Saturday, August 16, 2014

Karl Barth on the "Otherness" of God

Karl Barth (1886-1968) is a name that every serious students of theology should know, period. He is widely regarded as the most important Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His famous works are commentary The Epistle to the Romans and Church Dogmatics (seriously, it’s a thick book to read. I only read the summary from time to time). Barth’s Romans commentary, which first published in German in 1918, caused a sensation on account of “its vision of dialectic between God and humanity,” writes Alister E. McGrath editor of The Christian Theology Reader (1995). He continues, “There is a total gulf between God and the world, which can never be bridged from our side. The fact that we know anything about God is itself the result of God’s self-revelation, not human activity or insight. God is totally distinct from human thought and civilization.” This relentless emphasis on the “total qualitative distinction” between God and humanity established Barth as “a radical voice in the theology of the period immediately after the First World War”.

On the “Otherness” of God from The Epistle of Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), Karl Barth wrote:

“[Paul, in the book of Romans] appeals only to the authority of God. This is the ground of his authority. There is no other. Paul is authorized to deliver – the gospel of God. He is commissioned to hand over to humanity something quite new and unprecedented, joyful and good – the truth of God. Yes, precisely – of God! The gospel is not a religious message to inform humanity of their divinity, or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from humanity. Salvation comes to them from him, they have no right to claim anything from him. The Gospel is not one thing in the midst of other things, to be directly apprehended and comprehended. The Gospel is the Word of the Primal Origin of all things, the Word which, since it is ever new, must ever be received with renewed fear and trembling…

Jesus Christ is our Lord. This is the Gospel and the meaning of history. In this name two worlds meet and go apart, two planes intersect, the one know and the other unknown. The know plane is God’s creation, fallen out of its union with him, and therefore the world of the ‘flesh’ needing redemption. The world of human beings, and of time, and of things – our world. This known plane is intersected by another plane that is unknown – the world of the Father, the Primal Creation, and of the final Redemption. The relation between us and God, between this world and his world, presses for recognition, but the line of intersection is not self-evident. The point on the line of intersection at which the relation becomes observable and observed is Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus.” (Bold mine)

The unknown God is known through Christ our Lord
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