Archives For Theological Ethics

neonbrand-463099-unsplashGrace shows humanity God’s commitment to humanity. This commitment isn’t the result of our empty attempts to placate a bored King who has everything. God’s commitment to us has nothing to do with any human sycophantic transaction. It is a totally aware, pure, turning towards creation by its Creator.

God’s commitment picks humanity up from its failure to fulfill its own commitment towards Himself. Even when rejected, God’s commitment remains unchanged. It cannot be undone. The follow through of grace means that human commitment is fulfilled. God has done it. What is left is the human response to the completed work.

That human commitment fulfilled by God necessitates a turning of the creature back towards the Creator. Hearts and minds are directed back to the memory of His act on our behalf. Humanity is graciously shown the way and firmly commanded to follow.

For Karl Barth, ‘all that [then] remains for me to do is to let my eyes rest on Him, which really means to let my eyes follow Him. This following is my faith. But the great[er] work of faith has already been done by the One whom I follow […] To abide in; to trust in God (Ps.91:1) to believe is to stand in in the communion of saints; who has received, receives and will receive the forgiveness of sins, who hastens towards the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life […] His faith is the victory which has overcome the world.  But that it is this victory does not rest with [the believer], but solely with Him in whom he [may] believe.’ [i]

Human commitment is empowered by God’s grace to be lived out. That humanity is empowered  towards commitment means that whilst God’s act of grace is immutably superimposed, it is not forcefully imposed. We are simply shown the creation and opening of a door where there was none before. God has an exit plan. He spells it out with the letters e.n.l.i.s.t. This is the response to the call of grace: ‘grateful obedience’ (Barth, 2/1 p.229). The commitment of the ‘free man to the free God.’ (Barth, 2/2 p.561) is empowered by God’s revolution; a revolution no man or woman can lie about to control or trump.

This is confronted by God’s act and claim on humanity, to humanity, for humanity vs. humanity’s self-justification and rejection in its counter-claims about God.

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men and women by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, ESV)

No other can lay claim to being this truth; fact; Christ event: God’s revealing of Himself in Jesus Christ. No other can lay claim to being the source of goodness; ethics, right and wrong. No other can claim to be the sole hope and promise of our future. Come Nero, hashtag riot, Hillary, Trump, unjust law, illness, closet-oppressive utopian idea, rainbow ideology or Hitler,

“The subject of theological ethics is not the Word of God as it is claimed by humanity, but the Word of God as it claims humanity. It is not man as he is going to make something of the Word of God, but the Word of God as it is going to make something of man* […]The grace of God is always this: Jesus Christ. It is from what God has done for us that we must learn to read what God wants with us and of us. We must seek the command of God only where it has itself torn off the veil of all human opinions and theories about the will of God**” [ii]

This is the chief reason for why we Christians call the Gospel, Good News. God lives and He speaks!

‘A Christian is one who knows that God has accepted him in Jesus Christ, that a decision has been made concerning him in Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, and that he has been called into covenant with Him by Jesus Christ as the Word of God spoken in time.’ [iii]

Summed up by Barth, in true Barth fashion:

‘We hear the Gospel as we obey it. For Jesus Christ is the basis in which we may believe in God, the Word in which dwell the light and force to move us to this event. He Himself is the Gospel. He himself is the resolve and the execution of the essential will in which God willed to give Himself to us. The grace of God, of the God in whom we may believe, is this. In Jesus Christ the eternal Word became flesh. Without ceasing to be who He is in Himself, God became as one of us.’ [iv]

As Karl Barth repeatedly remarks, God wills to be with us & wills that we should not be without Him:

‘Death could not hold Him [Jesus Christ], & therefore it cannot hold us. In the midst of death we have in Him no future but that of resurrection and eternal life. The grace of God decides and has already decided concerning our human existence. What then does it mean to be human now that this decision has been reached by the grace of God? It means to be one who stands and walks and lives and dies within the fact that God is gracious to us, that He has made us His own.(Gal. 2:19)’ [v]

The human response to the question of God’s grace, is ‘our answer to this Word. It is a free action bound by commitment’ (Barth, 2/2:546 paraphrased).

In other words, life with God, begins with, God with us.

Jesus Christ is the Gospel (Barth). He is the author, recipient and standard of both the Shema Yisrael and Lord’s Prayer:

“Hear O, Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy, 6:4-5, ESV)

 


References:

[i] Barth, K. 1942 The Basis of the Divine Claim, CD 2/2 Hendrickson Publishers (p.559)

[ii] Ibid, p.546* & pp.560 & 559**

[iii] Ibid, p.547

[iv] Ibid, pp.557 & 558

[v] Ibid, pp. 558-559

[the words wrapped in parenthesis are my own]

Originally published 7th November 2016.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018

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