Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"It Can Only Love": Karl Barth on the "Penultimate Seriousness" of the Church's Eschatological Politics

"But knowing the new reality of world history even if only in Him and as hidden in Him, [the community] is not merely enabled and authorized but also compelled and commanded to see world history as such very differently from the way in which the rest of humanity can see it. This is not because, in relation to the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow, it has certain higher or deeper insights than others which it can weave into a Christian theory of the meaning and course of world history and then teach to others. We are thinking of something much more solid. As the new reality of world history is made known to the people of God in Jesus Christ, it is enabled, permitted and commanded to see things very differently in practice, to participate in world history very differently in its own attitude and action, than is the case with those who do not yet have knowledge of this new reality. Knowing Him whom others do not know, it sees it very differently to the extent that it now exists and participates in it very differently.

"And when we say 'very differently' we do not mean this hypothetically, in the nature of an 'as if,' but in full and true reality on the basis of its knowledge of the true reality. Its faith may be only faith and not sight. But it is faith in Jesus Christ and therefore knowledge of what has taken place in Him. It is also obedient faith. It thus anticipates the appearance of that which already is but is not yet manifested. In its faith, which is both knowledge and obedience, it affirms already the transformation in which world-occurrence will be presented to it and to all humanity in the final, universal and definitive revelation of Jesus Christ, accepting the fact that this transformation has already taken place in His life and death and resurrection. Nor is this faith and anticipation an idle speculating and gaping. As obedience it is a resolute being and attitude and action. It is in this resoluteness that its view of world history will display the distinctiveness which makes it so different, so unique, as the Christian view. It is in this resoluteness that the people of God is already in its existence in world history a witness to the kingdom which it can se to have come already in Jesus Christ but towards the coming of which in direct and universal visibility it still looks forward. It is only in this resoluteness that it can and will properly discharge its ministry as a witness of Jesus Christ to the rest of man, as a people of those who see among the blind.

"This is the resoluteness of a definite confidence. We refer to confidence in Jesus Christ and Him alone. But as such, in all its exclusiveness, this is true and total confidence. In world-occurrence the people of God sees no more than others. Even more soberly than others, it sees in it the great rift between above and below, between light and darkness. With even sharper eyes than others it recognizes here the antithesis between the rule of God and the confusion of men. But it sees the same things differently. And the difference is real and indeed total to the extent that it always begins with the confidence, and may return to it, that in spite of everything the history which takes place is that of the world already reconciled to God. In spite of everything, the man who acts and postures on this stage, who in wickedness and folly, being blind to what he already is in Jesus Christ, thinks and speaks and acts, and arranges his sorry compromises, and sins, and causes so much suffering to himself and others, is the man who stands in the covenant with God which is already fulfilled. The order which is now so shamelessly and with such pregnant consequences attacked and violated, but which cannot be overthrown, is that which has been already and irrevocably restored.

"The people of God has no illusions about what goes on beneath its eyes, and not without its own participation. But it knows that in what takes place it is dealing with the passing and vanishing of a form of the world which is already judged, removed and outmoded by the coming and secret presence of the kingdom, so that, although it takes it seriously in all its consecutive and fading pictures, in none of them can it take it with ultimate, but only, as is proper, with penultimate seriousness. Or more positively, it knows that under, behind and in all that will be and is seen, there is concealed, and presses towards the light, the new form of the world which alone must be taken with first and final seriousness.

"Hence it can share neither the enthusiasm of those who regard the old form as capable of true and radical improvement nor the skepticism of those who in view of the impossibility of perfecting the old form think that they are compelled to doubt the possibility of a new form. It need judge no man either optimistically or pessimistically because in relation to all, whatever their virtues and accomplishments or their faults and blasphemies and crimes, it is sure of the one fact that Jesus Christ has lived and died and risen again for them too. In face of the disorder of historical relationships and interconnections it can yield neither to reactionary spasms on the one hand nor to revolutionary on the other, because in relation to the reality of history already present in Jesus Christ it knows how provisional and improper is all the construction and destruction of man, or more positively how definitive and proper are the demolition and rebuilding which have already taken place in Jesus Christ and only wait to be manifested in the world on behalf of which they have been accomplished. This is the confidence with which the community confronts world history and the rest of humanity which does not share it. In world-occurrence it can neither fear for it nor be afraid of it, nor can it fear for nor be afraid of the humanity which acts within it as if it still had ground or presupposition on which to do so.

"But just because it cannot fear, it cannot hate, and therefore basically, whether it finds it easy or difficult, it can only love. At bottom and in the long run it can only be pro, i.e., for men, since God in Jesus Christ is and has decided for them. It cannot be anti, i.e., against even individuals. Obviously it does not discuss or ponder its confidence. Nor does it experiment with it. What would become of it if it were regarded as marketable in this way? Nor does it resolve to maintain it. Since it is the community which has been called by Jesus Christ and which therefore knows Him, the decision has been made for it. It has no option but to maintain it. In all the necessity of its commitment to and orientation on Him, it can do no other. It thus maintains it, and it lives within world-occurrence with this great confidence."

--Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/3.2, pp. 716-718 (originally two paragraphs; emphases mine)

1 comment:

  1. One wonders in what kind of fantasy world you "live" in when you promote this obvious nonsense.

    How then do you account for the never-ending slaughters that have been a feature of Christian history, and still are via the invasion of Iraq etc.

    Christians slaughtering other Christians, and of course the countless millions of the inevitable victims of Christian conquest and imperialism.
    Slaughters that were done under the aegis and imperative of Constantine's famous Sword.

    By their blood-soaked actions you will surely know them.