Archives For History

Unexpected Rescue

January 31, 2018 — 4 Comments

There are days when no matter how hard we try to realign our attitude, the overwhelming feelings we might encounter in our situation, become a flood that sinks us further into a feeling of pointlessness. We’re in too deep.

Days come and days go. We watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life smothers us. The things that we felt so qualified to do, no longer make us feel all that qualified.  Instead, we’re overcome by despondency, disillusionment and then despair. Almost breathless, all attempts to make sense of the place we find ourselves in fail.

Though people surround us, there is no one really near us. We hear the noise of those around us, but struggle to process the fact that when we speak, we only find ourselves contributing to that noise. From here we come to the point where we realise that no one can hear us because everyone is listening to the sound of their own voice, answering the applause or condemnation of the world that follows it.

Most are dealing with something, wrestling with their own fears, failures, excesses and successes.  Some give in and slip into a slow motion view of the world.  Faces and facts are distorted. The noise around them drops in pitch. Their world is turned from the sounds of bustling activity into a slow monotonous drone.  Some go faster, live harder, decide to medicate themselves and give their lives over to the consequences.

Surrendering their lives on the altar of human wisdom, both slide into oblivion. Trapped by the cave of their own existence, they refuse to hear any word spoken from beyond it. Creatures of habit, they lean on their own understanding and conclude that any such word is a lie. At best a figment of their imagination, at worst, a tool designed by others to control and deceive them. The word that penetrates the noise of the world around them is too strange, too much of a contradiction, too foreign for them to be comfortable in acknowledging it.

This word in its contradiction speaks of hope, of water in desolate places, of dry bones coming to life, of possibilities within impossibilities. This word contradicts their entire world. It is a word that challenges all human presuppositions about their situation. It is spoken and it speaks to the despondency, disillusionment, despair, and breathless uneasiness.

This word speaks and stands in the way of our own words, answering the applause and condemnation of the world that follows it. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation from both the world’s applause and its condemnation. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation for both the one living in slow motion and the one given over to the self-destructive consequences of their defeatist, live fast, die hard philosophy. This word is a contradiction to their sacrificial slide into oblivion.

They’re in too deep, but this word throws to them a lifeline. Supported in the midst of their impending drift down into the abyss, they are confronted by its strange rescue. This word and its rescue exist despite what they were told and in contradiction to what they were sold. It makes no sense to them. It doesn’t look the way human wisdom says it should. It is an unexpected rescue.

The world’s eloquent words that denied the simplicity of this word cannot save them. Their rescue by this word comes to them out of the act of the One who spoke it, not by the eloquence of the world’s wisdom spoken to them. They are summoned to grasp its grasp of them.  They are summoned to believe, not because human wisdom sold it to them at the “right” price, out of protest, through manipulation or well-crafted words and sugar coated rhetoric. They are summoned by this word to believe because this word is acted upon by the One who speaks it.

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.’  (John 1:1-4, ESV)

This Word became flesh and dwelt among us[i].  He now becomes the contradiction to all of our impossibilities and the foundation[ii] for all our possibilities. The Word of the cross is the testimony of God, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is a word testified to, as God testifies about Himself through it.

‘but neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire [of Rome] had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator , Christ, had been put to death in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But despite this setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome.’ (Tacitus, Annals circa 116 A.D)

Committed to His Word, God dived in deep to throw us a lifeline. Days may come and days may go. We may watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life may smother us, but the Word of God stands forever.  The possibilities that come with this Word stand as a living, breathing, defiant contradiction to the threat of oblivion and any despair the threat of irrelevance might throw at us.

In light of this Word, we can stand firm against all that ‘assumes to itself authority, and does not allow itself to be regulated by the word of God, reckoning as nothing all the applause[iii]’, and condemnation of the world. This is because it’s ‘light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5, ESV)


References:

[i] John 1:14, ESV

[ii] 1 Cor. 3:10-15, ESV

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3

Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

Freedom and Responsibility_BarthAs promised. So delivered.

This makes up part one of three, five point summaries. Each highlighting quotes from my recent reading of Barth’s closing chapters in Church Dogmatics I.II

A few things to note before I begin.

Firstly, I have edited this more than a few times in order to maintain the integrity of Barth’s meaning.

Secondly, I’m really only posting these as a resource for my own future reference.

However, having said that, if you, the reader, find them interesting, I’d welcome your thoughts and comments about anything that should stand out to you as relevant.

Barth’s C.D.I.II is largely a call to read the Word of God ‘as it stands’[i]. This call moves Christians beyond the inerrancy debate because the bible does not have to be one hundred precent empirically correct in order for it to be true.

1. The Bible is ‘movement fulfilled in obedience, it exists as witness to revelation’[ii]. He adds, that ‘verbal inspiration does not mean the infallibility of the Biblical Word in its linguistic, historical and theological character as a human word’.

  • It means that the fallible and faulty human word is used by God and has to be received in spite of its human fallibility[iii]…the work of God is done through this text. The miracle of God takes place in the text formed of human words[iv]
  • ‘It is a matter of the event/s of the actual presence of the Word of God…the free presence of God, defining our recollection as thankfulness and our expectation as hope[v]
  • ‘Certainly it is not our faith which makes the Bible the Word of God…although it does demand our faith, underlie our faith, and that it is the substance and life of our faith…We have to understand the inspiration of the Bible as a divine decision continually made in the life of the Church and in the life of its members[vi]

2. According to Barth

  • ‘We, (the Church) share in the movement in which scripture was born and in virtue of which even today Scripture is not mere writing but in its written character is Spirit and Life[vii]
  • We ‘live in light of the Word of God’s decision about us[viii]
  • Consequently, ‘the Church for its part must allow itself to be set in movement through Scripture.[ix]
  • We stand in Church history, therefore Church history is lived’[x]

3. Having anchored his defence, Barth embarks on an offense, directing our attention to the freedom and authority of God which gives life to the freedom and responsibility of both man and woman[xi].  For Barth

  • What is at stake, or so it seems, is God’s authority and freedom.  This leads into a discussion about the ‘infinite qualitative distinction (Kierkegaard)’ which holds that God is heaven and man on earth, that God rules and men and women must obey, that the Word of God makes a total claim upon humanity.[xii]
  • We have had to learn anew to accustom ourselves again to these simple truths, in contradiction to a theological liberalism which would have nothing to do with them…[xiii]

4.They (theological liberals) can attempt to jettison authority in a fight for freedom, but ‘neither the origin nor the essence of the Church is to be found in the blind alley where man would like to be his own lord and law.[xiv]

5. At this point Barth brings up the issue of the Church and the Freedom of the Word of God.

  • ‘The Christian is not a stone that is pushed, or a ball that is made to roll. The Christian is a person who through the Word and love of God has been made alive, the real man or the real woman, able to love God in return standing erect just because they have been humbled, humbling themselves because they have been raised up[xv]
  • Barth asserts that when we are ‘confronted by grace…. our pride annihilated and our sin covered. We are, therefore, addressed by the name we received in our baptism and not by the title which might be given to us by others as an indication of who we are as individuals (personality) [xvi]

With all due respect to lists on blogs, this is definitely not an average one. It is a culmination of important statements made by Barth in or just before 1938. Inside the details, or rather woven into them, is a firm grasp on the reality of the socio-political context of Europe and in particular the Church, as its people gazed upwards towards the darkening sky trying to find light in the vicious ideological storm, that was to rapidly move across Europe a year later.

Behind Barth’s words rests the knowledge that

‘the struggle against the authority of the Bible is really the struggle against the freedom of grace.[xvii]

Along with an awareness of the fact that:

‘Where there is no genuine authority, so there is no genuine freedom. There is only action and reaction between a despotic arrogance and an equally despotic despair.[xviii]

Source:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics 1.2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Scripture as the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers, p.533

[ii] Ibid, p.671‘Freedom in the Church/The Freedom of the Word’

[iii] Ibid, p.533 (cont.)

[iv] Ibid, p.532 ‘Holy Scripture is also, in fact a human historical record’ (p.541); ‘God’s word comes to man and woman as a human word’ (p.699)

[v] Ibid, p.533

[vi] Ibid, pp.534-535

[vii] Ibid p.671 (cont.)

[viii] Ibid, p.704

[ix] Ibid, p.672

[x]  Ibid, p.595

[xi] This is not an ‘arbitrary freedom’, but a costly and decisive freedom ‘conferred by the Holy Spirit’ (p.667) and ‘worked out in obedience’ (p.661-662). Therefore the ‘Bible confronts us with the realisation our freedom’ (p.652)

[xii] Ibid, p.633 ‘Authority in the Church/Authority under the Word’

[xiii] Ibid, p.663 (cont.)

[xiv]  Ibid, p.668

[xv]  Ibid, p.662

[xvi] Ibid, p.704

[xvii] Ibid, p.559

[xviii]  Ibid, p.668 ‘The great defeats of the Church have been and are when it has wanted to honour its confession in theory but not in practice, when the living form becomes a mummy, and the mummy unnecessary lumber, and the gift of God is frustrated…the great danger in the inevitable conflicts against a confession of the Church is that it may be taken away from t if it yields to temptation and surrenders.’ (p.646)

 

(©RL2014)

English: Location of South Avustralia.

English: Location of South Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contemporary Western society both beguiles and reviles its ideological heritage.

This stems from the 19th and 20th centuries and is evident to the plethora of antagonists who aspire to deconstruct, in order to defend this heritage, or completely write it off as part of the inevitable devolution of imperialist Western civilisation.

This is manifested in the ”replace it with something else – bulldoze it”; revolutionary ethos, advocated by a large amount of people who align themselves with ”progressive” socio-political agendas.

Atheist and comedian Pat Condell is right, (even if a bit hypocritical in his defence of the freedom of speech), to point at that the problem is, progressives are now trending towards accepting ideology, without critique.

This necessarily means that ideology will enslave those that it is supposedly serving. For instance: ‘human beings do not have to serve causes, causes have to serve human beings’ (Barth – Against the Steam p.35).

My point is that in reality, ideology rarely delivers the freedom it promises, if at all.

Alister McGrath wrote that ‘the past not only shapes and illuminates the present but anticipates the future’ [1].

No matter how much we try to justify it, when reality bites, history corrects us. History presents those of us who abandon politics for theology, and vice-versa as the fools we truly can be.

This is evidenced in the eerie example of ‘Hitler, who only tolerated those clerics who applauded his will to be the absolute ruler of the state’. (Eberhard Busch ‘Barmen theses’, 2010, p.1)

It is true that ‘grace leads us to rebel against the powers which keep us in servitude’ [2]. In light of this it is certainly difficult to disagree with the caveat against appeasement, penned in 1940 by  C.S Lewis,

 ‘I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, or even a higher secular culture by a lower, is a great evil…though the world is slow to forgive, it is quick to forget’ [3].

I come now to the Australian Minister for trade, Craig Emerson, who staged this (see below) last year in order to ridicule Opposition claims that Whyalla, a mining community in South Australia, would be seriously hindered by the implementation of a ‘carbon tax’.

I support responsible management of the environment. I am, however, in complete disagreement with any cheap political gains that feed off what is pushed by a ”mob”.

This is because ‘truthfulness is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’ [4].

 

The reality – 2013:
”Whyalla Mayor Jim Pollock said he was shocked by the announcement, which dashed hopes of 1000 new jobs for the industrial city.Whyalla has suffered a series of blows in recent months, with BHP Billiton postponing its huge Olympic Dam expa…nsion and jobs at OneSteel under threat”.[5]
The theology – timeless:
‘It is better for a person to hear the rebuke of the wise  than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,    so is the laughter of the fools;   this also is vanity’ Solomon, Ecc.7:5-6. (ESV)

Source:

[1] McGrath, A 2007 Christianity’s dangerous idea, p.10 HarperCollins Publishers.
[2] Marquardt, in Gorringe, T. 1999, Karl Barth: Against Hegemony, Oxford press
[3]Lewis, C.S 1940, ‘why I am not a pacifist’ in Essay Collection, 2000 pp.287 & 293.
[4] Shuster, M. 2008 Performance in Preaching: bringing sermons to life, Baker academic
[5]Sarah Martin, The Australian (pay-walled content) via Andrew Bolt