I’m currently a few chapters into Karl Barth‘s Epistle to the Romans; it was the work that launched him into the theological spotlight in Germany in 1919 when first published. From Wikipedia,
Barth [argues] that the God who is revealed in the cross of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions.
Barth assiduously maintains the “infinite qualitative distinction” of Kierkegaard: time is time and eternity is eternity and never the twain shall meet, in substance, anyway. I’m a far sight from synthesizing even a measurable fraction of what Barth accomplished in his lifetime, but I hope to find the truths he sought out so diligently.
How often do we truly interact with our Father in Heaven, who raineth “on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45), and how often do we interact with our personal image of Him? With our personal idol, as it were, beyond blatant reliance on the arm of flesh? I certainly have cause to wonder if my religion, my will, my study, my life, interacts with God in His heaven, or with God in my mind. Barth writes of this relationship issue:
Our relationship to God is ungodly…. We assume that He needs something: and so we assume that we are able to arrange our relation to Him as we arrange our other relationships. …We confound time with eternity. …Secretly we are ourselves the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust Himself. …And so, when we set God upon the throne of the world, we mean by God ourselves. In ‘believing’ on Him, we justify, enjoy, and adore ourselves. …Under the banners of humility and emotion we rise in rebellion against God. We confound time with eternity. That is our unrighteousness. …God Himself is not acknowledged as God and what is called ‘God’ is in fact man. By living to ourselves, we serve the ‘No-God’ (p.44).
What a damning paradox! Rejecting God we rebel; accepting him, we may very well do the same. An insight into an insidious practice, this doctrine of condemning ourselves by accepting the wrong God. Yet, indubitably, all too commonly it occurs.
How is it that we, that I, could possibly reject the true God by accepting a substitute?
This secret identification of ourselves with God carries with it our isolation from Him (p. 45).
How is it that we, reasonably bright, charming, wonderful people, set ourselves upon the throne of God?
The invisibility of God seems to us less tolerable than the questionable visibility of what we like to call ‘God’ (p. 47).
How is it that we, reasonably bright, intelligent people, how is it that we dare commit such blasphemy?
I submit that it is performed in the thoughtlessness of our lives–without malice, or meditation, or radical evil confronted. To continue in our quotidian tasks without introspection requires justification (to be declared righteous); we fabricate said justification from religion. This is not the routine of washing the dishes or walking the dog; this is the routine of interaction with those whom we love, and hurt, and too often take for granted.
It is in this comfortable routine that ‘all is well in Zion’ (2 Nephi 28:21). But the terrible truth is that one can never be comfortable with the gospel (the new & everlasting covenant), because it is always new–always demanding and refining. One is always confronted with its intersection of the vertical into our horizontal lives.
The empty canal speaks of the water which does not flow through it. The sign-post points to a destination which is precisely where the sign-post is not. The impress (form, Romans 2:20) speaks of the genuine signet-ring which is not where the impress is, but which has left upon it its–negative (p. 88).
There is hope, however, behind this negation. Barth reminds us that “cleansing is not a process of emptying; it is an act of fulfillment” (p. 79). We should look to the white space a little more in examining our souls, trying to see God not in the waxen seal, but in the signet-ring that fills its negatives. May the gospel truly become for us new, and uncomfortable, and radical, and everlasting, worlds without end, for it is thus that we may encounter the true God, and accept no lesser substitute.