Archives For Karl Barth

Stumbling through some images yesterday, I came across an ‘old’ e-formatted copy of Leo Tolstoy’s 1879 work – ‘A Confession’. I had originally been looking for humorous pictures about coffee, power etc. Instead, I found myself navigating my way through this book.

As I made my advance into Tolstoy’s world,  I found it difficult to put down.

There are free versions of this available from Christian Classics (Link: A Confession CCEL).

In short, Tolstoy’s documented struggle with theology, science, life, faith, the Greek Orthodox church, severe depression and mental illness, is ripe for contemporary reflection. Which is saying a lot for a 134 year old academically astute work of art.

Karl Barth was aware of Tolstoy’s work. However based on the indexing in his Church Dogmatics I could only find a loose connection to the imagery of being ”held over the abyss by the infinite” (CD, IV:I:411), which Tolstoy uses in the abridged quote below.

Considering that Barth was born in 1886, there is a strong possibility here that Tolstoy had a big influence on Barth’s thought and theology. I am keen to confirm this link, so if anyone can point me in the right direction with this, I would appreciate it.

For me, among the highlights of this journey was this postscript (Some of which I hope to write and post about this week. After I pray and mine it some more):

I had a dream.

Leo Tolstoy

The dream was this:
I saw that I was lying on a bed. I was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable: I was lying on my back.
I looked down and did not believe my eyes. I was not only at a height comparable to the height of the highest towers or mountains, but at a height such as I could never have imagined. I could not even make out whether I saw anything there below, in that bottomless abyss over which I was hanging and which I was being drawn.
My heart contracted, and I experienced horror. To look thither was terrible. If I looked thither I felt that I should at once slip from the last support and perish. And I did not look. But not to look was still worse, for I thought of what would happen to me directly I fell from the last support. And I felt that from fear I was losing my last supports, and that my back was slowly slipping lower and lower.
Another moment and I should drop off. And then it occurred to me that this cannot be real. It is a dream. Wake up!
I try to arouse myself but cannot do so. What am I to do? What am I to do? I ask myself, and look upwards.
Above, there is also an infinite space. I look into the immensity of sky and try to forget about the immensity below, and I really do forget it. The immensity below repels and frightens me; the immensity above attracts and strengthens me.
I am still supported above the abyss by the last supports that have not yet slipped from under me; I know that I am hanging, but I look only upwards and my fear passes. As happens in dreams, a voice says: “Notice this, this is it!” And I look more and more into the infinite above me and feel that I am becoming calm.
I remember all that has happened, and remember how it all happened; how I moved my legs, how I hung down, how frightened I was, and how I was saved from fear by looking upwards.
I ask myself how am I held: I feel about, look round, and see that under me, under the middle of my body, there is one support, and that when I look upwards I lie on it in the position of secured balance, and that it alone gave me support before. And then, as happens in dreams, I imagined the mechanism by means of which I was held; a very natural intelligible, and sure means, though to one awake that mechanism has no sense. I was even surprised in my dream that I had not understood it sooner.
It appeared that at my head there was a pillar, and the security of that slender pillar was undoubted though there was nothing to support it. From the pillar a loop hung very ingeniously and yet simply, and if one lay with the middle of one’s body in that loop and looked up, there could be no question of falling. This was all clear to me, and I was glad and tranquil. And it seemed as if someone said to me:
“See that you remember.”
And I awoke.

Source:

Leo Tolstoy 1879 A Confession  Kindle for PC. (Loc. 962).

Image credit: Tolstoy, Wikipedia

(Originally posted 7th July 2013)

IMG_20130627_191543I have long been a subscriber to the idea that hate is not a sin. However, I need to qualify this statement by firstly saying that: a) my alignment with this theory is a work in progress and b) my current theological understanding is that unless hatred is answered through confession with reconciliation as its goal, it will lead to sin.

For example: 1 Jn.3:15 in context would read ‘wherever hatred is, there is an inclination to do mischief’ (John Calvin, Institutes VIII:347).

Reconciliation and forgiveness are the primary spheres in which transformation is achieved, and it begins with the process of confession.

Ambrose of Milan stated that: ‘if you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed’ (Ambrose of Milan).

In a similar theological vein Karl Barth viewed confession as a referral and submission ‘to a higher tribunal confronting both partners with concrete authority’ (‘Church Dogmatics a selection’, Helmut Gollwitzer); to ‘lay our weapons down’ (John Mayer ‘Heartbreak warfare’, 2009 )

Unconfessed hatred is counter-productive. It leaves us like a ship lost at sea, left with only the stars to navigate by. Only then to find frustration with clouds that are constantly obscuring our efforts.

The outcomes of unresolved and concealed hate are inevitably confusion, anxiety, fear and rage – dysfunctional relationships – as such ‘no one really ever wins’ (John Mayer ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, 2009)

Consequently we become desperate for direction as our judgement increasingly becomes shrouded in fog.

We then abdicate our responsibility to speak the truth. We compromise on our Christian commitment to hope because our moral compass is exchanged for self-preservation, and we abandon the north star finding ourselves drifting deeper into a sea of brokenness and despair.

The counter to this is entering into a confession-that-seeks-truth. This is like choosing to drop the eggs instead of walking over them gently. Working on ways to help those around us ‘understand our pain’ (John Mayer, 2009).

If I say or act in love towards you, yet harbor hatred in my heart I conceal the truth. I am forced to lie in order to keep-the-peace. The problem with this approach is that appeasement tends to only ever benefit those who are appeased [1].

The strength in confession is when we confess our hatred, we can immediately be released from the burden the precarious nature of hatred brings, one which hangs around our neck like a rotting albatross. Confessing hate allows us to process and communicate reasons for such a response.

Only then can the movement towards resolution be enacted. Of course any confession requires being wise in how and who we express that confession to. Confrontation, context, tone and timing are also important considerations.

Sadly, Western society is increasingly being pressured from within to tolerate everything in order to appease post-modern politically correct sensitivities. How can falsehoods be confronted if it is not permissible to do so?

It is true that hate is a strong word that is loaded with emotion. Hate is defined by thesage as being an ’emotion of intense dislike so strong that it demands action’. Goodrick & Kohlenberger write that the Hebrew word for hate is:  שׂנא ‘sane’ which means to be unloved, shunned, disliked, an adversary.

That is why it has become a whip statement, a term utilised to shame and ridicule dissenters into silence with overly generalised terms such as Christians are ‘ignorant, anti-science, haters and bigots’. Such emerging social conventions should not be allowed to bind us into maintaining false appearances via restrictions on the freedom to confront falsehoods, be it society, science, left, right, church or state.

For the biblical authors the existence of falsehoods demand action.

Ps.119: 104 ‘Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Pr. 26:24-26 ‘People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will be exposed in public’ (NLT)
Pr.8:13 ‘The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate’.
Pr.13:5 ‘The righteous hates falsehood’
Eccl.3:8 ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’
Eph.4:26-27 ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’.

A few years back an estranged relative asked me the question ‘how can you be a minister with so much hate?’ Since then my response has been: “please don’t confuse telling-the-truth with hatred, tolerance with silence and silence with love.”

The act of confession is a compassionate and humble act towards others in grateful response to Father, Son and Spirit. Through ‘open confession’ (Ambrose) and humility, truth speaks through the community. For example Barth writes that `theology is impossible without humility because the truth at issue is a person who says : ”I am the truth” (Jn. 14); (Church Dogmatics, a selection).

Jean Bethke Elshtain puts it this way:

‘Our ideas have to meet the test of being engaged by others, far better than having people retreat into themselves and nurture a sense of grievance, rage and helplessness…thoughts must be tested in the public square where you have to meet certain standards…we must be careful not to confuse tolerance with complete and total embrace…total acceptance does not mean universal love’ (Maxwell School Lecture, State of Democracy 2013).

Therefore confess hate, speak truth and drop the eggs, watch the lies disintegrate. It may hurt, you may lose, but lose boldly with the hope that those who reject truth return to truth refined, renewed and rescued. Refuse to walk on egg shells, and instead clean up the pieces left behind, lovingly inviting others to do the same.

The truth is much more precious and valuable than any sugar-coated version of it we can create. There are never two sides to a story. There is only ever one story which evidently has multiple perspectives.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘there is but one reality and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world’ (Ethics, 195)

To love is not only to understand that Christians are called to speak truth-in-love but to also understand that love-speaks-truthfully. As the words attributed to Solomon so wisely put it:

 ‘Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV)

Loving ourselves is hard, loving our enemies? Even harder. (Lk.6:20-45)


Sources:

Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance Kindle Edition.

Barth, K. Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Kindle Locations 1050-1051). Kindle Edition.

Bonhoeffer, D. Ethics Kindle edition.

Calvin, J Institutes of the Christian Religion Eerdmans

Goodrick, E.W & Kohlenberger, J.R 1991 NIVAC: Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan

Meier, P. & Wise R. 2003 Crazy Makers: getting along with the difficult people in your life (particularly chapter twelve) Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville

[1] Historically speaking, nowhere is this more evident than in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ‘’gift’’ of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Munich agreement.

(RL2013)

kb-quote-cd-2-2-695-rl2016

 

Since reading the above quote, its been lingering in the back of my mind. So much so, that after posting it as a text on both Twitter and Facebook, I felt it needed more airplay. So, to really make it stand out, I decided make it into a bit of a meme.

My initial goal was to finish reading volume 2/2 at the end of last year. I still made significant progress and am nearing the end, but given other priorities that didn’t happen.

The journey through the text, overall, has coincided with some great opportunities to learn more about John Calvin and engage further in the controversial steps Barth took to place Jesus Christ in the centre of Calvin’s doctrine of election and pre-destination; what theologians call, a more definitive Christocentric view of election. Whereby Barth reforms and in doing so rejects the post-Calvin, hyper-Calvinist baggage attached to Calvin’s original intention and notably myopic [to be generous to Calvin, I lean more towards the word “incomplete”] doctrine of election.

For instance: our election is the election of Jesus Christ. This IS God’s electing. God’s will for us, that we should be with Him and He should be with us. As I’ve summed up this in the past, Jesus Christ, is God’s revolt against the disorder of the world.

Jesus represents all of humanity. There is no elite humanity. There is only grace and its command to follow. For all fall short of the glory of God and are raised to righteousness, and eternal life, in Jesus Christ. The distinction between unbeliever and believer remains. This distinction, though, is exactly as it infers, faith in Christ; those who call upon the name of the Lord – grace poured out upon us to empower us towards grateful obedience even in the midst of our ungrateful disobedience – this is the responsibility of our response to the irreversible election that God Himself has already lovingly decided and acted powerfully upon.

I could go on and probably will in a future post, but this, by itself, makes Church Dogmatics 2/2 one of the most interesting works from Barth.

However, while this part has sharpened of my own theological understanding, it’s the latter part of 2/2 that I’ve taken more of a shine to. What I’ve found interesting its Barth’s discussion on theological ethics; what it is; where it begins, and who it begins with. This is one of those specific areas where Barth’s political theology comes into a more obvious light. To justify that, it would require more room to explain it, than the 500 words I’ve aimed it here.

To fully understand what Barth means in the quote posted above, it’s helpful to look at where in his epic, Church Dogmatics, this falls.

Barth is talking about grace being both invitation and imperative, e.g.: Jesus calls us to follow. He goes on to discuss the responsibility of a human response to the grace of God, on the grounds of the Sermon on the mount and its close, affirming relationship with the Ten Commandments.

Ethics & morality as far as the biblical witness goes is grateful obedience; it is at its heart relational; it is lived out response to grace; to what has been done by the God who chooses to be for us. God commits to us, we are not only given the freedom to follow, but are commanded to do so.

It is not an idea that can be misconstrued by humanity and turned into a universal human principle and as such become a puffed up toxic human achievement empty of God.


Source:

Barth, K. 1942 The Command As The Decision Of God; The Definiteness of the Divine Decision, CD 2/2 The Doctrine of God, Hendrickson Publishers

Prayer Graffiti

September 30, 2015 — 3 Comments

IMG_4709After ruling out a couple of Renaissance teens tagging the pews, pause and consider the depth of meaning behind the act of engraving an empassioned prayer, possibly by someone who was illiterate, on the walls of what would have been considered to be God’s-own “house.”

It’s not unlike those who bravely crawled, touched and called out to Jesus. Who upon seeing and hearing this turned, smiled and said to them, “be healed, no greater faith have I seen in all of Israel.” (Matt.8:10/Luke 7:9)

Prayer is apart of change. It’s in the free act of prayer, grounded in the free and loving act of why and how God, in Christ,  addresses us – in Gospel and law – that our time and space, is repurposed and redefined.

When life sends you a storm, draw God a strong boat.

‘God is not deaf, but listens; more than that, he acts. God does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action, even upon his existence. This is what the word “answer” means.’
…………………………………………………– Karl Barth, Prayer 1952:13
‘For we know that our defence lies in prayer alone’
………………………………………….– Martin Luther, Large Catechism.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

In darkened times there’s a lot more to a “Merry Christmas” or the celebration of it, than words and actions filled with empty sentiment. The origins of these words and the goodwill it proclaims, comes from a light not lit by human imagination. Nor are they the ignorant consolations of inappropriate and intoxicated merriment.

To say them is to act in true freedom; it is an act of gratitude, unity and prayer. An act that is transformed into a ‘revolt against the disorder of the world.’ (Karl Barth)

In deep grief and reflective desolation, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote these words:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
 The Wrong shall fail,
 The Right prevail,
 With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

This year and those to come, may we also continue to hear and recognise, what he heard and recognised.

Merry Christmas Greek Orthodox

 

Advent Day One:

Words are not coming together to well for me today. Therefore in order to mark the beginning of Advent I have chosen to step aside on the matter, choosing instead, to stand on Barth’s shoulders. I also think it is a great idea to begin Advent with prayer. Marking the occasion with one of his liturgical prayers allows me room to introduce a journey; one that will hopefully draw myself and others towards a more reflective appreciation for the importance of the communal, the individual, the festal, and the theological, located within the celebrations to come.

Not unlike the curious, unplanned journey of the shepherds; their proclamation, post-angelic visit (Lk.2:17), and the wise-men;sojourners, linking up with the concepts of inquiry, insight, and of being led-by a strange, free and beautiful light. Coming; ‘for they saw His star in the east and came to worship Him’ (Mt.2:2).

In addition to these reasons, I get the opportunity to show off some of the images of “Moravian Stars” which are hanging around the internet (permissions pending). Things we’re hoping to reproduce ourselves, as we move towards the close of term four.

Before us, the Swiss/German theologian’s words remain to-the-point, full of anticipation, trademark Trinitarian, and universally relevant:

‘Lord, our God and Father, give to many, to all, and to us as well, that we may celebrate Christmas like this:

Hernhutter Star

‘Herrnhut – ”Moravian” – Star’ San Francisco (Photo credit: spieri_sf)

that in complete thankfulness, utter humility, and then complete joy and confidence we may come to the one whom you have sent, and in whom you yourself have come to us. Clean out the many things in us that, now that the hour has come, have become impossible for us, can no longer belong to us, may, must, and will fall away from us, by virtue of your beloved Son, our Lord and Saviour, entering into our midst and creating order.

Have mercy also on all those who either do not yet or do not fully know you and your kingdom, who perhaps once knew everything and have either forgotten, misunderstood, or even denied it!

Have mercy on all of humanity, who today are once again especially plagued, threatened and haunted by so much foolishness. Enlighten the thoughts of those in both the East and the West who are in power and who, as appears to be the case, are today in complete confusion and despair.

Give the rulers and representatives of the people, the judges, teachers, and bureaucrats, give even the newspaper reporters in our homeland, the insight and sobriety that are necessary for their responsible work! Place the right, necessary, and helpful words on the lips of those who have to preach during this Christmas season, and open then also the ears and hearts of those who hear them!

Moravian Stars in the Strietzelmarkt in Dresden

Moravian Stars in the Strietzelmarkt in Dresden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comfort and encourage those who are sick, both in body and spirit, in the hospitals, as well as the prisoners, and those who are distressed, abandoned, or despairing! Help them with what alone can truly help them and all of us: the clarity of your Word and the quiet work of your Holy Spirit.

We thank you that we are permitted to know that we do not pray and will never pray to you in vain. We thank you that you have let your light rise, that it shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it. We thank you that you are God, and that we may be your people.

Amen.

– Karl Barth, 2005, 2008 Fifty Prayers, Westminster John Knox Press pp.4-5

(I agree, in Jesus name. Amen)

Presence and Light.

Johns pointing index finger