and show to their children cannot suffice to establish their authority over them. God alone is true wisdom and the true teacher, guide, and educator. However, the fact that God is this gives competence to earthly fathers and mother who, with their modes experience, wisdom, and knowledge, are set as elders over their children. Each stage of life will have its own way of honoring parents – small child, adolescent, and adult. However, we have not yet considered a more difficult reservation with regard to the command and the obedience required by it. It is not self-evident that parents will make plain to the child their mission as teachers, advisers and guides, that they will stand convincingly before it as representatives of God, that they will be able to elicit and justify the respect that the child owes to them. There are weak, foolish, self-seeking, flippant and tyrannical parents. Indeed, even the best parents have their limitations and failings, and eventually, these must become obvious to the most compliant child, and give it reason to pause. The honor due parents does not depend upon the ability of the parents to accred themselves to their children as representatives of God. However, if parents fail in their duty and become an offence, the situation becomes difficult. The child could imitate the parents. The child could become self-righteous. The child may transfer the disillusionment they experience with their parents to God. However, the child still owes obedience, for the resistance felt may be nothing more than defiance of the plain duty to obey.

            Some parts of the New Testament bring an ethical demand that may lead a child to resist parents.


Mark 3:31 (NRSV)

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.

John 2:4 (NRSV)

4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

Matthew 10:21 (NRSV)

21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;

Luke 9:59 (NRSV)

59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Mark 10:29 (NRSV)

29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,

Luke 14:26 (NRSV)

26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.


We can say little more than these exceptional cases of relations between parent and child. When we think we are involved in such a crisis, we should continually test whether this is really the case. Further, the genuineness of such an extraordinary vocation can be known with some accuracy by the fact that we did not seek it, that we were the first to resist it as something strange, that we would rather not obey but would sincerely prefer not to deviate from the normal relation to our parents.

            Human beings can be father or mother. A husband a wife can together become parents. Their relationship to their children in the light of the divine command is the second point that must now occupy our attention. Of course, there are people who do not become parents. They must set their hope on God. To raise children is a beautiful and promising thing, but we must not seek the end and purpose of human life in this, as all too happy parents would often have it, since the meaning of this activity is only earthly and temporal. One may live for God and one’s fellows in a very different way. We might raise a further question concerning birth control. Sexual intercourse as the physical completion of life-partnership in marriage can always be an offer of divine goodness made by the One who even in this last time does not will that it should be all up with us. Hence, every act of intercourse that is technically obstructed or interrupted, or undertaken with no desire for children, is a refusal of this divine offer, a renunciation of the widening and enriching of married fellowship that is divinely made possible by the fact that under the command of God this fellowship includes sexual intercourse.

            We make the simplest statement as the meaning of parental responsibility when we say that the parents’ responsibility is to give their children the opportunity to encounter the God who is present, operative, and revealed in Jesus Christ, to know Christ and to learn to love and fear Christ. The greatest and smallest things, the most serious and the most trivial, which can happen between parents and children, can become for parents an occasion to present to their children this opportunity. No one else has so many manifold and intimate occasions to put this opportunity before another human being as do parents in relation to their children. No one against has these occasions at a period that is so formative and usually so decisive and fundamental. Parents must not miss this time and its opportunities. Parents have to remember that it is a time that does not last. They may be present only for a restricted period. Similarly, the life of their children may come to a sudden end. In any case, their youth will end. A youth will leave his or her father and mother and cleave to the spouse. The youth enters an independent path. The opportunities of fulfilling this responsibility towards the youth then become increasingly rare, and cease to be as direct as they were. The whole special relationship will sooner or later come to an end. What will its content then have been? Parents must seriously address this question to themselves before it is too late. Parents have to consider that their task is limited in the further sense that it cannot amount to more than offering their children opportunities.

            Finally, we have to remember the theme of our last and detailed discussion in relation to children. Evil spirits, their own sins and those of others and those of their children themselves, may come between them and the latter. However, Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God with its distinctive and extraordinary claims and constraints, may come between parent and child. Parents may not be able to understand and they may even rebel, because these claims apparently lead their children away from them and because humanly speaking, they lay upon parents a costly sacrifice. Conversely, it may be they themselves who for some such unusual reason are led away from their children and can no longer fulfill towards them the demands of honor and obligation as they would like and normally should.

3. Near and Distant Neighbors

            In relation to the person addressed by the command of God, we can say first that near neighbors actually confront this person, by some form of race or people. Second, we can say that since the command affects the whole person, it inevitably calls the person to obedience and sanctifies the person to the extent that the person stands in these relationships. With the near neighbor, one shares language, geography, and common history. the command of God must be master, and all historical interpretations and notions, all other considerations, all economic, political, social, cultural and even religious evaluations of the situation must be mastered and not try to play the master. In all its particularity, the history of each people points beyond itself. In all its singularity and concreteness, it is also the history of humanity. It is this in a provisional and limited form. However, it is it genuinely. Since the confrontation of near and distant neighbors is reversible, fluid, and removable, this means that it is not original or final. It is not a natural and necessary confrontation.

55. Freedom for Life

As God the Creator calls humanity to God and turns human beings to their fellow human beings, God orders human beings to honor their own lives and that of every other human being as a loan, and to secure it against all caprice, in order that it may be used in this service and in preparation for this service.

1. Respect for Life

            God commands humanity to live rightly according to the instruction of the command. God always lives. God is always God in these relationships. God is so as this human being in which God claims human beings for God and fellow-human beings. Philosophers often struggle for the fundamental orientation of ethics in a concept of life. In theological ethics, the concept of life cannot receive this tyrannical and totalitarian function. However, this does not mean we can ignore it. Our own premise is as follows.

            First, God determines that a person exists and that persons do so as the creature distinct from God. The creaturely existence of humanity is not the property of the individual. Life is on loan. Human beings hold their lives in trust. Human beings do not control life. Life is in the service of God. Second, God claims human knowledge and action. To exist as a human being in this distinction of soul and body is to live in this order. Third, as God addresses human beings, God acknowledges and reveal them as particular individuals. Fourth, as God addresses human beings, God acknowledges that the person exists in time, a movement from a past through a present into a future. Fifth, as God addresses human beings, this individual life has a definite origin. Sixth, we remember the human determination of human freedom before God. Seventh, the other determination is freedom in fellowship. We could also have an eighth point on the connection and unity of human life with that of animals and plants, and therefore with life generally. We this presuppose the concept of life as defined in this way.

            We may attempt a general formulation. The freedom for life to which human beings is summoned by the command of God is the freedom to treat as a loan both the life of all people with one’s own and one’s own with that of all people. First, we need to understand the extent to which there also exists under the command an obedience and freedom in respect of human existence. Second, by the existence of humanity, we understand both one’s own life and the similar life of all others. Third, the command takes place in light of the divine decree. Fourth, human beings are alive as they receive a divine benefit. Fifth, the blessing of life is a divine loan unmerited by humanity. Sixth, the command is a matter of human treatment of this loan. We do not see the wood for the trees if we do not see that from the point of view of Christian theology we have here a particular problem. From the good pleasure of God, God has an interest in this human being, who in its distinctive unity of soul and body is in its own time alive through spirit, in individuality and freedom, and with an orientation on God and solidarity with other human beings. Human beings is obviously at issue when the eternal God, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, turns to the creature and is graciously engaged in its preservation and overruling, making God the companion of its history. human beings are obviously the object of the decree that precedes all existence, of the eternal election of God through grace. Human beings are obviously the partner in the covenant whose institution and fulfillment provides the meaning and center of all creaturely existence. The fact that God did not become identical with the totality, or with specific beings within it, but with human beings when God became flesh in Jesus Christ, is the execution of the divine choice and divine decree and the fulfillment of the divine covenant at the hart and as the meaning of all creaturely existence. God stand by humanity. We now turn to the specific theme of this first sub-section – respect for life. Those who handle life as a divine loan will above all treat it with respect. However, what does respect for life mean? We have spoken of astonishment, humility, awe, modesty, circumspection, and carefulness.

            First, respect for life means an adoption of the distance proper in face of a mystery. What is important is that each human being should exist as this rational creature, attentively, unreservedly, and loyally confessing the human existence in willing responsibility to the One to whom the individual owes it. We live in obedience intentionally, resolutely, with a plan, and with responsibility. We cannot and must not seriously tire of life. For it is always an offer waiting for the will of a human being, determination, and readiness for action. This is real respect for life. A life that one does not affirm and will, which is irresolute, irresponsible, and inactive, is necessarily a life without mystery.  We must also show that the commanded respect for life includes as awareness of its limitations. The explicit biblical form of the command is “Thou shall not kill,” in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. What respect for life demands finds a clear expression in this formula. We must consider human life as given by God for a specific purpose and set under divine protection, and therefore one must treat it with holy awe. We may not the clear-cut reason for the this command in Genesis 9:8, “For in the image of God, God made humanity.” We shall have to speak in this sub-section of the way in which the commandment protects human life against arbitrary and wicked extinction. However, this protective aspect obviously implies the positive fact that according to the command of God it may live as human life. In correspondence with its psychophysical structure, human life is always first a life of impulses. Respect for life means to admit that the animal impulses should be given their rights within their essential limitations and until there is a clear command to the contrary. It means daily mercy and resolute justice to all human life, which in this simplest sense stands always under the threat of being cut short. It consists in granting to the other the same as one grants to oneself, and indeed in a readiness to grant the individual also that which one can and must renounce oneself. At this point, we may insert what we can say about the attitude of humanity to beasts and plants. The world of animals and plants forms the indispensable living background to the living-space divinely allotted to human beings and placed under human control. As they live, so can the individual. Humanity is not lord over the earth, but lord on the earth that God has already furnished with these creatures. Animals and plants do not belong to human beings, but to God. However, human beings take precedence of them. God provided them for the use of human beings. They are the means of life for human beings.


Proverbs 12:10 (NRSV)

10 The righteous know the needs of their animals,

but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.


Respect for the fellow-creature of humanity, created with humanity on the sixth day and so closely related to humanity, means gratitude to God for the gift of so useful and devoted a comrade. Human beings translate this gratitude into a careful, considerate, friendly and above all understanding treatment of it, in which they take sympathetic account of its needs and the limits of its possibilities. We now return to the question of respect for life in the human sphere. In its form as the will to live, it will also include the will to be healthy. Health is the strength to be as human beings. It serves human existence in the form of the capacity, vitality, and freedom to exercise the psychical and physical functions, just as these themselves are only functions of human existence.

            We have now to go the two most difficult questions in this sphere. We may begin by saying that sickness is not an illusion, even though illusory sickness exists. If we seethe problem of psychical and physical health and sickness properly in its unity, and this unity itself from a higher standpoint, we can regard and treat the victim of imaginary ailments as one who is very ill, although not in the way that they think. The one aspect that dominates the field in the Old and New Testament Scriptures is the one in which sickness is a forerunner and messenger of death, and indeed of death as the judgment of God and the merited subjection of humanity to the power of nothingness in virtue of its sin. From this standpoint, sickness is unnatural and disorderly. It is an element in the rebellion of chaos against the creation of God. The command of God is still in force, namely that human beings must will to live, to be healthy, and to exercise strength as a human beings and the remaining psycho-physical forces that they have for their purpose, and thus to maintain themselves. A right deduction we can draw form the fact that sickness is real as an element and sign of the power of chaos and nothingness, and therefore as an element and sign of the judgment of God falling on humanity. The right deduction is that all resistance to sickness, all human willing of the strength to be as human beings, all human affirmation, cultivation and promotion of the vital forces of body and soul, is necessarily in vain if God is not God. Human willing and acting with God, and in orientation on God, and with faith and prayer to God, has the promise that human beings cannot lack, and the fulfillment of which they will soon see, if they will simply obey without speculation. Those who take up this struggle obediently are already healthy in the fact that they do so, and theirs is not empty desire when they will to maintain or regain their health. However, the fact is undeniable that sickness has another aspect. For health is a temporal and limited possession. God health entrusts health to human beings, but it does not belong to human beings. Sickness has in deep concealment another form in divine benevolence. We do not capitulate to sickness or the realm of death shown in it. Sickness, in so far as it is still present, the impairing, disturbing, and destroying of life in so far as these are an event and cannot be removed by faith, prayer, courageous fighting, have therefore to be borne in the sense that God brings them into what God wills from and with humanity. In this line of thought, since sickness comes from God, it cannot be evil, but only good, and cannot finally be pain, but only joy.

            Joy! When we say this, we utter a key word that we must take up in its own context and which will lead us a step further. The will for life is also the will for joy, delight, and happiness. What does joy mean? Our starting-point is the fact that life is movement in time. Life is the movement of continual striving and desire for small or great ends, for new or distant goals, as guided by specific ideas, wishes, relationships, obligations and hopes. Joy is one of the forms in which this movement pauses for a moment or a few moments on its subjective side. People experience fulfillment in this movement in the self-consciousness in which one accompanies one’s own existence. People have joy when they welcome an event because they at some level wanted it. People have joy when they reach a goal. People have joy when their lives as movement in time lead them to a point where it offers itself as a gift. In joy, life smiles at such people with friendliness. Joy is the simplest form of gratitude. When we are joyful, time stands still for a moment because it has fulfilled its meaning as the space of our life-movement and, engaged in this movement, we have attained in one respect at least the goal of our striving. The greater our joy is, the more unnecessary it will seem to us that there should be more time and movement. To be joyful is to expect that life will reveal itself as the gift of the grace of God, which it will present and offer itself in provisional fulfillments of its meaning and intention as movement. In further consideration of the question of the joy demanded, we can also that we can have joy only as we give it to others. Like health, joy is asocial matter. To be sure, life is a gift to each person. However, it becomes real to each person in relationship with other human beings. Since our creaturely life belongs to God who gives it to us, and to God who sustains our lives through mercy, we do not have the power to discover conclusively what constitutes the real pleasure of our real life, and in what the fulfillments that summon us to gratitude actually consist. We think we should seek them here or there because this thing or that appears as light or alleviation, as warmth, benefit, refreshment, consolation and encouragement. It promises us renewal and the attainment of that which hovers before us as the true goal of all that we do and refrain from doing. However, do we really know this true goal and therefore our true joy? God knows it. God decides it. However, this means that our will for joy, our preparedness for it, must be wide open in the direction of the divine unknown and obscure disposing, if it is to be the right and good preparedness commanded in this matter.  Joy is a provisional fulfillment of life received with gratitude. Everything that we recognize and experience as joy now is a provisional fulfillment. Our joy has its proper seat in anticipatory joy. Our joy is actually anticipatory joy even when it exists in its supreme form. The whole of life is provisional. One can live it only in expectation of eternal life as union with the eternal life of God. The same is also true of the great and small expectations in which we may continually rejoice, and of their more or less complete fulfillments. The affirmation of lfie is supreme responsibility. Fulfilled in this way as an act of obedience, it establishes, fashions and confirms as it should the particular, individual and personal character of humanity.

            Character is not the more or less sharp outline of the I that people think they can have and know of themselves. People acquire character in the history of their lives. Character is a work of the grace of God on people. People can acquire it in a different and difficult struggle than the one against strange influences, external authorities, and so on, can ever be. People can acquire character in a struggle in which they must take the field against self and press on to freedom. Character is the struggle of the Spirit against the flesh and for the soul, which one must save at all costs. In this struggle, we form character. “Become what you are,” means that we must grow into our character. We must accept the outline of our particular form of life, the manner of existence that in our special struggle of the Spirit against the flesh will emerge more clearly as our own, as the one that God intends for us, as the form of the life allotted and let to us by God. For in this form we are what we are. We are thus committed to this form. To will to be in this form is an obedient willing, in perfect humility and courage, carrying with it the promise of fulfillment. Character is the particular form in which God commands each to be. Character is the distinctive molding and determining of the course and form of life from the center of the Thou as which they are addressed by God. This address and this Thou indelibly characterizes their lives within the current of all creaturely being, so that they are these particular individuals. The original character of each, as the discipline of this nature and distinctive molding of their course of life in the sense described, is open, because their origin before God is a living being and event. God lives, speaks, and guides, and therefore human beings live before God and their character has a history in which for all its mutability there is increase, decrease, change, and novelty, in which this particularity is always in process of coming, and will fully come into the open in the eternal consummation. If human beings regard their character as a final magnitude that they can survey and dispose, and conduct themselves accordingly – God made me this way! – they confuse it with their nature, the soul with the small ego. The Thou – I, the soul that lives by the Spirit of God, the real self, is for all its continuity, discipline and molding continually on the way to new shores, and will only have and know itself, take itself seriously and express itself on this voyage. For who really knows themselves? Who has not continually to discover themselves afresh? Who will ever cease to do this? In this respect, too, we must consider the truth that “it doth not yet appear what we shall be,” in I John 3:2.

            Finally, the original character of people as I have described it reveals itself in the specific service one renders. For the sake of the particular love of God toward individuals and their special service they render, individuals may be what they are and be faithful to themselves. The most touching and powerful fidelity that anyone might vow and keep to themselves is the greatest infidelity if it tries to be anything but the necessary form of objectivity with which as a creature they must place themselves at the disposal of their creator.

            We conclude our survey of the will for life by defining it boldly as the will for power. We mean by this our determination to make use of our capacity, to come to grips with the advancements and hindrances of life that impinge upon us from without, exploiting the former and resisting or at least enduring the latter. This capacity belongs to the actuality of life. As God calls people to life, as long as God addresses people as a living person, God wills that people should not neglect this capacity, the power, strength, and force that God has given them, but affirm, will, and accept it.


Isaiah 40:29-31 (NRSV)

29 He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 118:17 (NRSV)

17 I shall not die, but I shall live,

and recount the deeds of the Lord.


The power that God commands humanity to affirm, will, and use is one we can recognize with the following criteria. First, God gives this power to humanity with the loan of life. To live is to be able to do what is necessary for life. Life consists in the actualization of this ability. To accomplish this actualization is the task given to humanity. Second, the power that humanity may will and use is always the power that God has given to the individual. Third, a further element in the power that humanity should desire and exercise is that it possesses the character of something necessary to it. No general concept of the power that is necessary to humanity exists. However, in this question of what is necessary, we do have a clear guiding principle in the concept of service. Service means decisive liberation from all empty hunger for power and its empty and in the end false satisfaction. The will to power preserves those engaged in service, those who have and who live in a vocation in the wider sense. Engaged as they are, they know what they need and do not want what they do not. They have a task in the discharge of which they must know, master, and control, not all things, but certain things. Because of their task, this knowledge is vitally necessary, being part of the daily bread for which they must ask but also work. There are several kinds of service, vocation, and commission. Hence, even from this standpoint, we cannot say what is necessary to all. Each must choose and will resolutely the power that they need to be faithful and obedient in their own place. They not only may be but also must choose and will it, even though it may seem odd and strange as compared with what others must choose and will. They live in this service, vocation, and commission. They have the wisdom to choose what is necessary to it, and finally the resolution to will it, a power deriving no less than its fulfillment from God, so that here, too, their relation to God is the ultimate criterion of all criteria. Fourth, the kind of power that is necessary for each of us, we must leave in the hands of God. When humanity stands in the service of God, it must be able sometimes to be still, to wait, to keep silence, to suffer and therefore to be without the other kind of capacity. For certain people in a certain service at a certain hour, this may be the ability that that require and the power that they must choose. The choice and desire will not be self-evident, nor will hey be easy. However, the moments and situations when their path brings them round a sharp corner into their modest sphere of silence and lack decides the true wisdom and resolution of people in their other choices and desires. It may well be that the real quality of the power given to people can only emerge in this realm where it seems to be impotence. At any rate, the power that we ought to will has also the form in which it emerges in this realm. For the power of God, reflected in the power that God gives to humanity, is the power of Jesus Christ, and therefore the power of the Lamb as well as the Lion, of the cross as well as the resurrection, of humiliation as well as exaltation, of death as well as life. To this there corresponds the way in which God gives power, ability and capacity to humanity. The power that comes from God is the capacity to be high or low, rich or poor, wise or foolish. It is the capacity for success or failure, for moving with the current or against it, for standing in the ranks or for solitariness. For some it will usually be only the one, for others only the other, but usually it will be both for all of us in rapid alternation. In each case, however, it will be true capacity, the good gift of God, ascribed to each as needed in the service of God.

2. The Protection of Life

            “Thou shalt not kill,” is the commandment. It maintains that humanity is to become the murder of other human beings. It offers protection to human life against willful and wanton extinction. Human life belongs to God. Human life is a loan and blessing from God. For God has accepted it in Jesus Christ. Therefore, respect is due to it as well as protection against every callous negation and destruction. Of course, the negation and destruction of human life is something we may regard as legitimate and even imperative. Human life has no absolute greatness or supreme value. The required protection of life must take into account its limitation in relation to that which one must protect. The difficult problem is the exceptional case.

            Suicide is a specific and exceptional case. From a general perspective, people can expose their lives to possible danger. They can bring their continued existence under a threat that they may not themselves will or execute, which comes from without, but for which they are responsible because they fail to avoid the danger. They can cause themselves to die in both blatant and unobtrusive ways. Temporal life is not the highest of all goods. Just because it belongs to God, human beings cannot will its continuation at all costs. Wanting to live on at all costs is a sinful desire. If life is not the highest possession, it surely is the highest price one can pay. Beyond bringing themselves into possible danger of their lives, people may take the ultimate course of deliberately taking their lives. Suicide is a last and most radical means of procuring for oneself justice and freedom. To deprive people of their lives is a matter for the One who gave life. The forgiveness of God is no excuse for sin. The bible does not forbid suicide, although it presents four cases.


1 Samuel 31:4-5 (NRSV)

4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him.

2 Samuel 17:23 (NRSV)

23 When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order, and hanged himself; he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.

1 Kings 16:18 (NRSV)

18 When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house; he burned down the king’s house over himself with fire, and died—

Matthew 27:5 (NRSV)

5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:16-17 (NRSV)

16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

Acts 1:25 (NRSV)

25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”


            We now turn to situations in which we have the killing of one person by another. One exception is abortion. Our first contention must be that no pretext can alter the fact that the whole circle of those concerned is in the strict sense engaged in the killing of human life. For the unborn child is from the very first a child. It is still developing and has no independent life. However, it is a human being and not a thing, nor a mere part of the body of the mother. The embryo has its own autonomy, its own brain, its own nervous system, and its own blood circulation. If the life of the mother affects the life of the child, it also affects her life. It can have its own illnesses in which the mother has no part. Conversely, it may be quite healthy even though the mother is seriously ill. It may die while the mother continues to live. It may also continue to live after its mother’s death. It short, it is a human being in its own right. Those who kill germinating life kills a person and thus ventures the monstrous thing of decreeing concerning the life and death of a fellow human being whose life God has given and therefore belongs to God. Such a person discharges a divine office by daring to have the last word on at least the temporal form of the life of this fellow human being. Those directly or indirectly involved cannot escape this responsibility. Whatever arguments one may bring against the birth and existence of the child, is it the fault of the child that it is here? What has the child done to mother or others that deserves death? The defenselessness and helplessness of the one denied a future even before the first breath ought to thwart their will to use their power. Moreover, this child is a human being for whose life the Son of God has died, for whose unavoidable part in the guilt of all humanity and future individual guilt God has already paid the price. The true light of the world shines already in the darkness of the womb. Yet, they want to kill the child deliberately because certain reasons that have nothing to do with the child, favoring the view that the child had better not be born. Is there any emergency that can justify this? Until we put the question in all its gravity, a serious discussion of the problem cannot even begin, let alone lead to serious results. At issue in abortion is the violation of the sanctity of human life, an issue always present when killing occurs callously and thoughtlessly. The only thing that can help is the power of a wholly new feeling of awe at the mystery of all human life as God commands this as its creator, giver, and Lord. Legal prohibitions and restrictions of a civil, moral, and supposedly spiritual kind are obviously inadequate to instill this awe into people. Nor does mere church membership provide the atmosphere in which this awe can thrive. One cannot possibly maintain that there is no forgiveness for this sin, of course. God sees, understand, and loves modern people in spite of all the dreadful confusions and entanglements of the collective and individual existence, including this one.

            Of course, the problem is the exception. Human life is not an absolute, so that, while the commandment protects it, it can be so only within the limits of the will of God who issues it. Life cannot claim the right of preservation in all circumstances, whether in relation to God or to other people. In the case of the unborn, the mother, father, doctor and all concerned, can desire only its life and healthy birth. How can they possibly will the opposite? They can do so only on the presupposition of their own blindness towards life, in bondage to the opinion that they must live rather than that, they may live, and therefore out of anxiety, which suggests lack of grace and life without God. Sometimes, people must make a choice for the protection of life, one life balanced against another. The life of neither mother nor child has an absolute right in such circumstances.

            Does society have the right to declare that certain sick people are unfit to live and therefore to resolve their annihilation? Euthanasia raises a whole complex of problems, the central insight being that it is for God to make an end of human life. Humanity should help in this only when they have a specific and clear command from God.

            We now come to the problem of legitimate or illegitimate killing in self-defense. We understand by this the resistance that a person offers to the unjustified assault of another on self or a third party, and in the process of which one kills the assailant. When God has so strictly disciplined, so thoroughly disarmed, and so clearly pointed to peace, we may receive from the Lord orders that lead us beyond this line. Finally, we may also ask the detailed question whether this is permissible when it is not so much a matter of the required helping of others or the legitimate protection of law and order, but of the commanded preservation of one’s own life or other possessions.

            We now come to the problem of capital punishment. We begin by admitting that it is good and salutary that self-defense occur through the constitution and law, and that thus society should represent the individual victim in a case against the attacker. We can refer to three well-known theories. One is to protect society against the criminal and possibly imitators of his or her action. Two is that society delivers this punishment because the committed violation of the law demands retribution. Three is that punished criminal may lead to acknowledgment of error and incite the criminal to future amendment. If the command to protect life is something we accept and assert in some sense in a national community, then it is impossible to maintain capital punishment as an element in its normal and continuing order. Based on the command of God, we must reject and oppose capital punishment as the legally established institution of a stable and peaceful state. Nevertheless, this does not mean that capital punishment is something society can exclude or forbid in all forms and circumstances.

            We conclude this discussion with the exception of war. First, everyone is a military person in modern society, in that everyone participates in the suffering and action that war demands. Second, war has the concern for the acquisition and protection of material interests. Third, the main goal in war is neutralize the forces of the enemy. War is an action in which the nation and all its members engage in killing. Killing in war is a killing of those who for the individuals fighting in the service of the nation can be enemies only in the sense that they have to wage war in the service of their country. Finally, killing in war calls in question the whole morality and obedience to the command of God in all its dimensions. A first essential is that one should not recognize war as a normal part of what on the Christian view constitutes the just state. The state possesses such power. It does this, recognizing that the exercise of power constitutes the essence of the state. Christian ethics insists that war is an alien work of the state. The state does not have the blanket right to mass slaughter in its dealings with other states. Christian ethics insists that such mass slaughter is mass murder. The church and theology have to make this detached movement. What Christian ethics has to emphasize is that neither inwardly nor outwardly does the normal task of the state, which is at issue even in time of war, consists in a process of annihilating rather than maintaining and fostering life. A peace that is no real peace can make war inevitable. Hence, the first point that Christian ethics must make in this matter is that the state should fashion peace while there is still time that it will not lead to this explosion. It wants to make war superfluous and unnecessary. Pacifists and militarists usually agree in the fact that for them, the fashioning of peace as the fashioning of the state for democracy, and of democracy for social democracy, is a secondary concern as compared with rearmament or disarmament. It is for this reason that Christian ethics must be opposed to both. Neither rearmament nor disarmament can be a first concern, but the restoration of an order of life that is meaningful and just. The church can raise its voice against the institution of standing armies in which the officers constitute a permanent danger to peace. It can resist all kinds of hysterical or premature war scares. It exists in this age. Christian ethics does not have a commission to proclaim that war is avoidable. Nevertheless, Christian ethics has a commission to oppose the satanic doctrine that war is inevitable and therefore justified, that it is unavoidable and right when it occurs, so that Christians have to participate in it. In the theory of just way, the Christian church will have its own part to play in a state that finds itself in this kind of emergency and therefore forced into war. However, we can also see in what sense it must stand by this nation, rousing, comforting, and encouraging it, yet also calling it to repentance and conversion. On the Christian view, the state is not a strange, lofty, and powerful hypostasis suspended over the individual. Individuals are protected by lit and owe it allegiance to it. Yet, in the very same process, they support and maintain it. Enjoying its relative perfections, they also share in its imperfections. They bear responsibility for its condition. They are in the same boat with its government, regardless of its constitutional form and regardless of how acceptable it may or may not be. They are in solidarity with the majority of its citizens. Perhaps the most important contribution that Christian ethics can make in this field is to lift the whole problem inexorably out of the indifferent sphere of general political and moral discussion and to translate it into a personal question. “What have you done or failed to do in the matter, and what are you doing or failing to do at this moment?” Killing is a very personal act, and being killed a very personal experience. Even in the political form, that killing assumes in war it should be the theme of supremely personal interrogation.

3. The Active Life

            Our present concern is to see life as a task that God has imposed on humanity, and therefore to see the freedom to which humanity hear a summons as the freedom for an active life lived as an act in obedience to the creator and Lord of humanity. We now turn to the aspect of human life according to which human life is an active, effective, and creative subject, and therefore an active life. What do we mean by the active life? To aim at something, and to achieve it, is a work. To attain a comprehensive Christian and biblical concept of the active life along the lines of the command of God, we must see it from above as the providence and rule of God. An active life lived in obedience consists in a correspondence to divine action. What will be the nature and appearance of this correspondence? We can best condense all that we will say on this point into the single biblical concept of service. This implies the service in which people place themselves at the disposal of God.


Malachi 3:18 (NRSV)

18 Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)

24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Exodus 7:16 (NRSV)

16 Say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened.

Exodus 12:31 (NRSV)

31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said.

1 Samuel 7:3 (NRSV)

3 Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”

1 Samuel 12:14 (NRSV)

14 If you will fear the Lord and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well;

Psalm 100:2 (NRSV)

2      Worship the Lord with gladness;

come into his presence with singing.

Matthew 20:28 (NRSV)

28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 12:17-18 (NRSV)

17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,

my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

Luke 22:27 (NRSV)

27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.


Further, concepts like that of the “servant of the Lord” in Isaiah and that of Paul describing his activity as the slave of Jesus Christ suggests the appropriate priority of service in a Christian view of the active life. Serving has a place for gratitude that one may live and respect for the generous loan that the Creator willed to make. The new element is that in service we discover the purpose of individual life and the command to orient oneself accordingly. Human life participates in the freedom of all the creatures of God to the extent that it does not have its aim in itself and cannot therefore be lived in self-concentration and self-centeredness, but only in a relationship that ;moves outwards and upwards to another. All the creatures of God exist in a relationship of this kind. None exists for itself. None is self-sufficient. None can justify itself. None possesses meaning or purpose in itself. Each stands in need of another. Every person exists only as another stands in need of it. If our action is service, it always includes the general fact that we look and strive beyond self, that we actualize our existence in our relationship to another, that we are thus integrated into the order of all creatures, ad that we therefore participate at our own place and in our won way in the freedom of every creature. However, what is the purpose and meaning of this call of God? We imply active participation when God calls people to the service of the kingdom and fatherly providence of God. It simply means that in its place, creaturely activity can take the form of correspondence to the divine activity. Human activity can never have the radiance of its own glory, but only of the glory of God, in which it shares as God wills to recognize and accept, to bless, fructify and adorn it as something done in obedience to God. This service is the active human life confronting and corresponding to the center of divine action in the coming of the kingdom of God. This service is the creaturely counterpart to the great invasion of the history of humanity and the cosmos in which God has proved divine faithfulness as the Creator, resolved, and accomplished the reconciliation of the world to God. All else that God wills and does as the Creator and Lord of humanity and the world derives from this center. In this center, it has its meaning as a work of divine mercy. In this center, we call it Jesus Christ, taking place in the work of God and in Christ being discernible and comprehensible in its totality. Here the will of God has the form and outline in which one may recognize it elsewhere as the divine will. Here the Word becomes audible, articulate, and intelligible. Here we hear the Word first in order that we may hear it elsewhere, demanding obedience and in its singularity distinguishable from all other words and voices. The divine action includes other spheres, and therefore the active life as humanity’s obedient answer to it will exhibit other dimensions. However, it must have this dimension. It must stand in relation to this work of the covenant of God and reconciliation, as divine action of salvation as the Savior. Hence, the active life of humanity willed and demanded by God is the active life of the community of Christ.

            Placing Christian community at the head of the active life demanded in the command of God makes four assumptions. First, we assume that the Christina community is a particular people, and therefore we cannot identify it with humanity. Second, we assume that by the Christian community we mean the living people awakened and assembled by Jesus Christ as the Lord for the fulfillment of a specific task. Third, we assume that the Christian community is in fact the people that Jesus Christ has constituted and given a commission. Fourth, we assume that that Christian community is the people summoned to this service.

            What do we mean by cooperation in the service of the Christian community?

            First, we mean the affirmation of its existence by attachment to it, presenting oneself for baptism and allowing the community to welcome him or her into the community. People do this continually.

            Second, we mean the community is an assembly convened by its Lord and oriented toward Christ. In this inner history, it has constantly to show itself to be what it is, preparing, maintaining and adapting itself for the service that it has to render. For individual Christians, we cannot cooperate in its ministry without cooperating in its upbuilding. Each is responsible for what the community either is or is not in itself, for what it has or has not, for its health or sickness. A first concern is for the unity of the community. A second concern is for the life of the community, that it may be human and natural in its Christianity, strong and sober, free and ordered, and so on. A third concern is for the Word that underlies, sustains, and continually renews the life of the community and thus for its theology. No one can do this obediently unless also prepared to allow the stimulation, advice, and guidance of others, including professional theologians. No one will do it obediently if not also in dialogue with God and with other Christians. Fourth, we may refer to the love that binds together the members of the Christian community and therefore the whole community as such.

            Third, service to the Christian community finds its outreach in its world-wide commission to the enormous majority of those who are not Christians, that is, among all the personal histories and in the universal history in which the kingdom of God is not recognized and which are thus very differently orientated form Church history. We may state at once that the individual Christian has a call to cooperate in the service of the community is outside as well as inside. One point is that what the community owes to the world, is that in its life, and in the lives of all its members, there should be attempted an imitation and representation of the love with which God loved the world. However, this means that the Christian community cannot be against the world; it can only be for it. This necessarily underlies all that we can say about its commission and service. If we want to show people the kingdom of God, we must prove that we care for them just as they are. We must prove that we regard them as fellow creatures in distress. We must prove that we feel bound and obligated to them as such because of the kingdom that has appeared, because of the salvation that we must declare to them, because of the fact that Jesus Christ ahs been born and has acted as their Brother, and because of the fact that this has been done to their advantage. As the circle of Christian love thus closes for the performance of this service, the more closed it is in itself the more it must open outwards in fulfillment of the service. The circle of love directed towards the neighbor without the gospel, the stranger, the non-Christian, and the enemy perhaps, the man openly or secretly godless. Where Christians are unwilling to love people, how can they say that god loves them? They can only prove that they are not too sure about this love themselves, and perhaps they are not even aware of it. A second point is the task of mission committed to the community. The community cannot exist in the world without calling people out of it, without inviting them to participate in its work. Its Lord is so mighty and gracious that God wills continually to rise up and employ new witnesses to the kingdom from the ranks of those who are still remote and alien. Since this possibility is everywhere open among people of every nation and class, the community must engage in mission, casting the net to catch people. The community is alive only when it is engaged as such in recruitment, and when it is particularly concerned about recruitment in what seem to be the darkest regions of the world. The community is also such a missionary community, or it is not the Christian community. A third point we make concerning the prime work of the community is its commission to preach the Gospel to the world. This wider, deeper, and more material sense, the community is a missionary community. For this purpose, it must expand in the world and wills to renew itself by admission of people from the world. The Christian community does not exist for itself. It exists for the Gospel. It has no right to make proposals to people as though they could now help, justify, sanctify, and glorify themselves more thoroughly and successfully than hitherto. It cannot set before them any better people, any sinless people, any innocent people, any people who escape the confusion and sorrow of the world. It has no such people to hold out as examples to follow, as though others had only to imitate them to extricate themselves from the quagmire and hell in which they live. All that the community can do is to attest this Word. It does not live by its own triumphs over the world. It does not live in order to be able to achieve and celebrate such triumphs. It does not live by its numerical growth, or by asserting itself in the world. It lives by its commission. A fourth point with which we conclude is the prophetic service of the community. Each individual Christian has a summons to cooperate in this whole aspect of its service in the world. The prophetic voice of the community is powerful or feeble, confused or clear, true or deluded, evangelical or legalistic. The prophetic voice is these things to the degree that the Christians united within it are for their part wise of foolish virgins, loyal or lazy servants, vigilant or sleepy watchers, free spirits or the slaves of alien powers, glad children of God or troubled even though religious children of the world, sober realists or vapid though fiery enthusiasts. In their existence, people make the decision concerning the prophetic existence of the church.

            The supreme and proper form of the active life required of humanity is its cooperation in the inward and outward service of the Christian community.

            However, according to the witness of Scripture, the action of God has a circumference as well as this center. As God sees to the creature, and cares for it, in order that it may not cease as the object of divine love, God requires of humanity the action corresponding to this care and providence. Addressing and claiming humanity as a divine partner in covenant, God also commands humanity to exist as a creature of God, requiring that human active life should take this human form. Work is this human form. It cannot be the center of human activity. It constitutes its circumference, just as the rule of divine providence is not the center but only the circumference of the activity of God. Work simply means that the active affirmation humanity offers of its existence as a human creature. God has implicitly commanded it in the fact that God requires, claims, ad summons humanity for service as a witness of the kingdom of God, since this call presupposes human existence as a human creature. What is it that human beings do when in obedience to the command of God the Creator they work? They are simply faithful to God and to self as human creature of God, actively affirming one’s own existence in the form of the fulfillment of that synthesis for which their nature destines them. Work understood as an act of self-affirmation is also an act of self-moderation on the part of the creature. Understood as the fulfillment of that synthesis, work is the typically terrestrial event, the typically earthly and creaturely act, which distinguishes humanity as the center of the earthly creation. This is its dignity. First, people work for self-preservation, in order to prolong life. The active affirmation of human existence means that human beings bestir themselves to do what they can to guarantee their existence. To be able to serve, they must live, and therefore they must find a guarantee of their existence.

            We must now consider some of the criteria by which to define what is work as what God commands. First, we may begin with the formal criterion that work is the prolongation of life in the form of striving in which people set themselves certain ends and does their best to attain them. Human beings set ends for themselves. These are always new. In setting them, people bind and commit themselves to them. To attain them, they immerse themselves in these particular ends, orientating themselves on them, allowing them fully to engage them, and concentrating upon them. They devote themselves to them. Only then do they work in a serious sense, obeying the commandment according to which they should work. One does human work rightly in all its branches if done with the appropriate objectivity. Second is that all work is designed to promote more or less urgent universal or individual condition, advancements, ameliorations, illuminations and even adornments of human existence. Human beings must cooperate in promoting these things in order to play their part in caring of their own existence. They constitute the kingdom of ends that is as such the kingdom of human work. Cooperating in their creation, each must play their part and find their niche. Human beings can also have questionable, invalid, perverse, and corrupt needs. Is it worthwhile to cooperate in promoting them? Is our work honest work? The decisive task of Christian ethics is to establish the fact that we draw a boundary in this respect, too, between work that is commanded and legitimate and work that is forbidden and illegitimate. The task of Christian ethics is to show that such categories do exist, that we must discover them, and that we must make a choice between them, some affirmed and others rejected. Thus, at a specific time an din a specific situation Christian ethics is forced to look in a specific direction on both sides as indicated in the present discussion. Nevertheless, in every time and situation, and therefore in our time and situation as well, the final and concrete verdict is not a matter for Christian ethics, but simply for the living Christina ethos in the community. That the community must take up this problem today is our present point. Three is to turn to the problem of the basic motive for it operative to some extent in all of us. In work, we earn our daily bread. How does this motive stand? How can there be coexistence between the desire of others and our desire, between our work and their work? They are unquestionably fellow human beings. We cannot be people at all unless we live with them as fellow human beings, assisting them and receiving their assistance. Hence, in our work, if God has commanded work, we must ask the question whether and to what extent it is human in the special sense of considering fellow human beings. This gives us the third criterion, namely the humanity of human work. If we engage in work without consideration of the social character of human work and a twisted view of profit, we will descend into the inhumanity of work. The process of human labor bears the mark of the mutual competition of those engaged in it. Competition implies contest. The decency and generosity of the combatants will often ease the effect of the competition. Where one hears the command of God, it will always be a summons to counter-movements of this kind. This must find expression in the voice of the Christian community. The community cannot participate in the great self-deception concerning the character of the situation. It cannot evade the task of showing it to be the bitter fruit of a bitter root. On the other hand, we must recognize the relative nature of all that people can undertake in this situation. Work under the sign of this competition will always imply work in the form of a conflict in which one person encounters another with force and cunning. There will be innumerable prisoners, wounded and dead. Work under this sign will always be an inhuman activity, and therefore an activity that can never stand before the command of God. The same basic forms of thoughtlessness have another and even worse result in the sphere of human work. It can even make itself out to be fellowship and coordination, only to live the more shamelessly and fatally as inhumanity under this mask. Even if one accepts the injustice of the system, one can adopt many possible counter-movements. If people do not allow themselves to be kept from forgetting the fellow-humanity without which they cannot be human beings, or from pursuing their empty and inordinate desires instead of their genuine and vital claims, their work will necessarily stand under the competition, and worse, exploitation, and open class war, whether in its capitalistic or its socialistic guise.

            Fourth, criterion of right work is the criterion of reflection, an internal work that precedes and supports it, an active affirmation of life. The external work must allow for this accompanying internal work.

            Fifth, criterion of right work is that its aim is the freedom of humanity for existence, and thus provides its limitation. Rightly done, work requires relaxation and distraction or diversion. Rest from right work allows the worker something upon which to reflect and contemplate. 

56. Freedom in Limitation

God the Creator wills and claims human beings who belong to God, are united to their fellow human beings, and under obligation to affirm their own life and that of others, with the special intention indicated by the limit of time, vocation, and honor that god has already set the individuals as Creator and Lord.

1. The Unique Opportunity

            We shall now try to understand the command from the standpoint that God has set a limit for humanity as creatures of God. We shall begin with a short elucidation of this relationship, and we shall then go on to consider the sanctification and obedience of humanity within it in its first aspect, namely, as the commanded apprehension of our existence as a unique opportunity. When God speaks to humanity in the divine command, God does not speak to one who is completely strange to God. Even the transgression of humanity cannot alter the fact that God is the Creator of humanity and has always been the preserver, companion, and ruler of humanity. Nor can humanity hear the command of God as though it were a completely alien demand. For human transgression cannot alter the fact that human beings owe what they are to the creation, and what human beings have become to the providence, of the very God with whose command they are now confronted. The relationship in which God speaks the command of God and human beings hear it is that of a reciprocal knowledge. On the side of God, the command is the continuation of the unbroken divine knowledge of the creature of God, and on the side of humanity, the new recognition and acceptance of human knowledge of the Creator interrupted by human transgression. This mutual knowledge is the light that shines over the relationship. We best understand this relationship if we conceive of it as a limitation. God ordains the limit and humanity accept the limit. We must divest ourselves of the idea that limitation implies something derogatory, or even a kind of curse or affliction. When God distinguishes and therefore limits, we can talk of curtailment, impoverishment, or deprivation of the one thus limited. Divine limiting is the special, exalted, rich, and glorious divine giving. People limited by God are the people loved by God. Rather than tolerating our limitation with a sigh, we have reason to take is seriously, to affirm it, to accept it, and to praise God for the fact that in it we are what we are and not something else. It cannot be strange to the person who hears it. It comes to the person. The unique opportunity to which we must now turn in detail is simply human life in its limitation by birth and death. The basic limitation in which individuals are what they are consists in the fact that they begin and end, that they are finite, and that their lives have a fixed span. They have only this limited share in the existence of the creation of God. What they are, they are in this time. The time ahead is not yet, and that behind is no longer, their own time. God has created and preserved them for existence in their particular time and therefore in none but their own lifetime between birth and death. What is beyond does not belong to them. What is beyond is part of the pure promise of existence in the eternity of God. The stories of their lives are the drama of the encounter, conflict and cooperation of these two forces. Whatever happens to them, whatever the do, occurs under this sign and therefore under the sign of their own finitude. It receives character by the fact that they can be what they are only in their allotted span. The offer of human existence is the offer of this loan, of this limited span, of the possibility of this transition. Those who are not pleased with this limit cannot experience pleasure with life. The offer made to humanity is unique. They now exist in their fleeting time as one who passes; and then they exist no more forever. The offer will come again. Of course, God accepted this same offer when God became a human being in Jesus Christ. Since God has made this offer, it is surely worth our while at least to consider it seriously. God does not treat it as meaningless, but as full of meaning, whether we agree or not. What right have we to belittle our being in its transience? What right have we not to take ourselves seriously, as seriously as people can take themselves precisely as those who are transient? Did God not become such a person for the same of human beings in their time? In becoming a human being, did not God take such a definite place in creation? For Christian theology, the fact that humanity has a share in creation, in the cosmos, and in history, can only be a dependent clause introducing the main sentence. The main sentence is that in this way God points humanity directly to the grace divine calling. Humanity has an orientation toward the covenant that God has made with humanity. Humanity has a disposition for participation in the salvation history that proceeds from this covenant and that constitutes the fulfillment of the particular decree, Word, and work that form the internal basis of creation, as well as the center and meaning of the whole cosmos and history. a correspondence exists in the existence of humanity, whether it realizes it or not. Humanity waits to be the one intended in the call of God, to experience God recognizing humanity and loving humanity under the name that it now bears as this transient creature, and therefore truly to be called by this name. A correspondence exists between the covenant of God and human beings in their singular existence. A correspondence exists between the mighty history of salvation chosen and effected by God and human beings who cannot be what they are outside their limits. We can say this because Jesus Christ is the Fellow of all persons who exist and passes in their time. Jesus Christ is the center and meaning of the cosmos and history. As human beings have a share in the existence of the cosmos and the life of history, Jesus Christ is the center and meaning of their existence as well. This man is the Fellow of all people, and all people are the fellows of this man. Now, in the midst of the times of all others there is also this time, the time of God. Now, the time of all others moves in the light, meaning, and promise of the past time of this man. Now the event that filled and controlled the time of God, as the event of the existence and action of God in unity with this man, has occurred for them. What is the time given them as seen from the time of God? They have time as an opportunity under the promise and with the goal that what happened in the time of God for them should also happen to them and in them. What is the limitation of their existence as seen from the time of God? Christ, in whose similarly limited existence the calling, covenant, and salvation of God were enacted is the limit of their existence. His birth is the presupposition of their birth, ad His death of their death. What is their transition within this limitation as seen from the time of God? They do not come from a vacuum, but from Christ; they do not go into darkness, but rather, to meet Christ. This is being time for humanity, as seen from the standpoint of Jesus Christ and His time. This is the direction, orientation, and disposition proper to humanity precisely in the uniqueness of its existence as and because Jesus Christ is the Fellow human being. This great disclosure takes place when the command of God the Creator comes to humanity. It comes to humanity in the Gospel, with the light and in the power peculiar to the Gospel. Why should there not be this disclosure? In this limitation, humanity is humanity. In this limitation, humanity stands before God. In this limitation, humanity has a share in the whole work of God in nature and history. Above all, in this limitation, humanity is the object of the eternal love in which God in Jesus Christ has become the brother of humanity and acted for humanity, and that humanity can have a part in this love. God did not make a mistake of which we must bear the consequences when God created humanity as God did. God wills to have humanity thus, as this transient creature. We have every cause to be thankful to God for this limitation, and to rejoice I nit. The time in which we live is our place. It may be a modest place, but it is our place. As such, our place is in the cosmos and in history, but also in relation to the particularity of the divine primary work that awaits us, to the calling, covenant, and salvation of God, to Jesus Christ who became a human being for us. The will and command of God mean that we are simply to recognize, take seriously and occupy this place as our own, as the place allotted to us. For now, in the present time of human beings, they have their unique opportunity, and since they do not know how long it will last they must seize and us it. New Testament ethics is one powerful summons to take frankly and seriously the existence of human beings in their limited time as such and therefore to grasp it today, at once, this very moment, as their opportunity. However, the power of this summons lies in the fact that it understands the time of human beings as a moment within the interval of time that begins and ends with Jesus Christ. Further, the short time of human beings belongs to Christ. The time of human beings is one in which the only thing known to human beings is that time can suddenly end. The summons of New Testament ethics is urgent. The question of whether seizing or neglecting the unique opportunity to them in their time measures and tests every act of human beings.  

            We shall now seek to establish certain criteria to enable us to see to some extent whether we are obedient or disobedient to the command of God as understood from this particular angle.

            First, one such criterion must undoubtedly be that we treat the occupation of our place as the right one assigned to us with the greatest possible openness and yet also the greatest possible resolution. None can make do with mere resolution. Each must know openness to the ways of others. This is in the last resort indispensable. We should be fools if in making use of our opportunities we did not look for examples and teachers, for comrades and brothers. Nevertheless, our concern is to seek and to traverse our own way, to occupy the place that can only be our own place in our own time. Others can advise or help us as models or even as warnings; but resolution is seizing our unique opportunity must be our own. We can gain our orientation by them; but neither positively nor negatively can we conform to them. Our openness is good. So, too, are our helpers and advisers, our examples and warnings. However, they are good only as far as they serve to help us to resolve. To resolve does not mean to close one’s eyes to others. In fact, a correct resolve for the existence that is possible only in its own time and within its own limits may be recognized by the fact that it is not a turning away from others, but a turning to time, not a breach of fellowship with them, but retention of fellowship. Resolution has the character of a risk of being among our fellow human beings, without narrow-mindedness or vanity yet also without shame, that which we alone can be between our birth and our death, no matter how many charming or irritating neighbors or relatives we may have who want to influence us in different ways. The human being who is genuinely open and the human being who is genuinely resolved, however, not only belong to the same category, but are possible and actual only in one and the same person.

            Second, one may recognize human beings who view their lives as their unique opportunity by the fact that, since life seriously claims them and occupies them, they have no time to lose but know how to make time and to take time.

            Third, people who take seriously and seize their unique opportunity remember that they will die and will never fear death. It is unpleasant to think that someday I shall be a corpse whom others will leave and go home chatting after they have heaped wreaths and flowers and poured out kind words and music upon me. it is indeed unpleasant to think that my place will then be in a coffin or urn a few feet below the surface of the ground. It is indeed an unpleasant thought that for a time people will miss me up above in the daylight, but that time will finally extinguish me from human memory when the last of those who knew me has gone the same way. This unpleasantness is the kind of death that awaits us with absolute certainty. This unpleasantness is the form of the end of our existence in our time and the conclusion of our transience. To consider that we shall die means to accept oneself; to assent to that to which we can assent only with god; to admit that one day we shall no longer exist, but will stand before a final “too late.” I in my uniqueness have to do this one time with the unique God in relation to whom everything is “now” decided concerning me, who in relation to this “now” of mine finally decides concerning me with absolute competence and authority. It is my opportunity. However, God gives me this. Hence, this time is my opportunity for God.

2. Vocation

            The will, plan, and intention of the commanding God is always a special summons to persons. God does not want anything and everything from the person. God always wants this and that. God chooses as God commands. Choice, first on the side of God and then on the side of humanity, implies limitation. The limitation is what God has chosen, and therefore the exclusion of what God has not chosen. In every case, continuity and a positive relationship will exist between what God has caused humanity to be and become as Creator and Lord, and what God will now have of humanity. In that which God wills of humanity according to the command of God, humanity will recognize itself as those whom humanity already has been and become by the will of the same God. God specifically allots the life of every human being, defining his or her birth and death. We have attempted to understand the obedience of human beings as their knowing and grasping the unique opportunity thus presented to them. The commanding God meets humanity in this unique opportunity at this limited place, and only as they discern and seize this opportunity, and resolutely occupies the place assigned, can they be obedient to the command of God. To this particularity, limitation and restriction in which the God who calls and rules always finds humanity, and by which humanity must orientate itself to be obedient, we give the name of the calling or vocation of humanity. We must make a clear distinction between calling in the sense of vocation and calling as the divine summons. In the latter sense, calling is the imperative revelation and making known of the special, electing, differentiating will of God in the divine Word and command as given to this human being. Vocation is the essence of this earlier form, the old thing that humanity already is, which it has behind it, or rather that it brings with it, as the new comes to it. Human vocation is from God. Human vocation is human particularity. Vocation is the place of responsibility, as Bonhoeffer noted. Human beings as they are recognize, differentiate, and choose, whom they must critically choose in company with God, if they are to choose what God has chosen for them according to the divine command. Since the point at issue is humanity and its obedience, it must also choose what God wants.


Ephesians 1:18 (NRSV)

18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

Ephesians 4:4 (NRSV)

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,

Ephesians 4:1 (NRSV)

 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

2 Peter 1:10 (NRSV)

10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.

2 Timothy 1:9 (NRSV)

9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

Philippians 3:14 (NRSV)

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:9 (NRSV)

9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

1 Corinthians 1:26-27 (NRSV)

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

1 Corinthians 7:18-19 (NRSV)

18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything.

1 Corinthians 7:30 (NRSV)

30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions,


            We shall now attempt to draw some of the numerous lines that in their totality characterize the reality of what we here call the vocation of humanity, which amounts to the place of the special responsibility of each in relation to the divine calling, which amounts to considering the place of human freedom in limitation. First, we must consider the human aging process. Psychologists identify various stages of human maturity, in which people face certain resistance to the process. Second, every person has his or her historical situation. This fact provides the external limitation of human vocation. In this historical situation, human beings must recognize the command of God and obey it. The person, far from adjusting to the situation, must grapple with it. The internal limit is the personal aptitude of the individual. This means the psychological and physical structure disposition of the individual. Fourth, a further limitation in which the command of God reaches individuals is the sphere of operation, the field of ordinary activity, the place in life at which they are an active member of human society. We learn the essence of our concern, only by devoting ourselves to it. We will not learn them completely. Human life is inexhaustible in all its branches. We have to lay hold of it even to find it interesting, let alone to like it, in any of its branches. The greatest reward of faithfulness to vocation is to be able to devote ourselves to our concern not only with interest, but also with desire and love, with gladness that we are what we are. However, this is a reward that we cannot expect nor demand, and at which we are not to aim. Our task is to do justice what God demands at the place that we have occupied, whether gladly or otherwise. Yet, these may not be absolute alternatives. The decisive question is whether we have applied ourselves wholeheartedly to our particular concern. By the calling of God and human obedience to it, humanity and vocation will experience renewal and transformation from within.

3. Honor

            The command of God calls us all to freedom in the limitation of the unique opportunity of our allotted temporal span, and again to freedom in the limitation of our vocation. These limits include the stage of life at which we now find ourselves, the historical situation allotted to us, of our personal aptitude and particular sphere of operation. We now look back and ask ourselves whether it is really to freedom? We can pose the question because freedom and limitation seem to contradict each other. It may well be that this equation of freedom and obedience is not yet quite understood. One may ask whether the terms command and obedience do not speak simply of a subordination, integration, reduction, and even humiliation in which God is active and humanity is passive. What remains is the unsurpassable honor done to humanity when the commanding God who s Father calls human beings the children of God. To be with this Father as the achild of this Father is freedom. The invitation to obedience is the invitatioin to takie the step into the life of the children of God, and therefore into freedom in all the dimnensions that have occupied us in tract of ethics. In this final subsection we must speak of the honor God shows ot humanity in the divine command, and of the way in which it, too, indicates the limits set for them by God as their Creator and Lord. Within the real limits surrounding human creaturely existence before God, what more or other does humanity appear to be than an evaporating drop in a bucket, a fleck of dust in the breeze, a vanishing breath? The same is true both of humanity as a whole, even in its greatest movements and forms, and particularly of the individual. Yet, God speaks with this person, and therefore directly with each individual as such. What God tells this person is the Word of divine grace directed to this person as the divine covenant partner with whom God declares that God ahs a common cause. God finds it important that humanity should learn something from God that humanity could not know on its own. God considers humanity worthy that God should confront humanity as its Commander and stand on its level as Partner with partner. This is the wonderful condescension of God in divine command, and this is humanity’s exaltation and honoring in the demand for obedience addressed to humanity. What does demand mean in this connection? First and above all, it means the invitation issued to humanity to accept the recognition, esteem, and distinction that come to humanity in the command of God. It meals humanity allows God to honor it in this wonderful way, to be the person who God so wonderfully honors. The one summoned by God to obedience is as such one who God honors, magnifies, and respects. Humanity can be godless. However, God does not become without humanity. God is always the Creator and Lord of humanity. Because humanity is not without humanity, the godlessness of humanity can be only a human notion, however frightful in itself and serious in its consequences. Ontological godlessness does not exist.

            We now turn to the ethical question that one has to put from this standpoint. How must human beings constitute human action in such a way as to be honorable? We must also put the question from below. How can the action of humanity be honorable in the sense that it confirms the honor that God has already done for human beings as their Creator and Lord? We can only mention a few criteria to which regard must always be had in this question of what is honorable and obedient. First, the honor that God does humanity in and with the divine command as such is that of the service to which God calls humanity. As we have seen, God calls humanity into a relationship, as a parent to a child. For all the existing concealment, God calls humanity divine immediate presence. In so doing, God tells humanity that God needs humanity in a definite and concrete respect, that God has a use for humanity. God is not to pass this short span of life in vain. God is not to exist in vain at any stage of life and in any historical situation. God does not provide the personal equipment of humanity in this sphere of life and operation in vain. The superfluity of grace leads God to need humanity and its witness, even though God not really needs humanity. In divine grace, in the freedom in which God needs humanity, God needs humanity truly and seriously. With regard to the external offered to humanity in the recognition and assessment by others, the case is as follows. The true worth and significance of a person will rise from potentiality to actuality, and thus shown in truth, when God calls this person and occupies the service assigned to this person. By service, we understand our function as witnesses of God and the will of God as one fulfills this in the limitation of the being God allotts to us. All human action that lacks the character of service is either not yet or no longer honorable.


John 12:26 (NRSV)

26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Mark 10:43 (NRSV)

43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

Mark 9:34 (NRSV)

34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

Luke 22:27 (NRSV)

27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Mark 10:45 (NRSV)

45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Philippians 2:7 (NRSV)

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

John 13:12-13 (NRSV)

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.

Matthew 10:24-25 (NRSV)

24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

Matthew 19:28-29 (NRSV)

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.

2 Corinthians 3:9 (NRSV)

9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!

Philippians 2:9 (NRSV)

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,


            Second, we shall now direct our attention in detail to the fact that the honor of humanity, whether understood as the honor of human calling to obedience or as creaturely obedience, can really be human honor as it comes to humanity from God and human beings accept it as the free gift of God. What is the honor of humanity? It is the significance, the worth, the distinction, that humanity now has in the eyes of God. It is the value, which the Word of God has now ascribed. It is the adornment, vesture, and crown with which God clothes humanity. What follows from this? It follows that humanity can be honorable and have human glory only in pure thankfulness, in the deepest humility, and in free humor. In relation to human honor, what is left for humanty, but pure thankfulness? Why is this? God is this God, who is friendly to humanity. The light of divine honor illuminates. The honor of humanity is a pure permission. How can one recognize, affirm, and seize it except in pure thankfulness? What is left but the deepest humility? What is left for humanity but free humor? We might also ask, in terms of honor, concerning our modesty and sincerity. The ethical question is whether humanity will have human honor in this modesty.

            Third, if the honor of a human being is the honor of human service, and if it can come to human beings only from god, then God decides its form. The form in which human beings may have it follows a superior law that is not orientated by their own ideas of honor or their corresponding wishes, but by which they must orientate themselves together with their ideas and wishes. We refer to the collective and individual concepts of honor, with their maximal and minimal demands, with their various standards, with their internal nuances and external frontiers. According to this view, the life of society and nations in their various groups, strata and classes, and the personal life of the individual both in isolation and in relation to their fellows usually try to some extent to direct and regulate it. These concepts can change, and obviously do so. From the Christian standpoint, however, when we ask concerning the command of God, there is every objection to giving to such a concept of honor any more than a hypothetical and heuristic significance, and therefore to allowing it to assume the character of a law of our honor. Human concepts of belong to history; they come with it and go with it. We cannot set them against the command of God. This does not exclude the possibility that the honor of service ascribed to humanity may correspond in large measure to what human conviction and opinion deservedly calls honor. It is not necessary that the honor that comes to humanity from God should contradict what humanity understands as honor, that it should never in any circumstances by also worldly honor. There is no shadow of a claim that this must always be so. However, the situation may well be the opposite. The honor that God proffers to humanity when God calls it by the Word to new obedience may well be very much lower than its existing standard of honor. We see this in Jeremiah, many Psalms, Job, and the Servant Songs of Deutero-Isaiah.


Matthew 5:10 (NRSV)

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

John 16:2-3 (NRSV)

2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me.

Romans 8:18 (NRSV)

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NRSV)

9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

1 Peter 4:14-15 (NRSV)

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker.

James 5:13-14 (NRSV)

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.

2 Timothy 3:12 (NRSV)

12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.


Yet, we must not forget that there may be a form of divinely willed and allotted honor in which there will be little or no evidence either to ourselves or others of either exaltation or abasement. The actual life of most human beings, and the main span even of those distinguished on the one side or the other, is passed at a midpoint, where the chief problem is to, without conflict, to be content actually to have God honor them.

            Fourth, we must finally answer the question whether there might not be a situation in which circumstances or human conducts commands that humanity should safeguard their honor against evident threats, and perhaps even guard and defend it against the words and acts of others. The first specific criterion is obviously that one can undertake these measures only with a final and profound unconcern. This does not mean that there cannot be commanded and therefore legitimate steps or measures that we may take in confirmation and defense of our honor. Another criterion of such action is that one does it primarily with careful attention to what might entail an apparent compromising of our honor in our own behavior. I must uphold it before myself before I can expect to be able to do so before others.