Friday, April 12, 2013

The Humanity of God- Karl Barth

About the Author
Karl Barth (1886-1968) is a Swiss reformed theologian, and is known as one of the greatest protestant theologians of the 20th century for his most famous work: Church Dogmatics, which covers four major topics: Revelation, God, Creation, and Reconciliation (atonement) and was published in 13 volumes. He also wrote a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, which was his first major work.

Summary of Content
Karl Barth's The Humanity of God was originally delivered as a lecture at the meeting of the Swiss Reformed Ministers Association in Aarau on September 25th, 1956. Barth claims that the problem with evangelical theology (which Barth describes in another lecture contained in this book as the "science and doctrine of the commerce and communion between God and man, informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ as heard in Holy Scripture (page 11)" is that it has become religionistic, anthropocentric, and humanistic. This is to say that the piety of man has become its "object of study and its theme (page 39)."
For this theology, to think about God meant to think in a scarcely veiled fashion about man, more exactly about the religious, the Christian religious man. (page 39)
Barth explains that in reading the Bible, the theme is not humanity's religious morality and certainly not humanity's secret deity, but rather;
[T]he theme of the Bible is the deity of God, more exactly God's deity - God's independence and particular character, to only in relation to the natural but also to the spiritual cosmos; God's absolutely unique existence, might, and initiative, above all, in His relation to man. (page 41)
So, one should not focus the conversation on the ways in which humans can become more like God, more pious, more religious, and more perfect; but rather one should examine the humanity of God and the utter necessity of God's relationship with God's created people. In order to examine God's humanity, one must concurrently study God's deity; for "it is precisely God's deity which, rightly understood, includes his humanity (page 46)." Barth points out that this is a Christological statement, and rightly so; for in Jesus Christ we are dealing neither with a human in the abstract, or with God in the abstract, but "in Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man (page 46)." Christ is both God and man, preserving the full integrity of both natures.

God's nature does not exclude human nature, but God and human exist entirely together in perfect relationship in the Christ. Barth goes so far as to say that "In Him the fact is once for all established that God does not exist without man (page 50)." Although God's own eternal love is sufficient within God's self, Barth states that God wants in God's freedom not to be without humanity, but to be with humans and for humans. This is God's grace, undeserved but freely given. This is also God's humanity.
His free affirmation of man, His free concern for him, His free substitution for him - this is God's humanity. (page 51)
Barth then goes on to outline 5 consequences of our knowledge of the humanity of God.

1. Because of God's humanity, one must acknowledge every other human being as sister and brother to Christ, and as daughter and son to God.
"On the basis of the eternal will of God we have to think of every human being, even the oddest, most villainous or miserable, as one to whom Jesus Christ is Brother and God is Father; and we have to deal with him on this assumption. If the other person knows that already, then we have to strengthen him in the knowledge. If he does not know it yet or no longer knows it, our business is to transmit this knowledge to him. On the basis of the knowledge of the humanity of God no other attitude to any kind of fellow man is possible.  It is identical with the practical acknowledgment of his human rights and his human dignity. To deny it to him would be for us to renounce having Jesus Christ as Brother and God is Father." (page 53)
2. Because God in God's deity is human, we must neither focus on humanity in itself or God in God's self, but rather we must concern ourselves with the human-encountering God and the God-encountering human. Who is the God that we interact with? Who are the people that God interacts with?

3. God's humanity calls an alignment between theological thinking and speaking. Theology cannot be done in a vacuum, we can never merely think in theories. It is not a monologue but rather a conversation. It is not a fixed picture but rather a living relationship that we study.
He whose heart is really with God and therefore really with men may have faith that the Word of God, to which he seeks to bear witness, will not return unto Him void. (page 59)
4. The way we speak of the covenant of God with humanity must be positive, because God in God's humanity is utterly full of grace and affirmation; and the news is Good.
This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before. (page 62) 
5. The knowledge of the humanity of God must "take seriously, affirm, and thankfully acknowledge Christendom, the Church (page 62)."
The Church is not too mean a thing for Him but, for better or for worse, sufficiently precious and worthy in His eyes to be entrusted with His witnessing and thus his affairs in the world - yes, even Himself. So great is God's loving-kindness! For this reason there is no private Christianity. (page 64)
It is in the Church that we participate in and share with others a relationship with a human God is affirms us as God's created people. It is good, for "If God is for us, who is against us?"

I've just got a short reflection on this week's work of theology. Although I'm not sure I agree with (or entirely understand) the notion that God does not exist without humanity, I did really appreciate the discussion of God's humanity in Barth's lecture. I most enjoyed the first point he made in the final part of his lecture: Because of God's humanity, one must acknowledge every other human being as sister and brother to Christ, and as daughter and son to God. This, to me, is the perfect picture of Christendom on earth. Everyone treating everybody like we all deserve to be treated. How many things would be different today if we really made a conscious effort to show love and respect to our fellow human being, no matter whether or not we like them or agree with them. If God is for us, who is against us? If we are for each other, then the answer is: no-one. A short reflection, but a tall order.

Book Citation
Barth, Karl. The Humanity of God. Louisville: WJK, 1996.

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