‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. (Is.53:3-6 ESV)
T.F Torrance wrote that ‘sinful existence is a will to isolation from God and a refusal of His grace’ (‘Incarnation’ 2008, pg 52).Within this statement we can see an idea that is stimulated by Paul in Romans 5:12-21. This is that humanity is plagued by an uncertain primal aversion to God brought on by a distortion in humanities relationship with God. This theme of primal-atheism has in impact on how the world deals with the depth and relevance of Easter. Easter disturbs us because it reminds us that our ‘elevation into union and communion with God exists because of the humiliation of Christ the Son’ (‘Incarnation’ 2008, pg 57). It does not exist because of any human effort to prove ourselves right before God.
This can be connected to something Paul writes about in Romans 5:12-21. Here he points to a counter disturbance whereby ‘grace does not leave humans unaffected in their consciousness and behaviour’ (Schreiner ‘Romans’ 1998, p.292; Moltmann‘The Spirit of Life’ 1992, p.113). This provides the framework for understanding how the ‘grace of Christ conquers and subdues’ (Schreiner 1998, p.285) sin and death. The Christ-event is an act of interceding grace (Rm.5:20) from which God fulfils His promise (Rm.8:26) and brings life out of death (Rm.4:17); light out of darkness. This counter disturbance summons every human to a response of gratitude (Barth) for what has been done on our behalf. This dynamic invitation ruffles our feathers as the tradition of the Church, along with the Spirit of God calls us to remember that in Christ humanity is found, rescued and offered new Life.
Barth asserts this when he states that ‘the theme of the Gospel is the death of death’ (R2 1933, p.166). His emphasis here fits the literary context of Rm.5:12-21 because it points to Paul’s main theological point in Romans. This is that in Christ, God calls humanity into a newness of life. This means that in Jesus the Christ, God wills human existence (Barth C.D IV/III.1 p.362). In order to actualise this God addresses our unrighteous, ‘bleak, lifeless and unrelated existence’ (Barth 1933, p.170).Consequently righteousness becomes connected to life because ‘the victory over sin…rests in the entire accomplishment of the course of Christ’s existence’ (Pannenberg ‘Jesus-God and Man 1968, p.362). In other words Christ’s existence becomes our existence. For the biannual pilgrims of Christmas and Easter these words are a reminder that God not only gives permission for them to breathe, but that God also empowers them to do so.
Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome is about a ‘restoration that is outside our competence’(Barth ‘R2’ 1933, p.168). The good news of Romans 5:12-21 is that through Christ, God recalls us to a life transformed. He takes the initiative and through his act of reconciliation ‘invades the being of man and woman, making them his saints’ (Barth C.D IV/II 1958, p.523).This is a remedy established by the free gift of grace, which is given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Despite primal-atheism, a product of a distorted relationship God does not desire to be without humanity (Barth). Consequently humanity is delivered from the abyss (Barth 1933, p.240) bringing us to a point where we can joyfully say ‘’I know who did it’’.